The Chicago Symphony, internationally renowned as one of the premier American orchestras, stopped in its tracks Thursday, just seven hours before a gala crowd was to convene in Orchestra Hall for the opening of its 101st season.
Failure of management and players to sign a contract, despite feverish and ongoing attempts at negotiation, forced cancellation of the first program, Beethoven’s “Missa Solemnis,” scheduled to be performed Thursday, Friday and today.
Not only did Chicago’s second century get off to a non-start, so did its new chief. Daniel Barenboim, set to lead his inaugural concert as music director--succeeding Sir Georg Solti, who, after 24 years, set a record for longest tenure among recent music directors--stood by.
Publicity director Joyce Idema said that management and labor “went at it for 17 straight hours, until 3 a.m. Thursday.” They continued for another three hours later in the day, but could not come to an agreement of terms, which, she said, were “largely economic.” No further negotiations are scheduled.
The strike, a virtual repeat of one that occurred in 1982 and lasted three weeks, rides on the perennial issues of salary, pensions and health care, according to Idema.
The main dispute, said union committee chairman Donald Koss, “is that management is trying to force down our throats a cut in health benefits. They’re asking us to pay a substantial portion of the costs, and that has never been done. The overwhelming standard in the industry is to provide for such needs.
“We expect improvements in our contract, not ‘give-backs.’ Ticket prices have increased more than twice as fast as our salaries and the orchestra is operating in the black. We think we should be the first priority, but apparently we are not.”
Chicago Symphony executive director Henry Vogel said in a prepared statement: “The issues in any labor negotiation are very complex, and this one is no exception. But I am committed to work together with the (American Federation of Musicians Local 10-208) union’s representatives to reach a mutually agreeable resolution as soon as possible.”
Minimum weekly salary under the just-expired contract is $1,140, leading the other major American orchestras, with the New York Philharmonic in the second-highest pay category.
Barenboim, whose Chicago Symphony appointment in 1989 was clouded by the furor of his canceled directorship of the Paris Opera, had just gained some clout by acquiring leadership of the Deutsche Oper in Berlin.
Asked if the presence of a new music director might have inadvertently created unstable morale among players, thus contributing to their dissatisfaction, Chicago Symphony attorney Stuart Bernstein said:
“The orchestra committee has made it clear that Daniel Barenboim had nothing to do with the strike. We all agreed that he was an innocent who just got caught in the middle of a domestic crisis.”