After three months of stalled negotiations, the Ventura County Symphony and its musicians have reached an interim, nine-month agreement guaranteeing that this season's performances will go on as planned.
"There are still things to decide, but I am just thrilled," said Felice Ginsberg, president of the symphony's board of directors.
Edgy over the possibility of a last-minute strike by players, the symphony's directors in recent weeks had threatened to cancel opening night or hire a touring foreign orchestra.
Members of the musicians' committee, in turn, insisted that they had no intention of striking, but accused management of not responding to their contract offers.
On Wednesday, both sides said they were relieved that the agreement saves the six-concert season, which begins Oct. 8 at the Oxnard Civic Auditorium and runs through May.
Under its terms, musicians will play at last year's wages and under last year's employment policies. Representatives from both sides will begin meeting twice a week to try to reach a long-term contract.
"I think our communication has improved dramatically," Ginsberg said.
Steve Thiroux, principal bassoonist and chairman of the musicians' committee, said: "We're glad this phase of it is over so the season can get under way."
The agreement has been signed by a representative of the musicians' union, and the orchestra members are expected to ratify it during the next week, Thiroux said.
The interim agreement is a victory for the orchestra's management on two key points. It guarantees the musicians will not go on strike during the season and it allows the symphony's directors to hire small, outside ensembles for a three-concert series in the spring called "Music's Alive."
Thiroux said the musicians are adamantly opposed to the hiring of outside groups because they think that would dilute the symphony's identity.
But, he said, the musicians did not want to see that issue jeopardize this year's concerts.
"It shouldn't hang up and destroy the entire season," he said.
Ginsberg said the major disagreements between musicians and management stem from a clash of visions on the symphony's future. The board and conductor Boris Brott are striving, she said, to make the orchestra a regional force while the musicians want to maintain the group's community status.
"The orchestra members began the whole negotiating process saying, 'No, we just want to be a little community orchestra.' Now they've agreed to drop that, which I think is a huge step," Ginsberg said.
In keeping with the board's goal, management is seeking the right to replace musicians for artistic reasons. Orchestra officials also want a long-term contract allowing them to hire outside groups to perform different types of music.
Members of the musicians' union say they are simply seeking job stability with guarantees of tenure, the right to perform in all symphony productions and the right to be reviewed by their peers before being dismissed for artistic reasons.
Thiroux said management should try to improve the orchestra by working with the musicians, not replacing them.
"To say the musicians would not be committed to always improving the orchestra is a disservice to the integrity of the musicians. Everyone is always trying to do better," he said.
Pay has not been an issue during negotiations. Principal musicians will still be paid $83 per rehearsal or concert and other players $53 for each session.