Deal puts L.A. Phil base pay in top tier

Times Staff Writer

Seven months after music director Esa-Pekka Salonen extended his contract through 2008, the Los Angeles Philharmonic Assn. has reached a new four-year agreement with its musicians that makes their base salary comparable to that of the top-paying U.S. orchestras, including the Boston Symphony and the New York Philharmonic.

“I knew that there would be a quick and good and peaceful negotiation settlement,” Salonen said Wednesday from Helsinki, Finland, where he was director of the Third International Sibelius Conductors’ Competition. “Now it is time to look forward and really build something which is extraordinary.”

The Philharmonic musicians voted Thursday to approve the pact, which will take effect Monday and run through Sept. 20, 2009. In its last year, the minimum weekly salary will be $2,445. The previous, six-year contract culminated in a weekly base of $2,025.


According to Philharmonic President Deborah Borda, negotiations leading to the agreement were smooth, in contrast to the turmoil that has characterized recent labor relations at other North American orchestras. The Montreal Symphony has been forced to cancel the first four concerts of its 2005-06 season, and earlier this year the St. Louis Symphony went nearly two months without a contract.

“I’ve been in negotiations for 20 years, and I have never been in a process that was as innovative and collaborative,” Borda said, also from Helsinki, where she was a member of the jury for the conducting competition. “This was a real win-win situation,” she said. “Everybody, including our audience, will benefit.”

“We have probably over 60 collective bargaining agreements here in Los Angeles,” said Hal Espinosa, president of the Professional Musicians Local 47. “These negotiations were very amicable. We were able to talk very easily across the table. I believe both sides were as happy as you can be.”

Among other provisions, the contract includes measures to streamline the Philharmonic’s auditioning, hiring and vesting processes; allows for free local radio broadcasts; reduces the orchestra by two players (through attrition); redesigns the musicians’ healthcare plan; and calls for the members to donate three concerts to help finance pension costs and raise money for the orchestra’s endowment fund.

The deal does not address recording. Outside observers had wondered why the Deutsche Gramophon label recorded Salonen’s “Wing on Wing,” a work composed in honor of Walt Disney Concert Hall and premiered by the Philharmonic, not at Disney Hall but in Finland, where it was played by the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra.

“We unfortunately are not allowed to deal with recording in our contract,” Borda said. “That’s governed by a national agreement. We have no say over it. Even if our musicians wanted to work with us on that, they’re not allowed to.” Talks on a new national agreement are underway, she said. Generally, recording in the U.S. costs more than twice what it costs in Europe.


Salonen said: “Deustche Gramophon early on expressed great interest in recording in Disney Hall, and both parties are still very interested in making this work. This is the next issue that we are going to tackle. I’m hopeful that something will come out of it.”

In the Philharmonic’s 86-year history, labor disputes have been relatively rare, although the opening of the 1966-67 season was held up for almost three weeks by a wage disagreement. A similar dispute briefly delayed the 1963-64 season.

The orchestra’s new season will begin Sept. 29 with a gala concert in Disney Hall.