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Union Official: Contract Dispute Could be Death Knell for Hartford Orchestra

by | Sep 10, 2015 5:30am () Comments | Commenting has expired | Share
Posted to: Arts, Labor, Nonprofits, State Capitol

Elizabeth Regan Musicians and union supporters converged Wednesday on the state Capitol to trumpet their disapproval of a proposed contract they fear will destroy the Hartford Symphony Orchestra.

The group’s message was bolstered by a recent complaint from the National Labor Relations Board alleging that the orchestra, which is housed in and managed by the Bushnell Center for Performing Arts, has refused to bargain in good faith with its musicians. All playing members are part of the Connecticut Valley Federation of Musicians, Local 400.

Their most recent two-year contract, which expired in 2013, was followed by a one-year extension. As negotiations continue, the orchestra has put forth a new, abbreviated schedule that would slash the salaries of the group’s core members and make it more difficult for them to supplement their paychecks with other work.

American Federation of Musicians International President Raymond Hair flew in from Texas to speak at the rally, where he described the proposed contract as a no-win situation that would reduce salaries from about $23,000 per year to about $15,000 per year. It would also alter the existing schedule of evening rehearsals that allows musicians to hold daytime jobs in fields such as teaching, he said.

“Ladies and gentlemen, you are on the verge of losing your orchestra,” Hair said.

Hair blamed The Bushnell’s management, especially Chief Executive Officer David Fay, for bringing in large six-figure salaries at the expense of the musicians. According to a 2013 tax return, Fay’s salary was around $369,000 and he received more than $13,000 in pension contributions.

The most recent tax returns, which include the salaries of top executives, were not available online and a spokeswoman for the orchestra declined to release salary information for employees of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra or The Bushnell.

Tax records also indicate a 37.5 hour work week for the executives.

According to Hair, the musicians had been playing 185 times per year based on their expired contract; the new proposal would bring that number down to 115.

Hair said musicians, and not management, are an orchestra’s most important asset.

Elizabeth Regan “People come to see us. They don’t come to see the managers,” he told the audience of musicians and other unionized workers. “[Have] you ever bought a ticket because you want to go see David Fay?”

Orchestra members also are concerned about the lack of educational outreach in the new contract proposal. In past years, there have been about 200 performances by small ensembles at schools throughout the state.

In a statement, Fay said the Hartford Symphony Orchestra is “in the process of transforming itself into a modern, financially secure, regional orchestra of the highest possible caliber that provides the type of programming its audience desires.”

Fay characterized the orchestra’s musicians as “professionals” who are “dedicated to their art.”

“We are hopeful we can reach a new agreement with our musicians which gives the organization the flexibility needed to fully implement the tenets of the new Strategic Framework adopted by our Board of Directors this past June and allows our musicians to showcase their talent,” he said. “We are very optimistic about the future of the HSO and believe that working with our musicians the orchestra can reach its full potential.”

Wednesday’s rally, which included speeches by other musicians and union officials, as well as a statement of support from the office of U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, ended with a procession to The Bushnell. A brass quintet on the north steps of the Capitol played John Philip Sousa’s Washington Post March as the group set off.

If a suitable agreement is reached before the Nov. 10 hearing date for the federal government’s labor complaint, the hearing will be canceled and the matter dropped.

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(6) Archived Comments

posted by: bob8/57 | September 10, 2015  9:55am


The wealthy really care about us peons, why look they even take less (for their pensions) than they pay the musicians. Now if that’s not the very soul of generosity… I don’t know what is.

posted by: art vandelay | September 10, 2015  2:58pm

art vandelay

The Hartford Symphony Orchestra is NOT the Boston Symphony or New York Philharmonic.  It’s basically a part-time ensemble where musicians teach in the public schools, colleges or with private students. Why the orchestra pays administrators 6 figure salaries is beyond my comprehension.  If the orchestra was on par with Boston or New York with large endowments, corporate sponsorships and recording contracts, I’d say fine.  The administrators would be worth their salary.

Maybe it’s time for the HSO to emulate the New Haven, Waterbury, and Eastern Connecticut Symphonies instead of trying to play with the big boys in Boston & New York.

The other strike against the HSO is that the Bushnell is one of the worst concert halls in existence.  The acoustics are horrible compared to Symphony, & Avery Fisher Hall.  I stopped attending events at the Bushnell years ago due to the hall itself.  Even Lemy Hall at the USCoast Guard Academy and the Garde in New London are better than the Bushnell.

posted by: ocoandasoc | September 10, 2015  5:55pm

Being dedicated to your art is great, but you still have to eat. Consider the decrease in salary that’s proposed, then consider the hours of practice, rehearsal and performance and the travel and expenses and these highly skilled and trained folks are making less an hour than the Governor wants to pay fast food workers. If the city of Hartford can’t do better than this they have truly lost their soul.

posted by: art vandelay | September 11, 2015  12:15am

art vandelay

I hear what you’re saying.  The Boston Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra and Pittsburg are the big leagues where the cream of the crop do make an excellent wage.  Those orchestras as stated earlier have large endowments, corporate sponsorships and a large following to sustain those salaries.

Like it or not Hartford is in the minor leagues.  Musicians by nature “gig”, meaning they go from job to job to sustain a living.  Being member of the HSO is NOT a ticket to the big leagues. The caliber of musicianship in Hartford cannot compare to to Major League Orchestras.  As a result members of the HSO do have to supplement their incomes.

I’m sorry but we’re comparing apple to oranges.

posted by: shinningstars122 | September 11, 2015  6:02am


@Art is fan of classical music? I am impressed. Are you a Mozart or Stravinsky man?

The challenges facing organizations as large as the MET, with attendance and financing is sadly common.

This is a cultural institution that can be easily preserved. They have a dynamic conductor and folks must understand that this is a PT gig for many of the players who also have   day jobs, so preventing people from earning a living by changing the requirements for practices and other things is ludicrous.

posted by: art vandelay | September 11, 2015  9:31pm

art vandelay

Looks like we have something in common after all.
Yes I am a huge classical music fan.  The Russian & romantic composers are my favorites, but I do like others.

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