Aftermath of Mostly Mozart Strike Still Fuels Debate

Volume CII, No. 11November, 2002

The Mostly Mozart strike, which was settled on Aug. 2, continues to elicit feedback and reactions. Below are two letters that address the aftermath.

One is from Howard Stoner, a fan of the Mostly Mozart series who is a supporter of Local 802. Stoner wrote the letter to John Darnton, Culture Editor of the New York Times, in response to the Times’ coverage of the strike.

The other letter is from the Mostly Mozart orchestra committee. It responds to an anti-union letter sent by Lydia Kontos, executive director of the Elaine Kaufman Cultural Center where, as Allegro goes to press, teaching artists are voting on union representation.

To the New York Times

Dear Mr. Darnton:

Recently, your newspaper portrayed Jane Moss, Lincoln Center’s Vice President for Programming, as a “visionary,” and then, after the brief strike by the Mostly Mozart orchestra, as an implicit heroine. The strike analysis by the Times’ Anthony Tommasini could have been written by Ms. Moss herself.

The New York press has never called Jane Moss to account. No one, especially at the Times, has bothered to question seriously Moss’ agenda in connection with the orchestra contract negotiations and instant cancellation of all concerts following the strike decision.

Many musicians feel they were manipulated during those negotiations into a situation where Lincoln Center’s objection to a single element of a proposal package provided the pretext for its rejection in total, only hours before the first concert. Some feel that the musicians were set up to be the fall guys for a strike that Moss and (perhaps) Lincoln Center anticipated, planned, and were quite willing, if not happy, to see occur.

It has always been clear that one of Jane Moss’ prime objectives has been to kill Mostly Mozart. One of her first actions a decade ago was to cut the festival’s length from seven to four weeks. She has been seeking its elimination ever since.

Moss conceived the very esoteric Lincoln Center Festival, undoubtedly to replace Mostly Mozart. But no one seems to have asked New Yorkers what they would like to see and hear at Lincoln Center in the summertime. And apparently no one has ever bothered to compare the attendance, revenues and expenses of Mostly Mozart with the corresponding figures for the Lincoln Center Festival.

The New York Times would seem the ideal entity to initiate an inquiry into the issues raised here. If ever it does, it should assign reporters, not music critics, to the story.

Yours most respectfully,
Howard M. Stoner

To the Elaine Kaufman Cultural Center

Dear Ms. Kontos:

Fellow musicians on the faculty at the Kaufman Center shared with us, the elected committee of the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, your administration’s recent written attacks on Local 802. We were incensed to read the Center’s cynical misconstrual of our decision to refuse to play this summer without a meaningful appeals process.

Let me assure you and your administration: contrary to what you have portrayed in your literature, we do not consider you to be “colleagues” who are concerned about our livelihoods as artists. Instead, it is all too clear to us that you are attempting to thwart your faculty’s struggle for union representation by distorting the facts surrounding our orchestra’s decision to stand up and fight for a fair appeals process – one that is in place in orchestras throughout the country.

We believe our management intended all along to cancel some or all of our season, which they did within 15 minutes after refusing to negotiate further. As an orchestra, we made the difficult decision to strike because of the untenable position we were in: play, and know that any one of us, who have been playing together for decades, could be dismissed without a meaningful appeals process – or don’t play, and stand up for what we believe in.

It would have been very easy for us to accept the contract, with more than 18 percent in wage increases over four years (we’re told this is four times the percent you offer your teachers), full health insurance (apparently, you don’t believe artists deserve any health insurance), 14 percent pension (apparently, you don’t believe artists deserve any pension, either), increased longevity pay, and an extra week of guaranteed employment (do you guarantee your employees anything?) However, as a group, we voted democratically for a harder decision: to demand a fair system of appeals for everyone.

Regardless of your opinion of the merits of our decision, it is reprehensible to attempt to capitalize on a difficult situation in order to dissuade professional teachers from their efforts to attain pension, health benefits and job security.

The musicians of the Lincoln Center orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, the City Ballet and City Opera, and the various freelance orchestras like the New York Pops, are all Local 802 members. We have all negotiated with the administrations of these organizations, all of which are not-for-profits, for fair contracts that include decent wages, health and pension benefits, and some measure of job security.

We strongly support your faculty’s efforts to unionize and improve their jobs. We believe unionization would further professionalize the EKCC and ultimately will help the students, who surely expect that their esteemed teachers be treated with dignity and respect. Hopefully, some of these very students eventually will be fortunate enough to play with the fine orchestras in New York City, all of which proudly operate with Local 802 union contracts and musicians.

If you do not stop this antagonistic approach, the Kaufman Center will continue to isolate itself from the professional musicians of this city. The Center should be focusing on education, and not lining corporate lawyers’ pockets to pay for an unethical, inaccurate and unnecessary labor conflict. The faculty’s desire for union representation is supported by the professional musicians of Local 802, including the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra.

The Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra
Committee: Lee Soper, Martin Agee,
Stephanie Fricker-Baer, Michael Gillette,
Kim Laskowski