Last month I reported that AFM local officers and representatives of the AFM symphonic player conferences were scheduled to meet in Chicago on Jan. 13 to discuss recording issues. That meeting took place and, while no significant conclusions were reached, the discussion was comprehensive and civil. (Too much importance cannot be placed on that last characteristic; the dialogues that occurred over the past few years on this subject, involving many of the same members as were present in Chicago, had turned into a kind of e-mail cat fight.)
Two distinct points of view continue to be articulated. One group of musicians believes that the lines between labor and management should not be blurred, that it is an institution’s job to manage, and that an orchestra’s musicians – its employees – should not be lured into partnering with management in projects, such as recording, for which musicians once were paid at set commercial rates but which now might be seen as public relations activities.
It would be my observation that many of the musicians in this first group – or at least their spokespersons – think that the current economic problems being experienced by cultural institutions are either cyclical and soon to change, or just generally of short duration. Some would say that this is the same old management song and dance.
A second group obviously disagrees with this assessment and see a more serious long term financial decline, if not in the economy as a whole, at least in the area of traditional cultural institutions, of which symphonies, operas and ballets are examples. They believe that competition for the cultural dollar is going to become even fiercer and that it will, therefore, become ever more important to engage in audience outreach and to participate in activities which aim to raise an orchestra’s public profile. They also think that each orchestra must assess its own local situation and be given a degree of autonomy which will allow it to sustain itself as it sees best.
For my own part and given the sad state of the symphonic recording business, it is difficult to understand how a certain amount of real flexibility could hurt anything in this field, provided that competition for musicians’ services is fully protected. Recording projects involving union-management decisions regarding release, distribution and creative pay structure need to be fully explored.
Local 802 was represented by Fiona Simon from the New York Philharmonic and Duncan Patton from the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in addition to myself. Local 802 Executive Board member Jay Blumenthal attended as a member of ICSOM’s Governing Board and Local 802 legal counsel Lenny Leibowitz, who also serves as ICSOM counsel, also attended.