Smaller orchestra rosters mirror broad employment trends

Posted on: November 24, 2014

In Sunday’s (11/23) New York Times, Michael Cooper writes that some American orchestras in the post-downturn economy are “taking a page from the corporate world and thinking smaller: They are downsizing, shedding some full-time positions while making up the difference with less costly part-time musicians. The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra ended a contentious labor dispute and a two-month lockout this month by agreeing to a new contract that will effectively keep it smaller for the next few years—placing it in the company of major ensembles in Philadelphia, Detroit, Indianapolis, Minnesota and elsewhere…. Some are now slowly rebuilding. Such reductions do not mean that they must become chamber orchestras, or even play their fortissimos with less issimo. But they do require a greater reliance on freelance musicians to play large-scale works.… Some of the orchestras say that they can maintain quality by hiring talented musicians to sit in and note that even major, healthy ensembles use substitutes in the case of vacancies or absences. But musicians warn that an overreliance on freelancers endangers the things that make orchestras great: the cohesion that comes from playing together over many years.… Some orchestras are bucking the trend. The Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s contract calls for a minimum of 82 players, but the ensemble has long had more than 90.”

Posted November 24, 2014