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Chicago Symphony Orchestra Strike Ends

By Alexander Hough in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 25, 2012 3:30PM

Photo from the CSO's Facebook page
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association and the Chicago Federation of Musicians released a joint statement just prior to 8 p.m. last night announcing a tentative agreement for a new, three-year collective bargaining agreement. The details of the new contract are being kept under wraps until each side ratifies it, which should happen within the next few days. The orchestra was reportedly meeting this morning prior to their 10 a.m. rehearsal; assuming they ratify it, all rehearsals and performances will continue as originally planned.

That was mercifully quick: The musicians began their strike around 6:15 p.m. Saturday night. Talks resumed Monday afternoon, and according to the Tribune, an agreement was reached by 6:45 p.m. Time was of the essence, which we originally said we hoped was the reason for the timing of the strike, with the orchestra traveling to Ann Arbor this Thursday, having their opening gala this Saturday, and going on tour to New York City and Mexico in the beginning of October, a trip that includes the opening concert of Carnegie Hall’s season.

As the Tribune article points out, the CSO’s strike comes at a tumultuous time for orchestras, with recent or current labor and financial issues in Detroit, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Indianapolis, and Minneapolis. For more details on these situations, check out orchestra consultant Drew McManus’s invaluable site Adaptistration (we reached McManus for comment on the CSO strike, but he was unable to speak on the subject due to a conflict of interest).

The Tribune article also includes details about the CSO’s financial state that are less rosy than the orchestra’s official reports indicate:

In the meantime, the CSO has been feeling some financial pressure. According to CSO tax documents, expenses exceeded revenues by $15 million in 2008 and $8 million in 2010 — a significant shortfall for an organization with total annual expenses of about $70 million. In 2009, revenue exceeded expenses, but barely. Tax returns for 2011 were not immediately available, but internal accounting suggests they won't bring good news. The CSO's figures (which recorded small surpluses in 2008-10 because they do not include certain debt payments and use a different calendar than the Internal Revenue Service) show deficits of $927,000 for 2011 and $1.3 million for 2012, Rutter said.

Additional financial pressure comes from long-standing debt obligations. The CSO owes about $145 million in loans, money borrowed for the Symphony Center renovation that was completed in 1997. Rutter said the CSO has $16.4 million in pension liabilities.

We’ll have the details of the CSO’s new contract when they’re released.