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Release from the Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra Musicians

Jun 11, 09:17 PM

The Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra Musicians have been in negotiations with the new Management Team for our Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) which expired October 1, 2010. We have engaged in eleven negotiating sessions to date. We would like to inform the general public about some of the very serious challenges we are facing regarding extreme changes Management, (on behalf of the Board) wants to implement in key provisions of our CBA.

The new Glimmerglass Management presented their opening proposal to the Orchestra’s Union Negotiating Committee (NC) last August 2011. In an unprecedented and shocking move, Article IV.EE.1 was eliminated. This Article designates the number of players in the “permanent/core orchestra”, i.e., the minimum personnel of the Orchestra. (This minimum is still subject to the instrumentations listed in the composers’ original scores for a given Glimmerglass Festival season.) Of additional noteworthy importance, this minimum personnel list comprises our Collective Bargaining Unit.

Management has insisted (for artistic control reasons, not for financial reasons) on substituting language in this Article to enable them to hire as many or as few players as they want without being subject to, and thus not respecting, the composer’s score. Management has proposed equally distressing eliminations of other important sections of the CBA which offer our musicians protection and job security; some of these proposals include elimination of a Guaranteed Weekly Minimum Salary , limitations on access to Tenure, and reallocation of powers (to a management-designee) currently rendered by a Music Director (note: Glimmerglass Festival does not have current plans nor have they announced future plans to engage in a Music Director search to replace Maestro David Angus, who resigned from Glimmerglass in 2011).

In the early stage of negotiations, the Union Negotiating Committee made a comprehensive and sincere effort to educate Management as to why the concept of keeping a” Dedicated Permanent Resident Orchestra” or “In-House Orchestra” (thus retaining a commitment to the composer’s original score) as part of the Glimmerglass Festival is so critically important. A number of essential reasons were explained, clarified and discussed. In fact, one of the most stable and economical options for the Glimmerglass Festival’s “fiscal bottom line” is maintaining the present structure and commitment to the Orchestra; the Orchestra is only 9% or less of the tGlimmerglass Festival’s total operating budget (and has been for many years). We believe this is a resounding “BANG FOR THE BUCK” !!

First, a little history:
As many of our loyal, longtime subscribers (and orchestra members) know, Glimmerglass Opera was formed in 1975. Charles Schneider, one of the founders of the Company and our first Music Director (1975-1986) conducted Puccini’s “La Boheme” in the Cooperstown High School Auditorium. Gradually, the popularity of Summer Opera in Cooperstown grew to such an extent that a new venue was needed, presenting itself in the Alice Busch Opera Theater, which opened in 1987. This beautiful opera house is situated alongside Otsego Lake, just north of Cooperstown, NY. In the time during which Paul Kellogg, Artistic Director, 1979-1996) was in collaboration with Stewart Robertson, (our second Music Director, 1987-2006) Glimmerglass began expanding and improving the orchestra, both in size and excellence. This process included several facets, such as innovative programming inclusive of newer and Baroque works, strenuous orchestral auditions to attract top-level players from all over the country when permanent vacancies occurred in the orchestra and performance experience with well-cast, talented singers (including rising stars from the brilliant Young American Artist Program).

The result was an elevated quality of sound, versatility, and an ever growing reputation for Glimmerglass Opera. Soon Glimmerglass Opera became a real “destination” for Opera lovers from all over the country; Glimmerglass quickly joined Santa Fe Opera as a “household name” status for summer opera. Opera singers began to view Glimmerglass as an important milestone in their approach to career-building, resulting in Glimmerglass vocalists progressing to renowned stages such as the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.

Second, some economics:
Because of the structure of the orchestra’s AFL-CIO contract, there are elements of a Dedicated Orchestra Model which positively impact the outlying communities economically and in other ways. One of them is the fact that a large percentage of orchestra members come from a distance to be in residence for the entire summer. Musicians own or rent a place to live for approximately 10 weeks of the summer. Because a key provision of our contract enables our Bargaining Unit players to earn Tenure (a guaranteed offer of work whenever one’s instrument/position is required by the repertoire), it is often possible to establish recurring relationships with landlords, enabling a landlord to count on that income every summer. All of our Orchestra musicians contribute to the Upstate New York economy by paying taxes, utilities, and by patronizing businesses and restaurants in the Cooperstown and outlying areas (even as far as Sharon Springs to the east, Richfield Springs
and West Winfield to the west, Utica to the north, and Oneonta to the south).

Third, artistic points:
For a musical organization to be successful there has to be a “draw” or a focus, to bring people out to that particular venue as opposed to going somewhere else for the entertainment/artistic experience they seek. Why come to Glimmerglass? At its inception, Glimmerglass was specifically an Opera Company, so people came looking for a great place to attend opera in a summery, scenic, vacation oriented and uniquely family-friendly setting. For the Upstate New Yorkers Glimmerglass provided world-class opera without the hassle of having to travel into “The City” And, for those downstate, it provided a nice change from the New York or other “city scene”. “Bring your kids, dress casually, breathe the country air and enjoy a picnic before the performance” was an exciting new way to enjoy Opera! These elements enhanced “Opera” into a different kind of arts experience. Additionally, patrons may have heard that Glimmerglass was actively promoting new operas, setting a trend with Baroque Opera, as well as performing the “standards” and a fun Gilbert and Sullivan operetta (which drew enthusiastic crowds of G&S devotees). The opportunity to attend two or three productions in a single weekend became a great way to take in a lot of superb music and theater in a single long weekend. For many years now, positive Glimmerglass reviews have appeared in the major arts and news publications nationally and internationally (New Yorker, New York Times, London Times, Opera News, Boston Globe and the Wall Street Journal, to name a few). The increasing number of top-notch singers matched by a high quality versatile orchestra has created performances which were favorably noted by these critics. Important remarks about the musical sound are intrinsically woven into the general production reviews. (After all, if an Opera had no music, it would be…a play,…right?)

Fourth, the current dilemma:
Management wants to remove the “permanent/core orchestra” as listed and protected by our Collective Bargaining Agreement, and put together an orchestra each summer on an “as-needed” basis. For some reason, Management believes they will be able to get quality players to work on an ad hoc (“free-lance”) basis, with no future guarantee of work and no job security, not to mention, where will they live? Cooperstown, NY is a resort area; most temporary residences are expensive unless one has connections with realtors/landlords and a continuing relationship with a regional employer. There will be
no financial incentive for any musician to come here and work, especially a high quality full-time professional musician who is (quite possibly) supporting a family. Additionally, there will be no financial incentive for current players to “reserve” their summers “just in case” Glimmerglass sends an offer of work. Most musicians need to plan a work schedule which provides consistent, guaranteed income from year to year.

Fifth, some facts:
The quality of instrumentalists in the current Glimmerglass Festival (Opera) Orchestra is unsurpassed. We have players from major orchestras and opera companies across the country such as Chicago, New York, New Jersey, Honolulu, Texas, Atlanta, Columbus, Boston, Arizona, and more. Many of these players have won auditions in which the competition was as fierce as any national orchestra audition, and if one knows anything about that process nowadays, it is a daunting one! The type of players available for the scenario management has in mind can not even remotely be up to the current experience
caliber within the orchestra. Despite our earnest efforts at the negotiating table, Management maintains that the artistic quality of an ad hoc orchestra would be the same as our established, consistent Orchestra; they believe that this is possible even if current guarantees and job securities are removed.

Sixth: How will Management’s proposal affect the audience’s experience? (i.e., Why should I care?):
If Management carries out this proposal on behalf of the Board, we believe audiences will be paying for a full-price ticket and receiving a cut-rate product, consisting of a (potentially much) reduced orchestra (i.e. not hired according to the composer’s specifications) of ad hoc, freelance musicians. Removing the requirement for Management to hire an orchestra as an entity, and removing the requirement for Management to hire an orchestra according to the composer’s specifications will lead to poor quality and could even lead to “canned” music instead of a live orchestra. High level Principal singers with their sights on “The Met” may no longer choose Glimmerglass as a stepping-stone on their way up the career ladder; Glimmerglass may recede as a local spot of no particular note, certainly not of national musical acclaim. Glimmerglass may no longer appear in important news publications. The genre of Opera is as much about the creation of the MUSIC in the pit
as the acting and singing on stage. Why are audio recordings and broadcasts of opera still popular even though DVD and BlueRay are available? The Music.

NOW, the call to action:
Our audience members need to know that the sound of the Glimmerglass Orchestra to which they have become accustomed is in jeopardy! Letters written by opera-goers to Management and the Board over the years have extolled the virtues of our orchestra and complimented the company on its versatility and development to its current high level. We believe that “Glimmerglass signature sound” could disappear forever!

1. Tell your friends and colleagues to “like” our FB page.
2. Ask the Glimmerglass Opera Festival subscribers and attendees you know to write to the Board * , requesting that Glimmerglass retain the current permanent in-house orchestra as it is now formatted and driven by the composer’s specifications, including the job securities and wage minimums so important to enabling our musicians to commit and return to this job, year after year.
3. Ask your friends who already donate to Glimmerglass to change the designation of their offering from a general donation to a designated donation [specify “for orchestra”] which could be an incentive for the Board to keep the in-house orchestra model in place.
4. If you are a member of the Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra, stand together in solidarity with your fellow musicians in the Union, support and assist your Negotiating Team during their fight for our jobs and for the integrity of the music.
5. Stay in contact with this FB page to get continuing updates on the situation, and to read important articles related to it.

  • Address letters in support of the Orchestra to:
    Glimmerglass Festival
    attn: Mr. Sherwin M. Goldman, Board President
    P.O. Box 191, Cooperstown, NY 13326
    Thank you!

Nathan Kahn, Negotiator
Symphonic Services Division
American Federation of Musicians
Administrator-AFM Symphony Audition Complaint Hotline
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Office: 719-520-3288
Cell: 719-337-3652


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