Snagged labor talks may spell Hartford Symphony shutdown
Hartford — The Hartford Symphony Orchestra, frustrated that labor negotiations with the musicians' union have been dragging on for nearly a year, says drastic action, including shutting down the orchestra, could be the next step.
Jeff Verney, chairman of the Board of Directors, said Friday that contributors known as "angel donors" are now balking because the orchestra has not sufficiently restructured the symphony in "a more balanced way."
The orchestra, which is in its 72nd season, is undercapitalized and struggling with annual deficits of more than $1.3 million, officials say. A $2 million line of credit also is fully drawn.
The symphony says it has cut operating expenses by 26 percent over the past seven years, to $4.8 million from $6.5 million. But money problems remain.
"If we don't solve our financial crisis with a long-term solution by the end of January, we'll have to make difficult decisions, all of which are unpalatable, including shutting down immediately," said Stephen Collins, director of artistic operations and administration at the symphony.
One long-term idea would be a Hartford Symphony Orchestra Family Music Academy focused on music for families, schools, young adults and others. It would be an attractive initiative to funders and community stakeholders, he said.
Talks have faltered since November, with the symphony blaming the American Federation of Musicians, while Local 400 of the union counters that the symphony has only recently provided information needed to return to the bargaining table.
Michael Pollard, a violinist and member of the American Federation of Musicians negotiating committee, said the symphony is looking for a 30 percent wage cut, down from an original 40 percent proposal. That will not solve the symphony's financial problems, he said.
"We're willing to be part of the solution, but we're not willing to be the solution," Pollard said.
Musicians have blamed a lack of fundraising as the principal reason for the financial problems.
The symphony and union would not discuss many details of the contract talks, which began in January. The two sides have agreed to dozens of changes in the contract, but the "most critical" financial issues remain, Collins said.
It's publicizing the standstill to make known "that we're in serious trouble, that we're in crisis," he said.
"Our back is against the wall," Collins said.
The musicians "take the idea that there is a severe financial crisis seriously," Pollard said. He would not comment on the possibility that symphony officials will end orchestra performances.
"We have no control over that. They're going to do what they're going to do," he said.