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Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Reaches Labor Deal With Musicians

Atlanta Symphony Orchestra bassist Michael Kurth stands on the picket line for a silent protest during the lockout in September. The orchestra announced this weekend that it had reached a new four-year contract with musicians.
David Goldman

Musicians and management at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra have reached agreement on a new labor contract after months of negotiations and a lockout, setting the stage for the ensemble's 70 th anniversary season to start on Thursday. Appropriately enough, the first concert will feature Beethoven's "Ode to Joy."

Management announced Saturday that the two sides had managed to hammer out a four-year collective bargaining agreement six weeks after the season was to have started. Under the new deal, musicians will receive a 6-percent pay raise over four years and will pay increased premiums to participate in a high-deductible health plan.

The Associated Press says that one of the most contentious issues has been the size of the orchestra, which will increase from 77 musicians to 88 over the span of the new contract.

"We are thrilled we have been able to reach agreement with the musicians," said Virginia A. Hepner, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Woodruff Arts Center, in a statement.

"Over the last several difficult weeks of negotiations, both sides recognized that we all share the same goals and aspirations – we all want a world class orchestra that the musicians and city are proud of and one that has long-term financial stability," she said. "We believe this new agreement is one that will allow us to achieve those goals."

Danny Laufer, an associate principal cellist and vice president of the musicians' negotiating team, said in a statement: "We are grateful and humbled by the incredible outpouring of support displayed for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra from our community, as well as across the country and around the world."

The New York Times reports: "The agreement brings Atlanta's second lockout of its musicians in two years to a close, and ends a bitter battle that had led to canceled concerts, the resignation of the orchestra's president and questions about why a city with Atlanta's economic clout had difficulty sustaining an orchestra."

The labor dispute was the orchestra's second in as many years, although in 2012, the players spent just three weeks on the picket line.

As NPR Music reported in September, despite the orchestra's 27 Grammy awards, it has been running operating deficits since 2001. This year, it is $2 million in the hole on a budget of $38 million.

In Thursday's first concert of the long-delayed season, which was to have started on Sept. 25, the ASO with Music Director Robert Spano conducting will perform Beethoven's ninth symphony and Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 5.

The Times says the orchestra had originally been scheduled to perform Ralph Vaughan Williams' "A Sea Symphony" — which it won a Grammy for a recording in 2003 — but there apparently was not enough time to rehearse it.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.
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