The musicians of the Boston Symphony Orchestra have ratified a new labor agreement, effective through August 2023. The orchestra’s musicians have agreed to substantial cuts to their salaries in light of financial shortfalls caused by COVID-19 related concert cancellations.
A statement provided Friday by the orchestra revealed that musicians would accept an average reduction of 37 percent in compensation. The new base salary for a full-time musician (the BSO has 92 of them) will be $120,000, a 26 percent reduction from the previous base pay of $162,000. As the BSO rebuilds its revenue, compensation will increase under terms defined by the contract.
With pay reductions over three years, the labor agreement reflects the long-term nature of the pandemic’s financial toll. In April, unionized BSO players agreed to initial salary reductions (averaging 25 percent per player) through Aug. 31. The new contract also expands the definition of official BSO-related work services to include the orchestra’s new virtual offerings and other community engagement activities, and adds a handful of Sunday afternoon concerts to upcoming seasons.
The agreement also includes the establishment of the BSO Resident Fellowship Program starting in fall 2021. This new program will provide training for early-career musicians of color, affording them opportunities to study with BSO musicians, perform with the BSO and Boston Pops during their Symphony Hall seasons in Boston, and participate in the summertime Tanglewood Music Center season as fellows.
In a phone interview Friday, BSO Players Committee chair James Markey said a diversity and inclusion project had been brewing for some time in conversations between the musicians' union and BSO administration. A subcommittee of musicians consulted with players in the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Detroit Symphony Orchestra, where similar initiatives have been launched.
“We were able to look at some other programs in order to find out what worked, what maybe didn’t work as well, to give us more information on how we can make this program a success from the very beginning,” said Markey, who plays bass trombone in the orchestra. “For us, it’s important that anyone coming through have the best experience possible, and feel like this program is doing what it’s designed to do, which is to help give people ... the tools that they need to be able to go out and do really well in orchestral auditions, and become permanent members of the community.”
As for salary reductions for unionized BSO musicians, they’re the latest in a string of cost-cutting measures designed to help the nonprofit weather the pandemic. The BSO significantly reduced its administrative workforce effective Sept. 1, laying off about 50 of its 180 full-time administrative staffers. In its statement Friday, the BSO put its losses at $35 million due to 316 canceled concerts and events since mid-March. According to a spokesperson, the BSO had a planned operating budget of $107 million for fiscal year 2020 (which ended Aug. 31). Its endowment is valued at $449.6 million, the largest of any American orchestra.
Zoë Madonna can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @knitandlisten. Madonna’s work is supported by the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation.