Less work in Sacramento musicians' new contract

Published: Sunday, Jun. 23, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Monday, Jun. 24, 2013 - 11:20 am

For Sacramento's professional orchestral musicians, the grass really is greener on the other side.

And that other side is found in places like Modesto and Fresno.

Long gone are the days when musicians could make a good portion of their living as members of Sacramento's resident professional orchestra.

That much is clear in the new one-year contract agreement signed June 7 between management and musicians of the merged Sacramento Philharmonic and Sacramento Opera.

That new merged organization, the Sacramento Region Performing Arts Alliance, comes into being July 1 as an effort to make both struggling enterprises economically sustainable.

Representatives of the American Federation of Musicians Local 12 said they're not happy that the new contract agreement continues a trend of reducing the amount of work for musicians.

"Are we happy with the contract? We're happy there will be some work, instead of nothing," said Larry Gardner, president of AFM Local 12.

Under the recently signed contract, orchestral musicians will perform 22 services in the 2013-14 season. A service is a performance or a rehearsal. That will include two classical subscription concerts, one pops concert and one fully staged opera – Verdi's "Il Trovatore."

The season is the smallest the orchestra has offered the public and its musicians since it was formed in 1997. The downward trend was precipitated by the recession in 2008.

A total of 50 services were offered to musicians in the 2011-12 season, and 34 total services in 2012-13.

The slide is evidence of how deeply the Sacramento Philharmonic has been affected by the recession. The orchestra threatened to close its doors altogether last year if it did not meet fundraising goals.

The Sacramento Opera, which operates under the same contract, canceled the bulk of its 2010-11 season because of a budgetary shortfall.

Under the umbrella of the SRPAA, the budget will be $1.8 million – $300,000 less than the combined budgets of both organizations this year.

For Gardner, a troubling aspect of the reduced services in Sacramento is how poorly it reflects on its status as a city that hosts an NBA franchise.

"There is no NBA host city that does not have a weekly salaried orchestra," said Gardner.

Even worse, he said, Sacramento offers fewer orchestral performances and less work for its musicians than smaller cities down the Central Valley.

"Both Fresno and Modesto's orchestras, that are in smaller and less wealthy cities, have more classical work," said Gardner.

At the Fresno Philharmonic, which operates on a $1.5 million budget, orchestral musicians performed 39 services this past season. Musicians are being offered 42 services for the 2013-14 season, pending contract approval.

At the Modesto Symphony, which has a budget similar to Fresno's, musicians are being offered 35 to 40 services in 2013-14. That includes five subscription concerts, with two performances each, and five pops concerts, said concertmaster Dan Flanagan.

Flanagan, like most musicians in regional orchestras, cobbles together a living by performing in several orchestras – with the automobile as crucial an instrument in his life as his violin. He also is the concertmaster of the Sacramento Philharmonic, has performed in Fresno, and also performs with the Berkeley Symphony and the California Symphony.

"It's kind of mind-boggling what's happening in Sacramento," said Flanagan. "These other cities have economies that have been hit harder than Sacramento – with higher unemployment and foreclosure rates – yet they have orchestras with much bigger seasons."

Flanagan no longer relies on Sacramento to pay the bills.

"The Sacramento Philharmonic used to be my primary employment when I first became concertmaster – but now it is only a fraction of it."

Long-time Sacramento Philharmonic French hornist Pete Nowlen also works with other orchestras, as well as teaching and heading the Sacramento-based VITA Academy.

"This is something that has perplexed me the last 20 years," said Nowlen.

When Nowlen moved to Sacramento in the 1980s, the orchestra gave roughly 120 performances per year, he said. "These included giving 52 classical and 14 pops subscription concerts yearly, and to substantial audiences," Nowlen said.

Fresno is offering three more services in the upcoming season than this year.

"We're doing less than we used to, but we're offering a little bit more in terms of services, and we're hoping to continue that," said Stephen Wilson, executive director of the Fresno Philharmonic. "We felt that both the attendance and fundraising trends we saw, particularly in the second half of the year, was enough that we could increase the amount of work."

Not all the news in Sacramento is grim, however.

"One of the things we did in the negotiations was give musicians a 3 percent raise to acknowledge the fact that there is a lot less work than they were accustomed to," said Jane Hill, interim executive director of the Sacramento Philharmonic, about contract terms for 2012-13. For the 2013-14 season orchestral musicians also got a 2% percent raise.

The new contract establishes a per-service rate – typically 2 1/2 hours – at $126.07. For opera performances, which are three hours, orchestral musicians get $134 per service, said Gardner. That translates to $2,719 if a player performs all the services, Gardner said.

Call The Bee's Edward Ortiz, (916) 321-1071. Follow him on Twitter @edwardortiz.

Editor's note: This story was changed on June 24 to correct that the Sacramento Opera canceled the bulk of its 2011-12 season because of a budgetary shortfall. Also, the story was change to clarify a quote: "One of the things we did in the negotiations was give musicians a 3 percent raise to acknowledge the fact that there is a lot less work than they were accustomed to," said Jane Hill, interim executive director of the Sacramento Philharmonic, about contract terms for 2012-13. For the 2013-14 season orchestral musicians also got a 2% percent raise.

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