Musicians, US&O in tune?

They reach tentative agreement on a contract, which still must be ratified
This is an archived article that was published on in 2005, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A tentative contract agreement was announced Friday between Utah Symphony & Opera and its musicians union. But before harmony is restored at US&O, the contract must be ratified by both sides.

The tentative agreement will be presented to the US&O board next Thursday.

If it is ratified by the board, musicians will receive the contract on Friday. Final ratification could come any time after that.

The musicians have been performing under a "talk and play" agreement since August, when musicians' concerns over financial and management problems at US&O prompted a study by consultant Thomas W. Morris, former executive director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Cleveland Orchestra.

Exact details of the tentative contract were not released. But Joe Hatch, attorney for the musicians' union, American Federation of Musicians Local 104, said the agreement includes a three-year contract that specifies working conditions and benefits, and a two-year contract covering wages, with an option for a third year. Hatch said the contract is "consistent with the Morris report," which based its figures on a two-year freeze of musicians' wages.

The $57,000 base wage of Utah Symphony musicians is the lowest among 52-week orchestras in the United States. Salt Lake City's metropolitan area is "among the smallest, if not the smallest" population supporting a full-time orchestra, according to Jack McAuliffe, vice president of the American Symphony Orchestra League.

The problems that prompted Morris' hiring by US&O musicians and management arose after a controversial 2002 merger between Utah Symphony and Utah Opera.

Though proponents said consolidating the two groups would grow the audience and create budget surpluses, the merger was followed by a sharp decline in ticket revenues and annual donations, and operating deficits of $1.8 million and $1.6 million, respectively, during the merger's first two years.

The deficits were offset by a cash reserve created from an anonymous bequest, according to US&O's CEO Anne Ewers, who is also general director of Utah Opera and executive director of the Deer Valley Music Festival, which had its inaugural season last summer.

In his report, Morris recommended a three-year financial recovery plan and creation of a task force to propose institutional changes based on his findings. Morris called for a greater focus on fund raising and audience development on the Wasatch Front, an approved business plan for US&O's new Deer Valley Music Festival, improvement of board function and restructuring Ewers' duties.

On Feb. 24, US&O's board adopted a financial recovery plan based on Morris' report and created a task force to review and make recommendations on his suggestions for management changes.

Speaking for the musicians, Utah Symphony associate concertmaster Gerald Elias said musicians on the negotiating committee were "optimistic" after hearing a report from the task force during a US&O executive board meeting Thursday.

"All of Morris' recommendations were thoroughly considered, and most recommended," Elias said. "The task force deserves a lot of credit for the work they put in over the last two or three weeks."

US&O marketing director Sean Toomey said the US&O board's human resources committee reviewed Ewers' duties with her input and recommended changes during Thursday's executive board meeting.

Task force chairwoman Patricia Richards will announce details of the administrative restructuring along with the task force's recommendations to the US&O board in a public meeting next Thursday, Toomey said.

A written statement from Richards characterized the tentative agreement as "the most positive and constructive step in a broader plan to bring stability and success to this organization."

Ewers said in a written statement that "the efforts on both sides of the table are commendable and illustrate how committed the board and musicians are to moving forward and providing the highest degree of artistry to this community."