by Jeff Lunden
A worker unveils posters Tuesday for the coming season of New York's Metropolitan Opera. The Met's fall schedule could be in jeopardy if failed labor negotiations result in a lockout Friday.
At the Metropolitan Opera, drama is usually onstage. But for the past several months, it's been in the newspapers.
Contract deadlines for 15 of the 16 unions at the Met in New York are set to expire at midnight tonight, and negotiations will likely go down to the wire. A lockout shutting down the world's largest opera house seems imminent.
Management wants concessions from the unions to offset dwindling ticket sales. Union employees think they're being asked to pay for unchecked spending.
Late Wednesday, management proposed to two of the unions that a federal mediator be called, but the Met still hasn't taken a lockout off the table. All of this has played out very publicly.
Acting Principal Clarinetist Jessica Phillips Rieske, chair of the orchestra's negotiating committee, says, "the media blackout was over before it had begun." In February, the day after the unions received management's initial proposals for cuts, details were leaked to The New York Times.
"It's sort of unprecedented for us to have these negotiations in the press," Rieske says. "It's the first time that's ever happened."
But it's not the first time Met labor negotiations have turned nasty. In 1969 and in 1980, extended lockouts canceled large chunks of the company's seasons. Under the Met's previous general manager, Joseph Volpe, labor relations — at least on the surface — seemed amicable.
Drew McManus, an arts consultant who's worked with opera companies and orchestras, says that after Peter Gelb took over as general manager in 2006, relations with the unions went bad very quickly.
"But instead of going public and getting very angry," McManus says, "the employer, the Met in this case, decided to go ahead and bring Joe back in. And that seemed to be fine until now, when the Met released a statement saying that they would not be using Joe and that Peter would be involved in the negotiations directly. And that's where everything kind of turned upside down."
Gelb brought in attorney Howard Z. Robbins, of the international law firm Proskauer, who represented the National Hockey League in its 2012-13 lockout. That was a sign, says D. Joseph Hartnett of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, who is representing six Met unions in the negotiations.
"This threat of a lockout, we view it very seriously," Hartnett says. "You know, you don't hire the attorney that locked out the NHL if you're not planning on a lockout."
For his part, Gelb has been as vocal in the press as his critics. "Certainly, taking on the unions is not fun, I can tell you that," Gelb said two weeks ago. "Unions, artistic workers, in this country are the highest paid in the world."
And Gelb told the Associated Press last week that "We need to impose a lockout because otherwise we have no ability to make them take this seriously."
Michael G. Dzialo of Pitta & Giblin LLP, a labor attorney who has represented several unions, including the Directors Guild of America, says he would have advised Gelb to choose his words more carefully: "If he were my client, I'd take him backstage and slap him around a bit, because he's gone off-script. You do not say that. What you say is, 'The last thing in the world we want to do is impose a lockout.'"
And that's exactly what the Met said in a statement when asked about Gelb's quote. Late yesterday, Gelb proposed to the unions representing the orchestra and the singers that they call in a federal mediator. Representatives from both unions said they're open to the idea if Gelb calls off the lockout. But press reports indicate that management intends to stick to its timetable.
In his interview with NPR, Gelb said that if he could negotiate a settlement with at least one or more of the big unions, "That will give us some momentum that will enable us to reach agreements with the other groups. Certainly, if we don't reach agreements, then it's going to have a deleterious effect, obviously, on the season opening."
The season is scheduled to begin Sept. 22 with a gala performance of a new production of Mozart's Marriage of Figaro. The unions say they're willing to continue to work and talk past today's deadline.
by Anastasia Tsioulcas
Highlights from John Luther Adams' Sila, premiered at Lincoln Center on July 25, 2014.
Credit: Lincoln Center
Composer John Luther Adams has been enjoying enormous success. He won this year's Pulitzer Prize for his expansive, unsettling and darkly beautiful orchestral piece Become Ocean, which will be released in the fall in a recording by the Seattle Symphony. His monumental 2009 percussion piece Inuksuit has been recorded and staged several times now across the country and abroad, from Tennessee to Portugal — a success almost unthinkable in the age of one-and-done premieres.
The ideas that have long compelled Adams have found a new home and expression in his outdoor work Sila: The Breath of the World, which was premiered at Lincoln Center Friday evening, with a repeat performance the following night. (I attended both the Friday afternoon dress rehearsal and the second concert.) The twin hallmarks of Adams' work — a deep concern with the interactions between humans and the environment, an undeniable though wholly nonsectarian mysticism — are fused through masterly command of musical texture and pacing.
Jointly commissioned by two of Lincoln Center's signature summer series, the Mostly Mozart Festival and Lincoln Center Out of Doors, the premiere of Sila fulfilled goals of both: to engender the creation of new works and to use the organization's outdoor space more creatively, a welcome recent development for concertgoers familiar with the campus only through entering and exiting its temples of culture. Arrayed around what is broadly called the Hearst Plaza, the 81 performers in Sila were dotted across a grass lawn, among a grove of trees and even in a pool of water.
Sila is a piece intended to be played by 16 to 80 or more musicians grouped into five separate ensemble choirs of woodwinds, brass, percussion, strings and voices, who may perform the work in any combination, either simultaneously or successively. There is no conductor, and each musician chooses his or her own pacing through the score, as long as each sustained tone or rising phrase "lasts the length of one full exhalation," according to Adams' notes.
The piece is set within 16 "harmonic clouds" grounded on the first sixteen overtones of a low B-flat. Does that sound anarchic, or overly academic? Hardly. The music shimmers and shifts in magical and beautiful ways. And Sila is as much performance piece as sonic work. The long, luxurious phrases were underscored by choreographer Mark DeChiazza, who had the performers make slow, sweeping tai chi-like gestures that seemed to halt time.
As in other Adams works, and most famously in his Inuksuit, audience members also participate in shaping their own experiences. Where a listener chooses to sit, stand or meander alters the sonic experience, and each person's experience is different. I chose to rotate my listening spots every 10 or 15 minutes.
String players were stationed along the edge of a small grove of trees, by a post under the overhang of the Lincoln Center Theater. The winds, brass and timpani players standing on a grassy hill that descends from the entrance to The Juilliard School might as well have been sounding in a far-off field, though they were only a few dozen feet away. At the southeast corner of the space, the metallic hum of bowed cymbals dominated for a while; at the northeast, it was the clink of glasses and clatter of plates at a restaurant's outdoor tables. And in the middle of a pool at the heart of the performance space, singers stood knee-deep in water.
Led by musical director Doug Perkins, some of the country's foremost new music specialists played the premiere. They were culled from flocks of Adams devotees from across the country — members of Chicago's eighth blackbird, Philadelphia's The Crossing choir and Michigan's Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble among them. They performed alongside such New York denizens as the JACK Quartet, TILT Brass and Bang on a Can's Asphalt Orchestra and many of the city's notable freelancers (including John Altieri, the conductor/tuba player from NPR Music's recent 100+ BPM project.) Their gathering for Sila was a testament to the enthusiasm Adams' music has generated among performers.
At the first full performance, audience members were not allowed to walk along the main pathway on the long side of the pool, between the string players and a line of percussionists, though many sat there (as I did, briefly, during the dress rehearsal). By Saturday night, Adams had given his benediction for listeners to walk through there, and this major artery was soon clogged up. About 30 minutes into the piece, the experience was half meditation labyrinth, half the familiar slog of navigating an uptown 1 train during rush hour.
But something else transpired as well. Absent a stage, the traditional walls between musicians and listeners dissipated absolutely. That intimacy created a marvelous cocoon of shared experience and silky, ethereal layers of sound. The physical closeness did create its own perils: On Saturday, I saw a couple of people in alarming proximity to the musicians and their instruments snapping selfies mid-performance.
Yet even those interruptions couldn't permeate the quiet, deeply contemplative nature of Adams' elegantly wrought and mesmerizing work. The composer translates the Inuit title of the piece this way: "Sila is the wind and the weather, the forces of nature. But it's also something more. Sila is intelligence. It's consciousness. It's our awareness of the world around us, and the world's awareness of us." Even with the buzz of Manhattan so close, Adams and his musicians created a work of music, and of theater, that encouraged listeners to look both deeply inward and out into an imaginary expanse far beyond Hearst Plaza.
Sila ends with performers blowing through megaphones — no notes sounding, just long exhalations of breath you had to lean in closely to hear. Just as Saturday's performance was drawing to its close, a breeze visited, creating new waves of ripples in the pool.
by Tom Huizenga
Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein (who later became an American citizen) lost an arm in World War I. He commissioned composers including Maurice Ravel to write pieces for the left hand alone.
One hundred years ago today, the Austro-Hungarian Empire declared war on Serbia. The conflict drew in country after country and grew to an unprecedented scale. An estimated 9 million combatants lost their lives and more than 21 million were wounded in what came to be known as The Great War and, eventually, World War I.
Among the dead and the survivors were musicians. We've been listening to some of their creations. The extraordinary level of destruction inspired them in myriad ways. Some composers captured the war's violence while others seemed to counteract it by writing music that soothed. Still others came back wounded yet persevered. And all these years later, the war continues to resonate in works like the 2012 Pulitzer Prize-winning opera Silent Night by Kevin Puts.
Have a favorite piece of music inspired by World War I? Let us know in the comments section or on Twitter or Facebook.
Weekend Edition Saturday
Bryn Terfel as Wotan in the Met's production of Wagner's Ring cycle, one of the productions that has been criticized by some as too costly.
When an opera company is in the midst of contentious labor negotiations, the results can be dramatic. This week, the war of words between unions and management at New York's Metropolitan Opera, the world's largest opera company, escalated. An Aug. 1 shut down now seems likely.
At the center of the debate is the ballooning Met budget, which stood at $200 million in 2006 but has since climbed to more than $325 million. Met General Manager Peter Gelb asserts that union salaries and benefits are his biggest costs, accounting for two-thirds of the operating budget.
The Met's orchestral musicians get paid more than any other orchestra members in the U.S., and its stagehands and choristers are among the best paid in the world. Management's proposal to rein in rising costs does not include cutting base salaries, but instead cutting about 16% of workers' total compensation by changing work rules governing overtime payments, as well as trimming health benefits and pensions.
But the unions blame Gelb for the rising deficits, saying he has been irresponsible in his spending and accusing him of increasing his salary while asking them to accept reductions. Alan Gordon of the American Guild of Music Artists says Gelb has doubled the number of new productions since taking over: "There are so many, in fact, that the employees made twice their salary in just the overtime necessary to deal with the new productions."
"No matter how you slice it," Gelb says, "opera is incredibly expensive." Earned income, he says, has not kept pace with rising costs.
Negotiations are slated for next week. If agreements aren't reached, Gelb has warned the unions to prepare for a lockout.
All Things Considered
Metropolitan Opera General Manager Peter Gelb has warned union workers of a lockout if a contract deal isn't settled by July 31.
The clock is ticking for the Metropolitan Opera in New York. The world's largest opera company may be headed for a shutdown. Most of the union contracts for the Met expire in a week. Yesterday, Met General Manager Peter Gelb sent a letter to the unions, warning them to prepare for a lockout if they don't come to terms.
For months now, the company and its unions have been at an impasse. Management has proposed cutting 16 percent of union members' compensation. Otherwise, Gelb contends, the company could go bankrupt in two to three years.
"The fact of the matter is that two-thirds of our costs are driven by our union payments," Gelb says.
Gelb is not proposing cuts to base salary, but overtime, health and pension benefits. The musician's union says its members could actually see cuts of twice that after they crunch the numbers, according to Jessica Phillips Rieske, acting principal clarinetist of the orchestra and a member of the bargaining committee.
"Actually, the cuts that we're talking about would be more like 25 to a worst-case scenario of 37 percent," Rieske says.
Since Gelb took over the Met in 2006, the company's budget has ballooned to more than $325 million. He's doubled the amount of new productions and he's created high definition broadcasts that bring Met performances to movie theaters around the world.
"When I took over the Met," Gelb says, "the budget was about $200 million a year and we invested in new efforts to help make the opera more accessible and more successful."
More successful, but revenues from those efforts have not come close to matching expenses, so Gelb is more dependent than ever on private and corporate donors. "We had to raise about $150 million in the last fiscal year in annual donations to make ends meet," he says. "And that's a level that our donors are not willing to continue to bear."
The unions counter that Gelb has been reckless in his spending and now they're being asked to pay the tab. They say that all this new activity has triggered costly overtime payments and the expensive new productions haven't filled the theater.
"We consider the Met Opera our family," says D. Joseph Hartnett of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. He's at the bargaining table for the six unions that represent the stagehands, wardrobe workers and box office personnel, among others. "We feel that, just as any family that has a budgetary crisis, everything needs to be on the table. And that includes Mr. Gelb's spending. And if we're being asked to tighten our belts, Mr. Gelb is gonna have to cut up some credit cards."
One credit card is Gelb's salary, which is roughly $1.4 million. Unions say Met management has withheld crucial financial information that would help them negotiate. And they contend that Gelb has wanted to lock them out all along. But Gelb says a lockout isn't the point.
"But more important than even the opening night is that we fix this economic problem that the Met has," Gelb says, "so that we have many opening nights in the years to come."
All of the unions have bargaining sessions scheduled in the coming week. But if they don't reach an agreement, a lockout would almost certainly delay the Met's opening night in September.
The French horns of the National Youth Orchestra of the USA — a yearly summer project organized by Carnegie Hall — rehearsed Saturday in Purchase, N.Y., in advance of their tour around the country.
Last year, the Carnegie Hall-organized National Youth Orchestra of the USA launched amid a rush of media attention from across the country and around the world, with performances in Moscow, St. Petersburg and London. This week, a fresh crop of very talented young musicians, all between the ages of 16 and 19 and hailing from 35 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, are hitting the ground running with a concert tonight at New York's Carnegie Hall.
Their first performance was Wednesday evening, when our friends at the NPR-distributed program From the Top taped their newest show at Purchase College. It featured four NYO-USA musicians playing Saint-Saëns and Fauré alongside host and pianist Christopher O'Riley, as well as selections from their full 2014 concert program.
I went to the 2014 orchestra's first full concert on Sunday in Purchase to hear a program that was right in the pocket of their conductor, St. Louis Symphony music director David Robertson — and showed off their youthful exuberance and considerable technical command. The concert included a sparkling new work called Radial Play by 28-year-old composer Samuel Adams (son of John Adams, whom he strongly resembles physically); Bernstein's Symphonic Dances from West Side Story; Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition; and Britten's stunning but drastically underheard Violin Concerto with soloist Gil Shaham, who made a fantastic recording of it not long ago on his Canary Classics label.
These young artists couldn't ask for a better guide in playing American music than St. Louis Symphony Music Director Robertson — who, as it happens, made one of my favorite recordings of the first half of this year, an album featuring the music of Samuel Adams' father, another thoroughly American voice on the scene.
In the Bernstein suite, Robertson teased out every last hint of swing in the score — not just in the most famous sections, but also in the gossamer-light moments the violins have in the Scherzo. The Adams piece, Radial Play, with its glittering bursts of color and texture arranged in dense skeins of counterpoint that project out of a single note, was a welcome thrust into 21st-century music, and a piece that deserves to make it onto other orchestras' programs in the seasons to come.
You can hear Radial Play now courtesy of From the Top, who recorded the NYO-USA world premiere:
Though there were occasional slips of stamina and attack in the Mussorgsky that tipped off the musicians' ages, it was a raring outing nonetheless for some greatly beloved music. But even more exhilarating was their performance of the Britten. Shaham treated them as real collaborators in this harrowing piece, which the British composer wrote as a response to the gathering clouds of war across Europe, and specifically after the bombing of the Basque town of Guernica.
Carnegie Hall has been releasing a string of videos to celebrate this year's ensemble, including a performance of the group's encore, music from Porgy and Bess: A Symphonic Picture. (And no, that's not David Robertson leading the charge, it's NYO-USA Orchestra Director James Ross.)
The 2014 players have also made a bunch of little videos showcasing their personalities — some of them sweet (like a group of cellists covering "What A Wonderful World"), many of them a little goofy (percussionists, of course). My favorite is one that a clever YouTube commenter has dubbed "gang violins" — you'll see why.
After their date at Carnegie Hall tonight, the 2014 NYO-USA players head out on tour across the United States, with stops at Tanglewood, Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., Chicago's Grant Park Music Festival, the Grand Teton Music Festival in Wyoming, Sonoma State University in Northern California, and Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. And for the program's 2015 participants? A tour of China with conductor Charles Dutoit and pianist Yundi.
by NPR Staff
Weekend Edition Sunday
Milos Karadaglic's latest album, Aranjuez, released this July.
If you're a classical guitarist, it may be impossible to resist the pull of one iconic piece: the Concierto de Aranjuez by Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo. Many musicians regard it as the holy grail of guitar repertoire, including a man so big in the classical world he is known by only one name: Milos.
"One thing about this particular piece is that this melody really transcends into so many different areas, to so many different genres," says 30-year-old Milos Karadaglic, who was born across the Mediterranean from Spain in the tiny Balkan country of Montenegro. "While it is a classical guitar piece and the most iconic of classical guitar pieces, it has inspired so many other musicians to play it."
Milos' latest album is called Aranjuez, but as he explained to NPR's Arun Rath, it isn't just a tribute to Rodrigo: "It's about the journey of the guitar in the 20th century." He spoke with Rath about crafting a narrative from the work of Rodrigo and another Spanish composer, Manuel de Falla. Hear their conversation at the audio link.
Milos performs a Tiny Desk Concert at the NPR Music offices.
Milos Karadaglic's latest album, Aranjuez, released this July.
"Maintenance is a breeze. I am so happy that we chose InstantEncore!"