Classical Music Buzz > Adaptistration > RSO Board To Musicians: It Is fo...

The news out of Richmond, VA continues to march along at a furious pace. The latest development centers on a 1/28/2012 memo from the Richmond (VA) Symphony Orchestra (RSO) board of directors to the RSO musicians about the organization’s involvement vis-a-vis proposed legislation that would bar musicians from receiving unemployment benefits during non-employed weeks.

Before we jump into the memo, it is worth taking a moment to clear up some confusion that’s been coming in via reader email over the past few days about the difference between the RSO and the Virginia Symphony Orchestra (VSO). In short, they are not the same organization; the RSO is based in Richmond, VA and features Steven Smith as music director whereas the VSO is based in Norfolk, VA and features JoAnn Falletta as music director.

Now, back to the memo.

A copy of the memo, written by RSO Board Chair, John W. Braymer on behalf of the entire RSO board, was provided by a source close to the situation. With the exception of removing personal information in the email header and shortening the length of the URL so as to fit allotted space, the following is a complete and unedited version of the memo.

From: John Braymer [mailto:JBraymer@{address removed}.org]
Sent: Saturday, January 28, 2012 3:32 PM
To: {RSO Dir. of Operations}
Subject: Please distribute to musicians on my behalf

Dear Musicians of the Richmond Symphony:

As you know, we notified the Local 123 negotiating team this past Monday that we had recently drawn legislators’ attention to the issue of unemployment costs, and that a bill with some cross-party support had been introduced by a legislator shortly before the deadline last Friday. This was presented to the union within the context of the $350K in costs that the Symphony Board has instructed management to eliminate in order to balance the Symphony’s FY13 budget. Without a balanced budget, the organization will not be able to make its cash flow work going forward.

Please know that the decision to ask the General Assembly to review the unemployment issue was taken reluctantly, after a full vote of the Symphony Board to pursue it, on the recommendation of a Board Committee. This was not a management-level decision. Neither is it in any way intended as an anti-union or anti-musician action, nor do we want to have a public war of words, which can only damage relationships further. It is a simple financial reality: as revenues have shrunk during the last four years of recession, we cannot afford to ignore the heavy expense involved in paying unemployment claims.

In the briefing process, we are making legislators aware of the difference between core and per service musicians. David Fisk did make one public comment to explain the difference between core and per-service remuneration levels, in response to a media question, but was not fully quoted in the subsequent newspaper report which appeared. Now that we have entered negotiations, and since this is a related financial issue, we do not plan to make any further public comment, in keeping with normal practice.

We recognize your right to protest this issue. However, though you may oppose this bill, please be aware that David and various board members have been spending months, and far more time and energy, advocating for a restoration in State funding via the Virginia Commission for the Arts. The Symphony’s grant from the Commonwealth has diminished from $210,500 in FY08 to $79,000 in FY12. Funding of the VCA has been cut from $5.96M in FY06 to $3.36M in FY12. If we can get it restored, the Symphony will receive a share of any increase to the VCA, and so relieve some of the pressure on expenses.

Since you are contacting legislators, consider also supporting the statewide efforts through Virginians for the Arts of arts groups across the Commonwealth to increase VCA funding by $500K in FY13 and $500K in FY14. The House budget amendment is item 242#1h:

http://tinyurl.com/74gdl3c

Though we must cut expenses in the short term to remain viable, all of us on Board and management are focused on the long-term sustainability and artistic health of the organization, which has to be based on revenue growth.

Sincerely yours,

John W. Braymer
Chair

In short, this has to be among the most astounding memos between an orchestra board and its musicians in recent years.

I have yet to decide whether or not an analysis of the memo is warranted at this juncture and at the time this article was published, RSO executive director, David Fisk, has yet to respond to inquiries for additional details.

In the meantime, what do you think about all of this?

2 years ago |
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