San Francisco Symphony cancels East Coast tour as strike continues

I just heard about this! The SFO is on strike, and thus canceled their East Coast tour. I was looking forward to the broadcast here on Musical Exchange! 

Many orchestras have been going on strike in the past few years. Why?

Just thought it'd be some interesting news to share :)

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Dear Elisabeth

There are a lot of reasons why orchestral musicians around the US are not working with their orchestras at the moment. Basically, American culture is changing dramatically, and orchestras either cannot or will not change fast enough with it. This affects:

a) donations to orchestras, which were very successful in the 20th century, but the trend now is towards giving money to environmental and social issues that people see as more important to the 21st century

b) American musicians are amongst the most expensive in the world, and some orchestras, particularly big ones with large costs and an organisation that is difficult to change, are struggling to afford them sustainably into the future

c) attendance at live concerts of any description, not just orchestras, is decreasing as more people work later hours and entertainment can be downloaded instantly anywhere, any time

d) minorities, such as Spanish and Chinese Americans, are becoming more important to US society, and do not feel connected to orchestral culture in the way European Americans did last century

e) The generation that supported orchestras in the 20th century, the baby boomers born after the 2nd World War and their parents, the Radio Generation, were a very large and powerful force, but they are dying now, and successive generations such as Generation X ,born in the late 60s and Generation Y, which you belong to, are simply a smaller force of people who are finding meaningful entertainment elsewhere.

f) orchestras are often seen as elitist, in spite of enormous efforts by many to bring meaning to peoples' lives on an everyday basis. Dressing up in 19th century clothing on stage looks great, but it also harks back to a time in history where racism, sexism and homophobia were normal, and many people who may love orchestral music at home, simply don't identify their communities with what they see on stage.

The sum total of all of this is that managers of some orchestras simply cannot offer musicians the job security, the number of concerts per year and the fees that they used to. The Musicians Union in America, which is very powerful, is working with managers to resolve this crisis, but the absolute bottom line is, if musicians want to keep working, then the whole feeling of what an orchestra does and what its worth to its community, has to change. 

I'm cautious about giving examples of orchestras that exemplified that change a few years ago, because these are the very orchestras that are now in trouble!

As a post script, there are inspiring examples of youth leadership, such as the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq, El Sistema and the Landfill Harmonic, where young people, faced with barely enough support or resources, create and sustain orchestral culture on next to nothing.

So the question to this forum would be:

What's stopping you?



Thanks to Elizabeth for bringing this up, and thanks to Paul for your thoughtful response.  As Paul points out, the strike in San Francisco--along with recent labor disputes this season at the Chicago, Atlanta, and Indianapolis symphony orchestras; the Minnesota Orchestra; and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra--reflects larger trends affecting the American orchestra field. 


There have been many voices writing about the strike online.  Here are a few different viewpoints:


Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle


Russell Platt, The New Yorker


Anne Midgette, The Washington Post


The San Francisco Symphony Press Release


The Musicians’ Website



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