Columbus and its new, unpleasant, world

The Columbus Symphony strike/lock-out/shutdown/attempted homicide ended today.

The Columbus Symphony will take the stage in October after musicians and managers agreed today to a new three-year contract.

Ending an impasse that canceled the summer pops and threatened the entire 2008-09 season, the orchestra board of trustees and musicians signed off on the deal.

The contract retains 53 full-time musicians but reduces their pay, shortens the performance season and moves some concerts from the Ohio Theatre to Veterans Memorial Auditorium.

Both sides expressed relief that the season was being salvaged.

“We can go to bed tonight relived that we have a symphony orchestra,” board President Robert “Buzz” Trafford said after trustees unanimously approved the pact. “And I absolutely believe that it will be an excellent orchestra.”

Douglas J. Fisher, president of the union, said musicians couldn’t sit back and just watch the symphony die. Operations have been suspended since June 1 and some musicians have taken jobs elsewhere.

“The Columbus Symphony Orchestra is an integral part of our arts community and it pained everyone to contemplate its end,” he said in a statement.

In an interview after the vote, another union official and principal tuba player, Jim Akins, called the concessions “painful” and “lifestyle changing.”

“I don’t think there will be any parties tonight,” he said.

While this is obviously not a victory for the musicians, it’s not clear to me that it’s a victory for those on the board pushing the original idea of a major reduction in the orchestra’s budget either:

The contract will help the orchestra cut $2.7 million from its $12.5-million budget by reducing musician salaries by $1.3 million, or about 27 percent, and trimming management and other expenses by $1.4 million.

The board’s original plan was to wack somewhere north of $3 million out of the musicians’ side of the budget. The key difference between that plan and this settlement is about $1.7 million in musician compensation, which the board will have to find elsewhere. And if the plan was really to close down the orchestra and re-form it as something smaller, that obviously didn’t succeed either.

But the orchestra is obviously not in a good place. Musicians will be understandably bitter, they still have a management that couldn’t sell more than 1,861 tickets to a Yo-Yo Ma concert, and the board seems entirely content with the job that they and the staff had done. And, of course, they haven’t sold a single ticket for the 2008-09 season.

The problem with driving off a cliff is the existence of gravity.


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