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Striking a Harmonic Chord

August 24, 1986

San Diego Symphony conductor David Atherton has again demonstrated his commitment to the orchestra by agreeing to forgo the sizable pay increase his contract called for next season. Atherton's gesture may not cause bleeding among the hearts of symphony musicians, whose minimum scale is $472 per week, but it should remove one nettlesome issue in contract negotiations going on between the musicians union and management.

Musicians have been understandably upset that Atherton's contract called for him to receive an increase in his minimum pay from $138,000 to $237,500 at the same time they were being asked to accept a pay cut. Because Atherton is paid on the basis of the number of concerts he actually conducts, his decision is expected to cost him $40,000 to $50,000 in salary.

Along with the difficult matter of balancing fair pay for the musicians with fiscal prudence for the perennially impoverished symphony, other sticky issues remain on the bargaining table. Settling them has been made more difficult by the seeming disparity in the way symphony management has treated the players and the colorful maestro. Among the problems are changes Atherton wants to implement to give him more authority over which musicians are hired. Also, a segment of the orchestra has apparently become disenchanted with Atherton's personality and his management style.

We don't have a position on the symphony's negotiations other than to feel sympathy for the musicians--who always take the brunt of any austerity measures--as well as for the position of those who are responsible for the organization's solvency.

We do, however, hope that the musicians view Atherton's decision to take less money as a sign of good faith on his part. And we would remind them that, during the past six years of the symphony's financial troubles, Atherton has been its most credible symbol and most visible spokesman. He is the symphony's indispensable man.

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