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Pacific Symphony commits to raising musicians' pay

September 21, 2007|Chris Pasles | Times Staff Writer

The Pacific Symphony will be challenged to raise the money to increase musicians' salaries by 41.5% over the next five years, orchestra president John Forsyte said Thursday.

"The board is making a pretty courageous commitment to the strategic plan of the orchestra," Forsyte said. "But in order to grow and improve, we have to make that kind of investment."

The investment he spoke of would be necessitated by an agreement with its 88 members that the orchestra announced Wednesday after weeks of negotiations, including the threat of the first strike in its 29-year history. The members are expected to approve the proposed contract Sept. 29.

"The symphony acknowledged that the musicians weren't really being compensated for the amount of commitment they were asking for to keep up with their growth," said Frank Amoss, president of the Orange County Musicians Union Local 7 of the American Federation of Musicians.

Amoss said that the Santa Ana-based orchestra's budget had more than doubled in eight years, from $8 million to $17 million, but that the musicians' portion declined, from 46% to 25%. "That was our beef," he said.

In the last year of the new agreement, section musicians -- approximately two-thirds of the freelance ensemble, who perform nearly 200 rehearsals and concerts annually -- would make about $41,500. Principal players would earn about $62,250.

The previous contract expired Aug. 31.

"Making comparisons with other orchestras is a little tricky," said violinist Christine Frank, head of the committee that represented the players. "When we put together wages and cost of living, on a straight dollar basis, the Pacific Symphony numbers were not so far out of line. But when you take into consideration the cost of living here, that made a huge difference.

"Our main goal was to try to bring the compensation up to the level of what could be considered a professional wage so that musicians can afford to play here and stay here."

According to the agreement, the Pacific would remain a freelance or per-service orchestra as opposed to a salaried orchestra, which typically performs 50 weeks a year.

The Pacific Symphony will open its 2007-08 season Sept. 27-29 in Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa.

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chris.pasles@latimes.com

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