ATLANTA -- The cellist, who has barely slept, searches his laptop for a secret recording of a former symphony executive. The clarinetist is gone, joining two other musicians now playing in the New York Philharmonic. And the percussionist, who practiced all summer for a star turn that may never come, spent a recent morning packing bottles at a local brewery. He got $45 and, he adds, a case of ale.
This is life during a lockout, as members of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra battle on two fronts: one for their collective future as a respected institution and the other for their families, who must make do without weekly paychecks and health insurance.
“I worry so much,” says violinist Denise Smith, a 30-year veteran of the ASO standing in a picket line outside the Woodruff Arts Center this week. “I know people are hurting. We have new players who have just moved here, who have moving expenses and student loans, and I don’t know how they’re paying for it.”
Symphony labor battles have become increasingly common, with recent conflicts in Minnesota, Chicago and at the Metropolitan Opera. What’s special about Atlanta’s dispute is that it’s the second lockout in two years. The Woodruff Arts Center, which oversees the ASO, demanded and received $5.2 million in cuts in 2012, which included reducing the orchestra’s season to 41 weeks from 52. Stanley Romanstein, the ASO’s president, assured the players that would never happen again. But Romanstein resigned last month, and the Woodruff leaders say that they were not aware of any such promise.