Detroit Symphony Strikes - will Sarah Chang go through with recital?

October 10, 2010 at 01:31 AM ·

 Detroit Free Press reports:

Replies (100)

October 10, 2010 at 03:07 AM ·

I think Chang is right.  She was the main attraction, and I don't see what harm it does the DSO for her to perform with her pianist.

I know from experience a little about labor-management relations -- I held both union and, soon afterward, management positions before I decided to join the ranks of the self-employed in 1996. I can understand the drive of unions for better pay and better working conditions for their members, but these benefits often don't translate into better products and services for the consumer.  And to insist that Chang should not give a recital -- that strikes me as unreasonable.

October 10, 2010 at 03:19 AM ·

 Jim - 


Check out Sarah Chang's facebook page and see the dozens upon dozens of posts from soloists, pedagogues, and members of major symphonies pleading with her to not perform.  

October 10, 2010 at 03:19 AM · Her Twitter, two hours ago: I will be playing a recital program instead.I have requested that the proceeds from the ticket sales go to the DSO's Musicians Pension Fund.

October 10, 2010 at 03:22 AM ·

I think she's walking a fine line; she has to think beyond one city.  Her decision to donate proceeds to the pension fund shows that at least she sympathizes and doesn't want to appear to be doing a "scab date," and still wants to share her gift with the people of Detroit.  It's a hard row to hoe, and I'm glad it's not my decision.

October 10, 2010 at 03:24 AM ·

 According to the musicians, the "pension fund" is non-existent, and "extra revenue" from "ticket sales" will not happen.  Should an artist donate their fee in this case?

October 10, 2010 at 03:30 AM ·

 I don't think she's walking a fine line, I think she's crossing one, if she does this recital.

October 10, 2010 at 04:33 AM ·

Jim -

Check out Sarah Chang's facebook page and see the dozens upon dozens of posts from soloists, pedagogues, and members of major symphonies pleading with her to not perform.

A --

Thanks -- I'll have to take your word for it.  I got to her Facebook page but got lost in the maze -- not up to speed yet on social media; or, I wonder -- could my not being on Facebook myself be a barrier?

Yikes -- to think of all the fun stuff -- like this -- that I've been missing by deciding not to get into the music business.

October 10, 2010 at 07:06 AM ·

 Well done, Sarah Chang.  The people who have purchased tickets will be thankful to hear some wonderful music.  I agree with Jim.

October 10, 2010 at 09:19 AM ·

I wonder who asked Sarah Chang for permission to betray her by walking out and leaving her alone with the concerto? If she gave permission then her recital would be questionable. If not and being in her - hopefully enlarged - shoes I would hire the best available conductor-pianist and perform the original program. Then I'd establish a foundation to start a fund raising campaign to establish either union free orchestras or orchestras where all players would be fired automatically the moment the orchestra goes on strike letting down a musical partner.

Who is Bruce Ridge not finding a world of apology but demanding certain behaviour from Sarah Chang? He may be heading a legal organization. But a decent one???


October 10, 2010 at 02:30 PM ·

First of all, if you are interested in DSO situation, I want you to go to and really check out the details of it instead of only reading what media is talking about - they talk about only salary cut, but that's not about it. They basically want to get rid of DSO. 

Sarah Chang is crossing the line by helping the management and taking care of her fee instead of supporting world class orchestra who are her colleagues. She/her managment think she is in different world cause she is a soloist.  Can you imagine a classic music world and music history without great symphonies? she can't perform nor make great recordings of conerti without great orchestras. Her colleagues in orchestras all studied and worked so hard to be a proud orchestra musician as much as she did and they are core part of each community. 

Her donation to DSO's pension plan? Here's the answer to that and this clearly says she is so sadly out of touch with orchestra musicians in her home country. This is a quote from her FB page comments by a DSO musician.

"Sarah, we have NO PENSION as a result of DSO management imposing the more punitive proposal B. It has been frozen and what's worse, will cost MORE money to close because all obligations have to be paid(funded) in order to close. Thus your gesture is MEANINGLESS and even help management to shut down our pension ever faster !!" 

October 10, 2010 at 03:19 PM ·

"She/her management think she is in different world cause she is a soloist."

You can't assume that.  That is a very unfair statement, period.  And from spending time with Sarah, I would argue the opposite.  Many of the musicians who regularly work with her have said that she is always a nice, down-to-earth, person.  Let's try to not be so judgmental here, haijin.

Maybe people should consider Sarah's viewpoint.  She is contract obligated to perform this concert...if she decides to walk out on this, not only will the community of Detroit miss out on what they have already paid for, but other orchestra managements, when booking Chang, will see this and take it into consideration.

I'm not condoning or condemning her decision, but really, we should try to see things from both sides.

This concert was probably booked years ago, and I'm not too sure on how all this works, but if she were to skip her performance, couldn't she be sued for breach of contract?  Would there be a possibility for legal ramifications?  Are there statutes regarding this type of thing put into a soloist's contract normally?

I think FMF has some great points, and seeing as to how he actually knows something about how in-demand soloists and their managements work, we should take them into consideration.

I think in an interview somewhere, Hilary Hahn was also asked if the big name soloists should lower their appearance fees, and she did not outright say that soloists should do that (if i remember correctly, she said something like soloists work hard to get to where they are, etc...and that it's a hard line to define).

This is a tough situation not only for the Detroit musicians, but for Sarah and the Detroit community as well.  Let's not merely vilify Sarah and not try to see things from her side.

October 10, 2010 at 03:48 PM ·

Have there been instances in the past where this sort of thing has arisen -- well-known soloists who have performed or not performed while the orchestra in question in a city was striking -- and how has it been handled by the soloists in both cases?  It would be easier to understand this decision-making process and the ramifications on both sides by seeing how it has played out in the real world in the past.

October 10, 2010 at 03:52 PM ·

 Janis  -  Leontyne Price joined an orchestra in a strike and donated her fee to the cause.  The only loss?  A paycheck.

Patrick - no one is vilifying Sarah, doubting her talent, or attacking her.  Her decision to go through with the recital would be a slap in the face to her colleagues in the Detroit Symphony - an orchestra that has been very supportive of her in the past.  Why don't you check out Sarah's facebook page and see the dozens and dozens of first-rate musicians pleading with her to support the Dallas Symphony musicians.


October 10, 2010 at 04:06 PM ·

I didn't say it was you, Andrew. :)

You're just facilitating this discussion, which I think is an important topic.  And I was merely trying to point out that we should, at the very least, try to see things from both sides...

I've read some of the comments on the facebook page (as well as some on vcom), and I feel that there is a bit of vilification going on.

Sarah didn't ask to put herself in this position, but now she's in it.  It's going to be interesting to see how this plays out.

Out of curiosity, for your contracts and such, are there any statutes that deal with this sort of problem?  Is that normal?  If it's merely a lost fee, then I have a hard time seeing the justification of this concert...but if there are legal ramifications for Sarah and her management, that's a different story (and I'm sure that other orchestra managers as well as musicians will take this decision into consideration: if she doesn't go through with this, then they might not book her, and if she does go through with this, her fellow musicians will not want to play with her...)

Just to point out, Maestro Slatkin has elected to stay out of this issue...Sarah is a visiting soloist, albeit with A-list recognition, but I feel that if Slatkin got involved and supported the musicians, it would make much more of an impact.

October 10, 2010 at 04:15 PM ·

Have there been any other instances?  The only strike I know about well is the Phila one a while back since their sort of my hometown band.  They had to have had this situation arise.  How was it handled?

I'm not trying to be obstreperous -- I literally feel like we need about ten sample situations in order to understand the ramifications on all sides.

October 10, 2010 at 04:57 PM ·

As long as an orchestra has got a dispute its members are (and should be) free to use any legally allowed action. Now, it's the orchestra's decisision to achieve upfront agreement with musical partners who are not part of the dispute. Or just dump them ("let them find out ..."). Which most people would call: misbehaving. Misbehavers should be treated like that. And misbehavers putting up demands towards people they just dump are even bigger misbehavers.

Being member of a union cannot be an excuse for behaving like a mobster. We have got US mail, internet, you name it. So what prevents orchestras from behaving?


October 10, 2010 at 05:10 PM ·

 Here's the blog I wrote about it; it outlines a number of the things that are going on with regard to this.

October 10, 2010 at 06:28 PM ·  

Here's the discussion about the Hilary Hahn article, which, btw, appears to be gone forever from its webpage, but obviously her response wasn't what people wanted to hear either.

October 10, 2010 at 06:34 PM ·

As someone here pointed... She was originally hired to do business with them. If her business partners (DSO) have inner preblems and fight about their rights (very valuable!), are their business partners (soloists) suppose to not work because of this?  If it was a non artistic business (computering, furniture, bank whatever), I'm convinced people wouldn't tell all this to Mrs Chang... Sure, soloists can help the orchestra if they want and show sympathy but they shouldn't be forced to do so... 

People see there a symbolic thing but it's not a personal relationship, it may be a very profound artistic relationship but it's still business because it's their jobs!  Why couldn't she help them (if she wants) and play?  It's possible to do the two perhaps! 

October 10, 2010 at 07:26 PM ·

 I haven't read all of this, but I think a really powerful thing for her to do would be playing a concerto by herself. The tickets were originally sold for a performance of her with the DSO. Imagine how powerful it would be if she performed the program sans DSO! 

Wait at the side of the stage for the duration of the overture, come up to center stage for her concerto, waiting in silence where the orchestra should be playing the intro and tuttis, and even sitting in silence when the orchestra would be performing a symphony in the second half of the concert. It would be the easiest way to demonstrate to ticket holders just how valuable an orchestra is.

October 10, 2010 at 07:52 PM ·

wow.. Sharon you have it...    If I was an artist, I would hire you as a manager!

Of course though, she still doesn't have to compromise if she doesn't want... (their situation it's not her fault)

October 10, 2010 at 07:59 PM ·

I don't know Sarah Chang, but I have to give her credit for not being thoughtless, clueless or heartless.  This is a super awkward situation to be placed in, and no solution is going to please everyone...  I figure that whatever she decides to do, it's because she's thought about it and decided it's the "least worst" solution.  I don't have to agree with her (I'm not even sure what I think), but I plan to have respect for her decision unless she does or says something completely boneheaded that exposes her thoughtlessness/cluelessness/heartlenessness.


P.S.  Sharon, that's a fabulous idea.  I'd be surprised if anyone actually did it, but it would be an incredibly dramatic way of honoring your contract and showing your support.  ("I came to play the Sibelius [or whatever], and by golly, I played the Sibelius.")

October 10, 2010 at 09:28 PM ·

I don't know the legal ramifications of playing a concerto sans orchestra but I have to admit I love the mental imagery the idea evokes.

I feel really bad for everyone in Detroit. I don't know enough about the situation to offer an opinion either way, but I did meet Ms. Chang once after a concert and she seemed very sweet and kind. She must have signed hundreds of autographs that evening alone. She obviously cares deeply for her public and I would assume her colleagues. From the limited amount I know about her, I trust her to make a decision that she deems is fair. It is easy for us to make judgments here, but she is the one who has to live with her choice.

October 11, 2010 at 12:20 AM ·

FWIW, I'd like to weigh in...

Detroit appears to be ground zero  in the current crisis plaguing our auto industry. I think home values have slipped from 2005 levels to 1960 levels. Think of homes, boarded-up or otherwise that cost 250K or so in 2005 available now for $3K. Only Stockton, CA, or Elk Grove, CA, or Phoenix, AZ, maybe, can rival this.

And now the DSO is debating about accepting a pay cut and, that too, in this economic climate? Pahleez! Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures, as they say.

All the folks/patrons that bought tickets to Sarah Chang's concert are entitled to hearing her play, accompanied by the DSO or not.  This is no moral or ethical issue.

Let Sarah Chang play, I'd say, even at the risk of sounding harsh.

October 11, 2010 at 01:12 AM ·

 Christopher, what? The whole Hilary Hahn discussion is there.

No, it's not a brilliant idea to get up and play without the orchestra while the musicians are striking, risking their careers to better their working conditions and by the way, to preserve every musician's working conditions.

It's a strike. Crossing picket lines to work in place of striking colleagues is in extreme poor taste and poor judgment! 

October 11, 2010 at 01:22 AM ·

 I think everyone will breath a sigh of relief. Thank you for standing in solidarity with the musicians, Sarah.

October 11, 2010 at 02:01 AM ·

Yes... though she was always solidary to them even when it was not clear if she would play or not.  Her idea of giving the recital money prooved it.  (no matter if it would have help or not, it was good intentions by a good person)  Hope all will settle find!


October 11, 2010 at 04:01 AM ·

I see some notes that seem to think the Detroit symphony is not acting aware of the economic hardship the area is experiencing. One dynamic this viewpoint is ignoring is the fact these musicians are part of the recovery, as well as part of the problem. If they need to cut back, will they move on? If so, will this leave vacant apartments, empty restaurants, schools with lower attendance, etc?
If they do not move on, their existing expenses will be stretched to cover the cost of their instruments, their existing leases and mortgages, etc. Again, empty restaurants, merchants that cannot keep their doors open, etc.

This is not a simple issue; if Detroit cannot afford the symphony, what does that say about the soul of the city? Should they reduce the size of the orchestra, reduce salaries, take money from other programs (possibly disabled children) to pay for the symphony?

I do not know the answer; I am not certain anyone does. I do know that anyone that indicates that the musicians should be willing to set a new standard for low wages should also think of what they would do if they were asked to do the same thing; not as part of a group, but as an individual.

The musicians will probably need to cut their annual income, but I feel it should be by reducing the season rather than reducing the rate. This will allow the musicians the opportunity to supplement their income elsewhere, without additional cost to the city.

October 11, 2010 at 04:17 AM ·

I think this is going to end up being an intractable situation unless the DSO musicians realize that Detroit and the surrounding environs are decaying from an industrial standpoint and that it can ill afford to support the arts in the manner of days past. It is not going to be easy to resuscitate our auto industry and the ancillary industry that is dependent on the auto industry and - downstream, the arts. This appears to be the beginning of the end of the DSO, if I may venture to say so at a great risk, and, btw, this has nothing to do with Sarah Chang, just the economy and where things are  headed.

October 11, 2010 at 04:20 AM ·

@Laurie--I meant the original Philadelphia Inquirer article that prompted the discussion is gone, so we can't read Hilary's complete answer to the question about lower fees for presentation, but Patrick remembered the gist of it--I just wanted to see if it lent anything to this discussion.

October 11, 2010 at 10:50 AM ·

This is obviously a difficult problem. The outcome seems to be a good one where Ms Chang does not perform the recital.

I do think Laurie's input has been extremely good and has maybe helped the situation a lot.

I wish I could say the same for Frank-Michael Fischer whose posts seem extremely simplistic and totally unsympathetic and very unhelpful. But I suppose he has a vested interest in as much as he is the father (I understand) of a soloist. Let's hope his daughter has more understanding and holds different views about these situations.

October 11, 2010 at 11:53 AM ·

Laurie, please don't kick me off this board for saying this, but unions are bad for the economy and bad for America.  The US is on a decline and China is kicking our butts.  And this "tunnel visioned" union attitude is partially to blame.  I feel bad for Sara Chang and all the ticket holders for her concert.

October 11, 2010 at 12:05 PM ·

BTW, during the economic downturn, I personally took a 50% pay cut.  Did I go on strike?  Heck no.  I am working my butt off to get back to where I was.  That's the way it should be. 

This is not rocket science.  The DSO spends x to run the organization.  Ticket sales are y.  y  is less than x.  Something's got to give. 

October 11, 2010 at 12:13 PM ·

Well, I actually found Frank-Michael Fisher's posts good!  I mean he had a valuable point too.  Everything that is happening in Detroit is SO sad... but this isn't "business speaking" related with Sarah Chang. 

Think about it as a relationship between two people.  May it be friends, a couple etc.  If one of them becomes very sick with a terrible sickness (perhaps even deadly illness), will the other partner go comit suicide to sympathize with the ill partner ? 

Also, if a soloist starts to cancel concerts each time an orchestra is on stike, what will happen when all the orchestras will be on strike? 

I'm not telling to not help them.  It's very kind and generous to do something for them or tell publically that you find it terrible.  But canceling one's job is maybe not the best solution...

But I know these kinds of topics hold as much opinions as people posting on them : )


October 11, 2010 at 12:54 PM ·

Before damning unions entirely you might want to revisit a bit of history to see why they were invented - and why leaving jobs entirely to supply and demand can easily break down to abuse.  The problem is usually not the hard times when sure everyone has to tighten belts (and admitedly, unions can be more of a problem than a help), but the ensuing good times where the economic forces alone may not be sufficient to also share the rewards.

Basically, reasonable employers and reasonable employees do not need unions.  Unreasonable emplyees abuse union power while without them unreasonable employers abuse their employees.

October 11, 2010 at 12:59 PM ·

Good post Elise - it comes down to being reasonable in the end. I think Ms Chang has made the right choice by not performing, and has taken the moral high ground.

I wouldn't like to be in an orchestra run by certain people, (I won't mention any names) because as you say, they might behave selfishly in the better times. (I nearly said good times, but there are never good times for orchestras, only not so bad times!)

October 11, 2010 at 01:53 PM ·

There was a young lady called Chang

Who was about to hit D S.O. with a bang,

But orchestra frustration

With wage dissipation

Silenced her violin with ominous fang 

October 11, 2010 at 01:57 PM ·

What if Sarah Chang goes on strike (e.g for result instead of clock oriented rehearsals)?

How will orchestras show (prove) their solidarity then?

To Peter Charles: Do you think the Detroit Symphony behaved correctly towards the soloist? And, please, try not to be too simplistic with your answer, like along the lines: "This is how it turns out when people go on strike ..." Behavior is never correct just because it is seen in the majority of cases and I am sure you know this, being so much less simplistic in your contributions.


October 11, 2010 at 02:51 PM ·

I guess it must feel good to have succeeded in intimidating Sarah Chang into cancelling.

October 11, 2010 at 03:32 PM ·

Here is a summation of events from Drew McManus over at I agree with his comments at the end, which I will quote: 

"I stopped by Arts Journal this morning (10/11/2010) and noticed the following headline they wrote in conjunction with the Detroit Free Press article announcing Chang’s decision to cancel the recital: “Sarah Chang Cancels Detroit Recital, Claiming Intimidation by Striking Musicians.” I want to point out that this is a gross misrepresentation of the facts as reported by the Detroit Free Press. Nowhere in Stryker’s article does he write that Chang or DSO representatives claim that the email messages Chang received via her website were from any of the Detroit Symphony musicians. Arts Journal should immediately revise the headline and issue an apology to Stryker, the Detroit Free Press, Chang, the DSO, and the DSO musicians."

I also think that Mary Ellen is on target. Most of the Facebook posts I read on Sarah's page were not just polite, they were downright deferential, but they argued that she not cross the picket line. Like I said, crossing a picket line is a very big deal. I'm surprised Sarah did not know that, I'm surprised her managers did not know that. And if you choose to do this huge action, yes, you are upsetting people greatly.

About unions, I'm sure you can all predict my argument here, but I will state it anyway: Unions are not bad for the economy. If you have a good job with good wages and benefits, chances are that someone, at some point, stood up to make that happen. It's incredibly ironic, that during times of hardship, while corporate executives have amassed more money than most normal people can fathom, that people who are mostly middle-class workers would make some kind of moral argument in favor of taking more pay cuts, getting less benefits, getting fired, etc. As if  you are a better person if you take the 50 percent pay cut instead of the 30 percent one or the 20 percent one. What about making working conditions better? Or at least, what about preserving at least a modicum of a living? Imagine it. You'll have to fight for it. We've enjoyed the rights and benefits that our grandparents fought for, but they don't last if you don't preserve them and if you don't speak up. 

Now. I'm going to go play some Bach. And Ysaye. :)

October 11, 2010 at 03:56 PM ·

Well said Laurie. I agree with your every word.

October 11, 2010 at 04:12 PM ·

I'm sorry for being obtuse, but the organization is losing money.  How does going on strike solve the problem?  Now that Sara Chang has canceled, they will have to give a refund to all the ticket holders.  So the DSO has even less money to spend on salaries.  It looks to me like the union has succeeded in making a bad situation worse.  Where is the silver lining in this dark cloud? 

October 11, 2010 at 04:19 PM ·

Frank-Michael Fischer

I think one has to take a moral stand here and not be influenced only by your own interests.

There is no simplistic answer - it looked to me like the orchestra were willing to compromise on the pay deal, but not to the point where the management's offer would individually bankrupt them.

Ms Chang appears to be a victim of the situation and probably didn't think the whole thing through when she agreed to do the recital.

Don't forget that managements always have instant access to lawyers and accountants who will provide them with plenty of possibilities when it comes to trying to get their own way.

I'm sorry if what I've said has hit a raw nerve. But you also represent a soloist, and may not be free of predudice.

In the end music is also the loser.

October 11, 2010 at 05:12 PM · As Smiley said "It looks to me like the union has succeeded in making a bad situation worse. " Unfortunately, this is the history of labor relations in this country for the last 40 years...and why we have no steel industry, much reduced auto industry, no passenger trains, etc. No question plenty of fault lies on managements' sides as well. After doing much real good for workers, the confrontational dynamic has not been good for the whole. Too bad, but it's just another nail in the Detroit coffin. Many people today don't realize that, due to the birth of the auto industry back in the 1920's, Detroit and the other Great Lakes cities were like Silicon Valley was in the 1990's- that's when all the wealth led to the incredible symphonies, museums, and architecture, etc. Sadly, now there just another thing to dissipate...

October 11, 2010 at 06:04 PM ·

This is what gets me really emotional: "The Moral Stand". What good is a moral stand that disables you (or anyone) to answer my question: Do you think the Detroit Symphony behaved correctly towards the soloist?

No, we get political, philosophical, economical, even legal instead and forget totally: To be decent is elementary, no deep insight needed.

And no, I do not represent any soloist here. I just had the - sometimes questionable - pleasure to attend hours and hours of top and lesser orchestra rehearsals (no soloist involved even). Do you really believe, all these rehearsals where examples for good preparation (homework done), for an honest job (not talking about art here)? Would you travel in a plane technically as "well" prepared as some of the orchestra players?

The typical goal of  a strike is: get more money for less work. Or loose less money for hopefully less work in a recession period. But "work" translates into "art" in the orchestral world, doesn't it (at least with better orchestras).

The damage to the image of classical orchestras fighting for less(er) art to produce is considerable (hopefully). Especially considering classical music art is global by nature, so local ("domestic") selfishness is another blow to this art. If it gets killed, this art, the performers are to blame. Who else is in charge of raising, finding, convincing audience?


October 11, 2010 at 09:31 PM ·

Discussions like this will definitely separate union members from non-union workers.

My own opinion about this is that while strikes (or lockouts), picket lines, closed shops, and the like  may be necessary to achieve a particular result--- which may be the best thing--- there's nothing intrinsically virtuous about them.  They're exercises in power, which  can be the right tool to use, or can be misused.  Just like drawing a gun.  And even if strikers are within their rights and well-motivated, they can still produce the wrong results.

I have no idea what's going on with the DSO, apart from what I've read on the web the last few days.  It sounds as though there's been some really lousy communication on the issue, and it will be necessary to wade through that before any specific plan gets approval.   For the players, they're going to have to wrap their minds around the meltdown in Detroit.  Someone has to pay for all this, and if they really want NY Phil salaries, they have to be prepared to accept enough to buy a three-bedroom apartment in the nicest part of town-- after 100 years of payments.  For management, they have to remember that one of the worst things you can do for workers' morale is to yank around their job description without giving them any real ownership of the results. So what product the DSO is pushing, and what business should they be in?  Sounds as though the people with the best ideas on this haven't articulated them at all well. 


October 11, 2010 at 09:52 PM ·

Last time I saw Sarah it was more of a dance recital anyways...loose the fiddle and hop on stage, ta da!

October 11, 2010 at 11:00 PM ·

"This is what gets me really emotional: "The Moral Stand". What good is a moral stand that disables you (or anyone) to answer my question: Do you think the Detroit Symphony behaved correctly towards the soloist?"

From what I've read - Yes - the orchestra did! More than correctly!!


"No, we get political, philosophical, economical, even legal instead and forget totally: To be decent is elementary, no deep insight needed."


I don't think we need lessons in decency from you. You are just a union basher!!!

"And no, I do not represent any soloist here. I just had the - sometimes questionable - pleasure to attend hours and hours of top and lesser orchestra rehearsals (no soloist involved even). Do you really believe, all these rehearsals where examples for good preparation (homework done), for an honest job (not talking about art here)? Would you travel in a plane technically as "well" prepared as some of the orchestra players?"

And you DO represent a soloist! You ARE biassed.

Well, you are really letting us know the true Mr Fischer here. An orchestral hater.


"The typical goal of  a strike is: get more money for less work. Or loose less money for hopefully less work in a recession period. But "work" translates into "art" in the orchestral world, doesn't it (at least with better orchestras)."


We have lazy multimillionaire people just like you in Britain (Ex pats) who have the same corrupt attitude. Pay no tax, scew the workers and laugh all the way to the bank.

"The damage to the image of classical orchestras fighting for less(er) art to produce is considerable (hopefully). Especially considering classical music art is global by nature, so local ("domestic") selfishness is another blow to this art. If it gets killed, this art, the performers are to blame. Who else is in charge of raising, finding, convincing audience?"

 No comment. Your answer says everything.

I won't add anything after my recent edit as I don't think you are deserving of any further comment.

October 11, 2010 at 11:24 PM ·

I take back what I said earlier about how "whatever she decides to do, it's because she's thought about it and decided it's the "least worst" solution."  It hadn't occurred to me that she might be - or feel - threatened into making a decision.

October 12, 2010 at 01:01 AM ·

 Our orchestra is also taking industrial action at the moment.  Instead of striking we have opted to do things that don't hurt our main supporters (our audience).  So last Saturday during the Schumann festival we opted to disregard the normal dress code and wear red t-shirts with the logo "Great Cities have Great Orchestras".  I was out the front handing out stickers and leaflets and the support from our audience was fantastic.  Even our chief conductor wore a sticker on his tails.  The option of starting a concert 15 minutes late in the future is on the table.  

Like many orchestras around the world, our orchestra is slowly being bled to death by the rising costs of running an arts organisation and the difficulty of obtaining decent funding.  Salaries are still two thirds of an orchestras budget and we are, by necessity a labor intensive arts organisation.  We still need the same number of players to play a Beethoven symphony now as in Beethoven's day.  

But the salaries of an orchestral musician are less and less competitive.  We have fallen way behind teachers and now we are even paid significantly less than the local police band.   The police band, the only other full-time professional working musicians in this town, are linked to police salaries while we are not linked to anyone.  I am sure that the circumstances that are confronting us are not on the same scale as those being faced in some American orchestras but we are all fighting to stay afloat.  

I wish the DSO all the best in their fight for survival.  I hate to imagine a great city like Detroit without a great orchestra.    

October 12, 2010 at 01:32 AM ·


You mention that Unions are bad for the economy and bad for America. That is an argument that we can't win; I will not say they are or are not, but for the current downturn, it looks like Wall Street and the Mortgage industry should also wear the same label.


My overall thoughts (This is not directed to anyone, but I don't feel I have the right to comment on someone else's thoughts without providing my own for discussion):

America is all about counterbalances to power. Unions are the employee contribution to the power balance, and like other contributions, can misbehave or mismanage. I have seen unions structured in such a way that a truly positive work environment and dynamic business processes are impossible; I have also seen unions structured in a way that trains, develops, nurtures, and maintains professionalism in membership.

In this case, I don't think I know enough about the actual merits of the situation to know if the city or the union is the worst offender, but I do know that generalizations will probably lead to entrenched positions, and any discussion that leads to a resolution will need to resolve current problems, not historical problems.

October 12, 2010 at 04:17 AM ·


There is an expression, you can't get blood from a turnip.  Unions don't seem to understand this concept, and that is why I have a problem with them.  If management opens the books and clearly and honestly demonstrates there is a total of X dollars available to pay salaries, the union still demands 10-20% more than X.  Where is the extra money going to come from?  Money trees?

But, that's not the union's problem.  So what if the organization is not financially viable.  Let them operate at a loss, as long as the union members get more money, everything is fine right?  Sorry, but I just can't agree with that mind set.

October 12, 2010 at 05:33 AM ·

 An update:

NY Times story: Violinist Cancels Recital Over Detroit Strike Tension Also, Sarah Chang's FB fan page is shut down; it had more than 6,000 fans and hundreds of posts from musicians.

October 12, 2010 at 05:49 AM ·

Interesting-- it says she's not a member of any union.  I didn't know that was permitted.  Menuhin wrote of a time back in the Petrillo days when he was effectively forced to join in order that he could continue to get solo dates with American orchestras.

October 12, 2010 at 06:32 AM ·


I may be wrong about this but I thought Menuhin was also responsible for starting some sort of musician's or performers union in the USA in about 1950? Please correct me if I'm incorrect!

He was a thoughtful and highly intelligent man who was always capable of seeing problems from many perspectives.

October 12, 2010 at 07:13 AM ·

Heifetz had founded the American Union of Musical Artists. And Yehudi Menuhin according to this video source refused to join for a reason and never joined, actually.


October 12, 2010 at 07:24 AM ·

Interesting link, and I knew there was a connection  there involving Menuhin and Heifetz.

Thanks for the correction.

October 12, 2010 at 08:25 AM ·

This article from WSJ says it all:  being a classical instrumentalist is no longer an upper-middle-class job in Detroit. Ignoring the current situation is no sign of intelligence and solidarity. Because only some players will find "properly paid" positions elsewhere, most players will end up self-un-employed in shrinking Detroit. With strike for sure, without maybe.

Unions belong into situations where people perform a job to make money. I buy into this without problems. But you can't really perform art to make money. As an artist you need enough money to produce art. There are many ways, however, of convincing the others you are not an artist (anymore), refusing an annual base salary of 70k$ is one of them.



October 12, 2010 at 09:16 AM ·

"But you can't really perform art to make money."


I thought that most top soloists both make lots of money and perform art, and at the same time perform art to make money.

If they did not do this, then they would be happy to accept a small fee, perhaps the eqivalent of an orchestral player's nightly fee for their concerto or recital?

October 12, 2010 at 11:05 AM ·

So which soloist did Detroit Symphony exactly ask to perform for a substantially reduced fee to support classical music in decaying Detroit? And what was his/her reaction? Was it the soloists refusal that made the union go on strike against this ridiculously low annual base salary of 70k$?


October 12, 2010 at 12:30 PM ·



How much do you make in a year then?

October 12, 2010 at 12:35 PM ·

About 30% less than you.


October 12, 2010 at 04:09 PM ·

Getting back to the subject matter of the thread:

  You people have to look at the big picture. 

We live in a free country, because a group of people took a stand and started a war called the American Revolution.

We live in a free country, because a group of people took a stand for equal rights for all people and developed the constitution. 

The list goes on and on. 

All of us have benefited from some group of people standing together for  some reason.

Thank you Laurie for standing with your fellow musicians. 

October 12, 2010 at 04:16 PM ·

@ haijin choi

Well said.

October 12, 2010 at 04:35 PM ·

 @ Andrew Sords

@ Laurie Niles

@ Elise Stanley 

Well said.

October 12, 2010 at 04:51 PM ·

I wonder what Sarah Chang thinks about this free country idea where everyone stands together to prevent an artist applying her trade. Sounds to me more like the way the mobsters stand together. 

October 12, 2010 at 05:12 PM ·

"You must be living on $1,000 a year then!!  hehehehe

PS for Andrew

You should stay away from oil based concealers when photographing...will clog those pores!

October 12, 2010 at 10:30 PM ·

 Thank you, Robert!

And thank you, Jon - I'll bring you on the next shoot to help out.  :)

October 13, 2010 at 01:37 PM ·

Smiley said "This is not rocket science.  The DSO spends x to run the organization.  Ticket sales are y.  y  is less than x.  Something's got to give."

Before berating unions please rethink your above statement as it does not apply to the arts.  There is no arts organization that depends on ticket sales to survive.  Even the best orchestras get only 20% of their financial needs met from tickets.  The majority of funds come from government grants, foundation support, individual donors, and corporate sponsorship.  The only musicians and artists who make 100% of their money from ticket sales are buskers.  The rest of us are depending on our government to support us, and for wealthy individuals and businesses to make contributions.  Music is a cultural institution, not a business.  If a museum stands empty then our government has the responsibility to educate the public to WANT to visit the museum.  You don't throw away the Picassos and lock the doors.  Fortunately we musicians can speak for ourselves and can refuse to perform.  Smiley, for some better insight into unions may I suggest that you read which is filled with inspiring letters, speeches, journal entries, and other documents about how the United States was built.

A 30% pay cut is outrageous and don't anyone pretend that you would sit quietly for that if it happened to you.  I won't buy any nonsense that we musicians should perform for free for the love of our craft.  We have families to provide for as well and the cost to reach that level of artistry is inconceivable.

Ms. Chang may have felt bullied into canceling her performance but those who reached out to her through facebook, blogs, letters etc. were doing so in the best interest of the music industry.  First of all though she donated the "proceeds" of the recital towards the pension fund she did not cancel or donate her fee.  And as I discussed before "proceeds" or "ticket sales" really make up so little of gross revenue.  Had she gone through with this recital she would have put her career in great jeopardy.  Knowing that all other orchestras were in support of the DSO musicians, how could she feel safe walking on any stage after that?  If she had been smart to begin with she would have rescheduled her appearance and stood in solidarity with the musicians.  At this point I don't think she backed out to stand in solidarity, but because she was afraid.  Soloists are business oriented and I don't presume she wanted to go through with a performance in order to "give music to the people of Detroit" because if that was the case then she would have reduced her fee by 30% like all the others had to.

October 13, 2010 at 02:48 PM ·

@ Marina Fragoulis

Well said.

October 14, 2010 at 02:37 AM ·


I stand corrected.  Let me re-phrase my assertion.  The DSO spends x to run the organization.  Gross receipts are y.  y  is less than x.  Something's got to give. 

As you pointed out, ticket sales are only a portion of the receipts, so the above is a more accurate assertion of my point.  But the point is still the same.  The organization is losing money.  There are two ways to cure that, increase revenues and/or decrease cost.  Given the state of the economy, I have to assume (perhaps incorrectly) that the organization is doing everything it can on both counts, and not out to screw their employees.  If there is evidence that the management has money stashed away and are trying to screw the musicians, then I retract my argument.  But as of now, I have not seen any such evidence.

The DSO is not alone.  The members of the Baltimore Symphony and the National Philharmonic have both taken pay cuts recently.  Perhaps not as drastic as Detroit, but the economy in DC is not nearly as bad as Detroit either.  Cleveland is another case in point.  The DSO dilemma is happening all across the country.

Regarding musician salaries, I agree with you that compared to the time and effort that musicians put into their craft, they are GROSSLY underpaid.  Some attorneys charge more than $500 per hour and they probably spend less than 1/10 the amount of time learning their trade compared to musicians.  This is not fair, but it is what it is. 

Being a professional musician, it is not surprising that you are on the side of the DSO musicians.  That is understandable and I commend you for your support.  I see things from the perspective of a small business owner -- someone who has struggled to make ends meet.  And while 30% pay cut is substantial, wouldn't you agree it is a better outcome than being unemployed?

I present my views in the spirit of friendly debate, and I do not expect that you will agree with my points.  It might be interesting though if you were in different shoes.  If you were part of the DSO management, doing everything in your power to keep the organization afloat.  Then, perhaps you might get a sense of where I'm coming from.

At any rate, thank you for the feedback.  I hope the DSO finds a way to work things out.  I am not a pro, but music is my passion.  I am doing my share to support the local performing arts and I hope others will too.


October 14, 2010 at 05:44 AM ·

 edited: I deleted my post because I realized that I completely missed the point.  I just hope the DSO can survive this.

October 14, 2010 at 09:26 AM ·

Personally I think we need to remember that soloists need orchestras and orchestras need soloists - so we should all be supporting each other and singing from the same hymn sheet.

Attacking orchestras for displaying a need to keep an economic wage level and also for a misconcieved level of technical accomplishment is a sure way to help the people who want to see an end to what they consider "elitist" classical music.

October 14, 2010 at 12:34 PM ·

Smiley I do not disagree that your points are valid.  This thread however is about the decision that Sara Chang made to cross the picket line which she later decided not to do.  I don't care to discuss the validity of unions but I will say that being in a profession that is subsidized by public funds we have to take measures to protect ourselves.  When the economy takes a down turn the performing arts have always been the first to suffer.  Unions make it possible for us to have a voice to fight this.  It is always those of us who are in the trenches that take the biggest hit... not the conductors.... not the soloists.... not the artistic or executive directors of the institutions.  So you are right, the organization is making less and less money, but the only people that are getting the pay cut are the musicians, see what I'm saying?  You as a small business owner know very well that if your business fails that you will be the one who suffers in the long run.

October 14, 2010 at 07:24 PM ·

It's so tough in this situation in particular I think.  I agree that musicians spend a great deal of time and money to become specialists in their craft, but I can think of a lot of people who did the same thing in fifth-force cosmology, and they don't expect to be paid a six-figure salary because of it.  There are a lot of incredibly specialized arenas of research that routinely assume a seven-year long doctoral effort and multiple low-paying postdocs ... and maybe the person in question might get a tenure-track position in a small university at the end of it all.  If musicians take a lot of time, sweat, and money to become good at what they do and don't find a huge salary waiting for them at the end of it, they can stand alongside a lot of brilliant and hardworking people I know who don't make the salary that I do with a mere MS.

Now, my instinct is to side with a union in all cases; I do not want to go back to the Triangle Shirtwaist days, and if an industry is going to make money, I think the people on the front lines should indeed get their share of it.  Millionaire baseball players?  Well, if the pastime makes that kind of money, the people who are actually playing the sport damned well should be pulling down a lot of it.

In the case of Detroit though ... the city is in such economic pain already that it may just not be possible for them to pull down a competitive salary there.  In that case again ... they will have a lot in common with small liberal-arts colleges who employ professors who make less than me and are still paying off their student loans.  If money is coming in, the you're absolutely right the musicians should be making most of it.  But in this case when the entire city is in terrible straits, fighting over money is a bit like ripping apart a corpse.  I don't know what the solution is.  And I don't like seeing a magnificent musician threatened and harassed as an excuse for people to vent their frustrations over a situation that may not have a solution.

October 14, 2010 at 10:43 PM ·


I believe that the union overstepped its bounds by imposing their strike on Sara Chang.  She is not a member of the union and therefore should not be bound by the decisions of the union.  Just because the orchestra refuses to play, does it give them the right to intimidate other performers from performing in their place?  What if they booked the Emerson String Quartet, or a magician or juggler for that matter.  Because the orchestra is on strike, does that mean no one is allowed to perform in the venue?

Here is an article about the Baltimore Symphony.  They took 12% pay cut last year and another 17% this year. 

BSO pay cuts

The performing arts are gasping for air right now.  While no one wants to have their salary reduced, it might be the only way to keep the organization afloat.  Otherwise, they may suffer the same fate as the Baltimore Opera.

Baltimore Opera to liquidate


October 15, 2010 at 09:37 AM ·

To Marina: What's your guess concerning the average annual income of all soloists in US compared to all Detroit Symphony Orchestra players?


October 15, 2010 at 10:52 AM ·

It has taken me a long time to read the background material associated with this topic, and although my first instinct is to agree wholeheartedly with Laurie, my sympathy with the union became limited when I saw the numbers.  I think Janis, a few posts above, articulated what I wanted to say perfectly.  I find it sad, even outrageous, that musicians don't earn salaries commensurate with the value they add to the community, but I could say that about many professions, including all the ones that Janis mentioned--plus schoolteachers, social workers, police officers, nurses, and others. Those salaries, in Detroit--even with the 30% cut--are not just about a decent living wage, or just about putting food on the table.   

Last month I was talking with a coworker from Michigan who has a relative who plays an uncommon instrument with the DSO.  This person, in her 50's, is geographically limited for family reasons and doesn't have many other opportunities to play her instrument professionally outside of a symphony orchestra, because it is not generally called for in wedding or other chamber music, the solo repertoire for it is limited, it can't be marched or strolled with while playing, and there aren't that many students interested in learning it.  People like this will simply lose their livelihood altogether if the DSO goes bankrupt.

As an audience member and concert-goer, I take issue with the idea that the pay cut will "destroy" the DSO.  I mean, yes, it might--if negotiations never pick up again and the orchestra liquidates.  That would be a tragedy that I think can and should be prevented.  But if it means some of the current musicians go elsewhere in search of better salaries, the ones who need their jobs like my coworker's relative stay put, and others are hired at a salary the organization can afford, I don't see that as a bad thing.  The pool of excellent, conservatory-trained orchestral musicians who will audition for those vacant jobs is both wide and deep.  

And, in my opinion, smaller regional professional orchestras often do as good or better of a job at serving their local communities as the big names that people on this site like to refer to as "world class."  Just as a small example off the top of my head, the last professional symphony concert, with a violin soloist, that I attended was given by the Lexington Symphony, a regional professional orchestra in Lexington Massachusetts.  I found out about the concert on this blog.  Stephanie Chase played the Beethoven violin concerto.  The sold-out concert was lovely, with the soloist well-supported by the orchestra.  Tickets and parking were affordable and available.  Despite its being a full house, we didn't have to fight serious crowds in Lexington, a smaller-sized suburb northwest of Boston.  I am not interested in debating whether Stephanie Chase is better than Sarah Chang or vice-versa.  What I am saying is that an orchestra does not have to be a luxury item to provide support for a wonderful soloist and a sublime musical experience for a thoughtful audience.

In general I support unions and I think Laurie is right, they have historically done a lot of necessary good in the US.  But I think this strike was a bad decision on this particular union's part: it gives valid ammunition to their critics and creates ill-will without helping the musicians, the community, the soloist, or the cause of the arts in America.

October 15, 2010 at 01:51 PM ·

 What everyone is forgetting is that this was not a recital that was on the books until the other concerts were canceled due to the strikes. They re-booked her, after the strike, to do a concert in which they were going to honor the tickets from the canceled concerts. When you go in and make a special effort to perform the services of striking workers, while they are out their striking, this is a very big deal. Yes, sure, she was free to do it.  But this severely subverts the efforts of the striking musicians and makes a big statement that you completely don't support them. That was the reason for the outrage. If you do something outrageous, people will be outraged. Freedom also comes hand-in-hand with responsibility. 

October 15, 2010 at 03:55 PM ·

 Is it forgetting or is it disagreeing with the way the topic has been framed?  I am in complete agreement with you, Laurie, that Sarah Chang seems to have been very ill-advised by her management, about this situation and about her online presence in general, including facebook.  I hope it turns out to be a good learning experience for them (the management, I mean).  

But I'm also willing to consider Sarah Chang separately from her management.  And I feel similarly about the DSO musicians and the union: how well did the union actually represent the musicians' interests and advise them in this case?  My opinion is, poorly.  Once the decision to strike was made, I understand why the musicians would present a unified front in support of that and send the facebook messages and so on.  On the other hand, I think that someone on the outside could legitimately question and disagree with the union's decision to strike without necessarily seeing the union and the musicians as one and the same.

October 15, 2010 at 04:04 PM ·

@ Laurie

That is very true when someone subverts the efforts of a group they belong to, they are making a statement as to who they are, and where they stand. I don’t think some of the people in this thread understand what it means to be part of a group. When I was in the Marines, the first thing they taught us was to be loyal to the Corps. They taught us that Marines stand together as a group. They taught us that there are no individuals in the Marine Corps. We were taught the meaning of the words Semper Fidelis and Always Faithful. But the same people who will not take a stand, are the same people who have benefited from other groups of people who took a stand on some issue.

If you will not stand with the group, then who are you?

October 15, 2010 at 05:09 PM ·

Frank-Michael Fischer seems to want to confuse the issue, which a simple one to most people who posess a couple of brain cells.

His comments have been most unhelpful and indeed damaging to orchestras and soloists.

I respectfully suggest that he should shut up.

October 15, 2010 at 06:20 PM ·


October 15, 2010 at 06:59 PM ·

Exactly, as you stated: to posess just this couple of brain cells seems to be your problem, Peter. And I regretfully apologize for not taking this into consideration when contributing.

I will try hard in the future to keep things as simple as wrong to prevent your confusion.

Sorry, really! ;-)


October 15, 2010 at 07:20 PM ·


You seem to have an abundance of a particular talent for getting everything completely wrong!

All that wasted University training and work just to become so confused!

You had better keep taking the pills, you never know they might help ... but I doubt it!


October 15, 2010 at 07:38 PM ·

I think Laurie should intervene this is getting beyond a joke.

October 15, 2010 at 08:02 PM ·

Dion Ackermann

You have to really see it from the inside and and chill out and have a relaxed attidude to all this. You know he really loves me but he's too shy to admit it.

October 15, 2010 at 08:37 PM ·

The Administrator of his website has to take control, No right minded person can condone the vitriol that is poured out by you in particular Peter Charles.  

October 15, 2010 at 09:10 PM ·

Dion Ackermann

You need to calm down before you become a hospital case!

And Laurie is doing a great job without the need for you to prompt her.

I think people are generally on her side. I would chill out a bit if I were you. No one is getting that worked up or excited.

We've all got our brain cells sorted out now.

Go and play a few four note chords fortissimo and you will feel better! (Or a few Bach partitas and sonatas).

October 15, 2010 at 09:21 PM ·

"That was the reason for the outrage. If you do something outrageous, people will be outraged. Freedom also comes hand-in-hand with responsibility. "

That is quite a profound statement, and is the basis of what people should be considering.

I think some people have made statements about this sorry state of affairs that they should reconsider, and may have also used this whole event as a way to make attacks against orchestras, for example. In the end some sort of sense has hopefully prevailed, but we should be wary of the comments that are not constructive.

Luckily these have come form just one or two quarters, and most comments have been sympathetic.

I do hope the orchestra can survive and that their relationship with Ms Chang can be repaired.

October 15, 2010 at 09:25 PM ·

I for one am having a good time, concert or not, this is just as good I'm sure.

October 15, 2010 at 09:58 PM ·

Soon there will be 100 posts and then this can STOP...

October 15, 2010 at 10:06 PM ·

I'm happy to push it one post closer to 100.

October 15, 2010 at 11:06 PM ·


October 15, 2010 at 11:28 PM ·

I might go start a thread about shoulder rests...

October 15, 2010 at 11:40 PM ·

I can post a picture of my lefty viola, that's guaranteed to get another couple dozen.

October 16, 2010 at 12:18 AM ·

Lefty violas...bleh.




But in earnestness, the decline of all of Detroit is heartbreaking. 

Whatever happens with the economy, whatever any person's opinion of the DSO strike, I think that (apart from a few trolls) we all hope for a speedy and fair resolution for the DSO musicians. 



October 16, 2010 at 12:33 AM ·

I agree with Dion.  FMF has the right to live and to have his opinions.  He has the right to be the father of a great violinist too without having people on his back.  No one is allowed to laugh at him (as someone did here) because of his different position.  May this person agrees or not with FMF.    If we notice, Mr Fisher always mostly defended himself from attacks...  I find it a pitty that on, people mess up the present thread like the attacker (who doesn't frighten anyone by the way) did for so long.  The lenght of the attacker's posts show that he can't learn from his errors nor compromise with opposing views, which reveals many things on him...  

When you really have confidence in yourself and aren't jealous of people who seem luckier than you, you don't attack people like this.   And if you do attack or hurt someone accidentally, you fix things nicely the fastest possible!  This is a sign of cleverness and integrity! 

As Dion said, it's beyond "jokes" and since it "bothers" all of us because it takes off place for some clever and deserving posts, we have the right to react too...


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