The musicians of the Charleston Symphony Orchestra, which shut down indefinitely Sunday night, are not ready to call it quits just yet.
They are working with presenters to ensure that the last few shows of the season go on as scheduled, said Ryan Leveille, a percussionist and spokesman for the Keep the Music Playing Committee, which represents the interests of the musicians.
The May 1 Starlight Pops concert at Boone Hall, sponsored by First Federal, probably will happen, Leveille said. The April 23 Side by Side concert, featuring the CSO and the Youth Orchestra of the Lowcountry -- 7 p.m. at Goose Creek High School -- also is expected to be presented as planned.
Meanwhile, the unionized musicians are preparing an unfair labor practice complaint likely to be filed with the U.S. Department of Labor, Leveille said. Symphony management will invite an independent mediator from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service to oversee upcoming negotiations.
The players have borne the brunt of the symphony's financial difficulties, Leveille said. Before conceding to furloughs and salary deferments, the average annual salary was about $23,000. Taking into account recent compromises, the average annual wage is about
$18,000, he said.
The size of the orchestra's core was reduced last year from 46 players to 34, and the budget was cut from about $2.8 million to approximately $2.3 million. Management now is arguing the budget ought to be more like $1.8 million, Leveille said.
The players do not deny there is a cash-flow crisis, but they disagree with management about its cause, he said.
"We don't believe expenses are too high, we believe it's a lack of fundraising power," Leveille said. The organization has been without a development director for years, he said. "It's unreasonable for them to continue to ask us to make concessions."
What's more, if the symphony cannot provide steady work to Charleston's professional musicians, it's likely that some of them will seek jobs elsewhere, he added.
Symphony musicians are active in the Charleston area, teaching private lessons, working with public school and college students and playing at private events, Music Director David Stahl said. A struggling symphony, therefore, affects many in the community, he said.
Board President Ted Legasey said donations from the symphony's top 10 supporters declined 60 percent over last year, from about $680,000 to $250,000, a major economic blow that would have severely impacted the organization whether or not a development director was in place. The main problem, he said, is the current set of assumptions.
"We don't have a model for this orchestra that the community supports on a sustainable basis," he said. "The goal of restructuring is to stabilize the organization and come up with a better model."
Legasey said the players are rightly frustrated.
"Hopefully, emotion will subside so musicians, staff, the board and the community can come together and plan," he said. "We're not doing this to (the players); we want to work with them. We are seeking full participation."
About 60 percent of the symphony's budget depends on private fundraising; most of the rest is ticket sale income. A fraction of its annual income, $140,000, comes from the city's accommodations tax, according to Ellen Dressler Moryl, director of the city's Office of Cultural Affairs. Fixed costs, mainly contracted salaries and benefits, represent about 70 percent of budget expenditures.
Jesse Rosen, president of the New York City-based League of American Orchestras, said the economic crisis has been felt by orchestras across the country. Some have closed or downsized, and others have gone through major restructurings.
The Columbus (Ohio) Symphony recently reorganized from the ground up and forged a partnership with the local performing arts presenting organization to consolidate back-office operations, Rosen said. And it is looking to use the Internet as a marketing and music distribution solution. Creative thinking like this is needed if a symphony orchestra is to be revitalized, he said.
Mayor Joe Riley blamed the recession for the symphony's woes and insisted the institution would rise like the Phoenix.