The Situation In Atlanta Continues To Degrade

In what has become one of the more confusing turn of events in the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (ASO) lockout, the management released a statement on 9/27/14 @ approximately 9:00pm ET announcing that the organization and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Players’ Association (ASOPA) have agreed to federal mediation.

Read the full ASO press statement


ASO Management and ASOPA to Use Same Mediator As Metropolitan Opera

The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (ASO) Management and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Players’ Association (ASOPA) have agreed to continue Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) discussions using a federal mediator. Allison Beck, Deputy Director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS), will serve as mediator. Ms. Beck also served as mediator during the Metropolitan Opera Musicians’ labor dispute in August.

“We are pleased that after weeks of an open offer, the musicians’ union has accepted mediation and we’re looking forward to getting back to the negotiating table,” said Stanley Romanstein, ASO President and CEO.  “We are ready to resolve our differences and start the ASO’s 70th Anniversary Season.”

ASOPA and Orchestra management failed to reach an agreement on a new contract before the expiration date of 11:59 pm on Saturday, September 6, 2014. The musicians have been locked out since that time, which caused the opening of the 2014-15 season to be postponed and concerts canceled through November 8, 2014.

Once an agreement between Orchestra management and ASOPA is reached, the season will be resumed as soon as possible.

“We are all musicians or music enthusiasts at the Atlanta Symphony, and we are all striving for the same thing — a thriving classical music community that will flourish for decades to come,” said Dr. Romanstein. “We hope we can return music to the stage very soon.”

For more information about the Orchestra’s financials and negotiations, visit: Information regarding concerts, refunds, fundraising activities and Orchestra programming is available at

ASO FB statement 9-28-14The statement was accompanied by a similar notice at the ASO Facebook page but as it turns out, this was news to the musicians.

Typically, press statements related to mediation are issued by both sides as joint statements or at the very least, mutually agreed upon language with quotes from both representatives which are then distributed by both sides. As it turns out, the ASO’s statement was premature and the musicians issued a concise statement shortly before midnight, 9/27/14 rebuking the ASO for exacerbating tensions by releasing distorted information.

According to the musicians, they did agree to speak with a Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) representative to explore the potential for mediated negotiations but they unequivocally have not yet agreed to proceed with mediation and at the time of the statement, they had yet to hear from the FMCS.

Read the full musician statement

Press Statement 9-27-14

Atlanta, GA September 27th, 2014

This statement is in response to the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s statement issued at approximately 9pm today, September 27th. We wish to correct the misleading information that WAC/ASO management distributed in that statement.

We received a formal request for mediation on Monday, September 22nd at 10:55am from WAC/ASO management. Three hours later, we accepted the suggestion to speak with Ms. Allison Beck, the Acting Director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, and were told that FMCS officials would be contacting us accordingly, which has not happened yet. Mediation will only be successful if the WAC/ASO management is willing to move off the terms of the demands they have been adamantly clinging to — in bad faith — since they locked us out three weeks ago tonight.

The musicians are happy to speak with FMCS Director Beck about pathways forward when she is able to be in touch with us. There is as yet no further agreement about the process.

Short of the ASO providing documentation that the musicians did agree to mediation, the gaffe goes a long way toward eroding the organization’s credibility.

Also Of Interest…

The 9/28/14 edition of NPR’s Weekend Edition featured a segment by Adam Ragusea that explores some of the historical context of philanthropic giving among Atlanta’s big money sources as well as what might be best defined as some curious statements from ASO CEO Stanley Romanstein explaining why the organization has lower than average levels of earned income. In short, he blames that on low ticket prices.

Atlanta’s ticket revenue is also lackluster, though Romanstein contends that’s not because of poor attendance.

“If you look at our average ticket prices and compare them with other cities that feature major orchestras — if you look at Dallas, if you look at Minneapolis and some others — our ticket prices tend to be substantially lower by 30 percent or more,” Romanstein says.

Romanstein apparently did not provide any supporting documentation for this statement nor was there any mention of audited ticket sale figures and/or average attendance rates since he assumed his executive position in 2010. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see if the institution releases detailed data related to earned income as well as overall marketing performance (i.e. how much of every dollar earned selling either season or individual tickets is spent on advertising etc.).

Interestingly enough, marketing performance was a crucial element that led to relaxing entrenched positions during the Metropolitan Opera labor dispute which ultimately produced a new agreement and prevented cancelling any scheduled event activity.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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5 thoughts on “The Situation In Atlanta Continues To Degrade”

  1. The allegation of ticket price disparity is as bizarrely inaccurate as seemingly everything else that has come out of Romanstein’s mouth during this lockout. The current top ticket price level for the Minnesota Orchestra’s classical subscription series in Minneapolis is $96, which usually gets reduced to $85 as a concert date approaches. The ASO’s own website shows a top ticket price of $91 for the next not-yet-canceled classical concert on their schedule. Cheaper price levels are comparable across the board. To put it bluntly (and accurately,) Romanstein is lying.

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