American Symphony Orchestra makes full-time move

Orchestra bucks economic trend by offering musicians salaries for the first time

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In an unexpected turn of events, the renowned American Symphony Orchestra (ASO) is granting its musicians salaries for the very first time in its 48-year history.

As the recession has deepened over the last couple of years, a number of symphony orchestras across America have faced the potential threat of dying out on account of insufficient funding, a drastic drop in ticket sales and lesser monetary support from corporate sponsors. The ASO has been no exception.

However, following discussions with the American Federation of Musicians in September this year, the 82 member musicians of the orchestra will now be guaranteed an income on a regular basis instead of their former per-service earnings. Also, the ASO will from now onwards enjoy the status of being a standing orchestra.

Given the current economic climate, with orchestras elsewhere making cuts in programming and personnel, it seems a remarkable decision. However, explains the orchestra’s executive director Lynne Meloccaro, there are reasons for a move that she admits appears ‘counterintuitive and almost crazy-sounding’. ‘We didn't want to [make cuts] because the perception people had that orchestras were collapsing all over the place was affecting philanthropy,’ Ms Meloccaro said.

Established in 1962, the American Symphony Orchestra (ASO) was founded by British-born conductor Leopold Stokowski in New York City. The orchestra’s current music director, Leon Botstein, has welcomed the change saying that, ‘From my point of view, it’s a way of stabilising a very fine orchestra.’

Vandana Gupta