CONTRACT DISPUTE

ASYO lockout postpones youth auditions

Emails with the news went out this week to hopeful musicians.

By Mark Davis mdavis@ajc.com

This was to be Rachel Anders’ season. For months, the McIntosh High School junior had practiced her flute daily so she would be ready for auditions for the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra.

Then she got the email earlier this week: The auditions, scheduled for Sunday, were postponed.

The auditions, for which hundreds of young people had been preparing, are a casualty of the feud between musicians in the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and the organization’s management. The area’s premier youth orchestra may not begin its season on time, if at all.

After both sides in the adult orchestra dispute could not agree on a new contract, the orchestra’s management locked out the musicians on Sept. 6. The musicians, who also judge

the youth orchestra’s auditions, were unavailable to gauge the quality of this year’s ASYO contestants. More than 400 had signed up for the auditions.

Rachel is keeping an eye on the calendar and hoping the two sides reach an agreement. The 120-member youth ensemble is scheduled to perform in November, meaning the ASYO should be in place by mid-October to begin rehearsals. Other concerts are scheduled in December, March and May.

“It is a disappointment,” said Rachel, 16, whose favorite piece of music is Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 4. With its staccato bursts of sound, “it’s fast and furious,” she said.

“Furious” might describe the sentiment of some ASO musicians. They argue that the Woodruff Arts Center, the ASO’s parent organization, doesn’t have the orchestra’s best interests at heart.

The musicians and management differ on several fronts, including salary, health care and how musicians’ positions would be filled as they became open. Even the orchestra’s size is an issue: Two years ago, in a cost-cutting move, the orchestra shrank from 95 performers to 88. Musicians want their ranks restored to 95.

The orchestra’s management argues that the proposals would cost $2 million or more — the “wrong direction” for an orchestra already in debt, ASO president and CEO Stanley Romanstein said after the lockout took effect.

Paul Murphy, an ASO viola player and president of the Atlanta Federation of Musicians, blames the orchestra’s managers for the postponed auditions.

“Along with providing great music and inspiration for all of Atlanta, we relish and take equally serious our roles as teachers, mentors, and coaches to our young musicians,” he wrote in an email, “and we are heartbroken that we are unable to work with them as a direct result of the WAC/ASO’s refusal to extend negotiations and subsequently locking us out.”

When negotiations between musicians and management faltered two years ago, he noted, the youth orchestra was not silenced. Musician-judges assessed the youngsters’ talents as the adults negotiated a new contract.

A spokesman for the ASO and Woodruff noted that the musicians’ union

— not the orchestra’s management — chose not to judge the auditions. With no one to assess the talent, they said, Woodruff had no choice but to postpone the auditions — and, perhaps, the season.

“We had no judges,” said Randy Donaldson, a spokesman for the arts center. “Because of the labor situation, and the union issuing a labor directive, we had no qualified judges for the auditions.”

The audition news hit Nathan Hung. A senior at McIntosh High in Peachtree City, Nathan, 17, planned to play the viola in the orchestra for the third year. He got the same email that Rachel did.

“I was devastated,” said Nathan, who played with the National Youth Orchestra in a series of nationwide concerts this summer. “But in the wake of everything that’s going on (between musicians and management), I can’t say I was stunned or shocked.”

Like his classmate, Rachel, Nathan figures he’ll wait and hope for the best. Perhaps a future email will strike a more positive note.