Richmond Symphony Orchestra hitting sour note over contracts

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Musicians for the Richmond Symphony Orchestra haven't been able to reach a contract agreement with management since the beginning of their season this year, in September.

Orchestra players say they aren't paid much for the music they make, about $33,000 a year. The orchestra's management aims to cut their salaries by nearly $4,000, along with reducing benefits.

Viola player Molly Sharp says the musicians are refusing to sign the final offer.

"We were just on the bottom of a living wage, and barely keeping up with inflation. Now it means, we're below that and need to start making some serious choices," said Sharp.

Richmond Symphony Orchestra management says overall funding is down. However, despite ticket sales have being solid since 2009, organizers say it's not enough to make up for the loss. Management says they've made as many cuts as possible over the last four years in other areas.

Negotiations have hit a sour note.

"We're seeing the core of what we do being eroded and that worries us," said Sharp.

Flute player Mary Boodell says the economy is only part of the problem.

"I think one concern the musicians have is that sometimes people don't know we're playing concerts," said Boodell, who suggested the orchestra needs more of a push in booking concerts and advertising.

The Richmond Symphony Orchestra opened its season last month, and continues to play concerts and perform at local schools, without a final contract. As far as this holiday season goes, the musicians say they intend on playing the popular Nutcracker show. However, they feel the overall future of the Richmond Symphony Orchestra may be on an uncertain path.

"The musicians won't stay here if we don't have a salary that's a living wage," said Boodell.

"People are starting to take auditions elsewhere. It's just the reality," continued Sharp.

The musicians say they're being forced to take a one-week furlough next week. During that time, they plan to perform on street corners to raise support from the community.

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