Video No. 1: Paycuts Are Driving FWSO Musicians To Choose Early Retirement
Long-time residents of Fort Worth have surely noticed extraordinary changes in the city over the last few decades. There has been tremendous expansion and growth, and one need look no further than Downtown and the Arts District to see it. From majestic Bass Hall to family-friendly Sundance Square to its world class museums, the city, with the help of determined and imaginative visionaries, has grown over the years into a sophisticated metropolis, a haven for the arts, and a true cultural destination.
In three decades the city not only changed its look––it acquired a bold new sound. Since the 1980s, Fort Worth's cultural gem, the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, has evolved into a quality ensemble that patrons with the most discriminating ears want to hear, and whose ranks some of the most gifted artists from across the globe have proudly joined.
The Fort Worth Symphony, after all, is the ensemble which toured China and Spain to great acclaim, and whose Carnegie Hall performance in 2008 inspired such phrases as "warm and resonant," "majestic," and "first rate" from the New York Times.
Now, sadly, times have changed, and major cuts by the symphony's management have cast long shadows over its future. Growth has not only stalled, it has reversed. And accordingly, many musicians who joined the orchestra years ago are reassessing their commitment to an orchestra with no clear vision for the path ahead.
In 2010, 13.5% in salary cuts was imposed on musicians who once believed in the commitment to growth that has now been abandoned. Those cuts were accepted by the orchestra with great reluctance, but with the trust and faith that management would use the interim years to grow the orchestra and build its future. But In 2016, almost 9% in additional wage cuts are being proposed. More significantly, management refuses to move from the proposed cuts, showing a lack of good faith as it holds fast to an intractable, non-negotiable stance toward orchestra salaries. Due to management's backward-looking trend, young players are now exercising their options to find work elsewhere, and experienced players, retiring at twice the rate as the previous decade, are leaving out of frustration and disillusionment.
This is, of course, bad news for the orchestra itself. But what does it mean to a community and its cultural landscape when experienced players retire and young talented players start to look elsewhere?
It affects the quality of the ensemble in the most glaring ways. The bold new sound, the hallmark of the years of growth, begins to diminish. The orchestra's size, already small, will become smaller, and brilliant lead players will pack up their talent and leave for greener, greater pastures. Turnover can't help but lead to instability and inconsistency in performances, as retracted growth leads to a retraction in quality. In short, the orchestra will become less and less a major ensemble, as its ranking among other symphonies in the country will suffer greatly.
This can only reflect negatively on the city's cultural profile.
But the negative effect does not end with the symphony. Other arts organization, such as the Fort Worth Ballet, the Fort Worth Opera and the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, which depend on symphony players for its accompaniment, will find it increasingly difficult to assemble the quality of musicians they have become used to. Easily, Fort Worth's once thriving arts scene could become a shadow of its former self.
And perhaps the saddest thing: the Fort Worth Symphony will develop a reputation around the country and the world as a place where the future is anything but bright, and artists who once believed in that future are now leaving.
A sad story, to be sure, but it doesn't have to be. The symphony's greatest hope lies with an informed community of supportive patrons and audience members who make their voices heard, insist on no less than progress, and demand growth. With the community's help and support, the symphony can––to quote former member Rebecca Stern––"find the path that it once laid out to such a bright and promising future."