To judge from the Seattle Symphony press release, the new three-year contract with its players signed June 24 was the happy climax of a negotiating process marked by "an extraordinary level of trust and cooperation" between management and labor. The press release issued by the players on the same occasion paints a very different picture—but that one didn't get into the local media.
It's true that negotiations went very smoothly and were concluded remarkably early: three months before the first concert scheduled to open the SSO's new downtown Benaroya Hall. On May 28, negotiators settled on the terms to be submitted for approval to their respective sides: the players at an orchestra meeting on June 15, the symphony board's executive committee on June 24.
The players, as expected, overwhelmingly voted to approve the contract, which makes a serious start toward salary, pension, and working-condition parity between the Seattle players and those in comparable orchestras nationwide. But management had a little surprise in store for its employees. On its advice, the executive committee agreed to the negotiated terms—but only on condition that John Cerminaro, the gifted but controversial guest principal horn player imported to the orchestra by conductor Gerard Schwarz, receive a permanent appointment to that position, despite a decision against just such an appointment earlier this year by the committee charged with auditioning new orchestra members.
In an emergency orchestra meeting two days after management's ultimatum, the contract—and thereby the timely opening of Benaroya Hall September 9—teetered on the brink. But after 90 minutes the players blinked, proposing a compromise: Cerminaro could remain in the principal horn chair as a permanent "guest"—but only as long as Schwarz continues to lead the band.
The Cerminaro question had been raised during early meetings with management, but deferred by the player reps on the ground that a delicate multiyear-contract negotiation was no place to consider an individual personnel matter, and a highly controversial one at that. But Schwarz has been publicly steaming ever since his favorite was rejected by the audition committee back in June 1997. Many players are convinced that the executive committee's ultimatum was Schwarz's way of showing his players that they can't thwart him with impunity, regardless of what the contract says about who has the last say about who plays in the orchestra or not.
Management is clearly hoping that in the flurry of work generated by the opening of Seattle Opera's Tristan und Isolde this week and the excitement of moving into a brand-new hall, the players will forget about the last-second arm twisting. It shouldn't be too sure. Where the management press release talks of "trust and cooperation," the players' speaks of anger and disillusionment. The next time the boss asks for a variance on some petty contract point, will he get it? Schwarz has already said that after its "rejection" of Cerminaro, he'll never feel the same way about the group he leads. Unfortunately, it now looks like the feeling is mutual.
This just in...
The Symphony's personnel problems aren't limited to those with its players. This week Art Town learned that SSO general manager Jesse Rosen is leaving after a little more than a year on the job to become a lowly vice president for marketing with the American Symphony Orchestra League in Washington, DC.
During his short stay in Seattle, Rosen has earned high marks inside and outside the Symphony as a capable administrator and all-round good fella. But people who've worked closely with him say the daily nuts-and-bolts of orchestra administration doesn't appeal all that much to him. And having to play the bad guy in this spring's Symphony contract negotiations (see above) may well have encouraged him to bail when a good alternative came along: The league is reported to have been courting him assiduously almost from the day he arrived in town.
The Eastside's burgeoning but diffuse arts scene took a step toward coherence last month when 32 production and oversight groups came together to form the Eastside Arts Coalition. Spearheaded by Bellevue Philharmonic executive director Andrea Singleton Schmidt and Music Works Northwest's Greg Murray, the fledgling organization's initial goals are modest: First, set up a collective calendar so that groups don't find themselves competing for the same audience by scheduling shows the same night. Then, once that's up and working, circulate the information among local hotels and visitors bureaus to help build audiences. There's already an e-mail network to keep members apprised of plans and events of mutual interest (city and county council hearings and the like), with the future potential for applying lobbying leverage for better facilities and funding. But at present all that's a mere dream: The EAC's vestigial budget (underwritten by membership assessments ranging from $100 down to $25) now barely covers copying costs and postage.
Comings & goings
Joining the staff of the Henry Gallery in mid-August as associate curator is Thomas Collins. Collins spent a couple of years at New York's MOMA working in the exhibitions department before returning to Northwestern University to complete his PhD thesis on photographer George Platt Lynes, society portraitist and on-the-side purveyor of soft-core stimulation to the New York Homintern, 1930-1950.... Maybe there should be a 12-step program for theater production managers: Jim Verdery had been in the job at A Contemporary Theater for 14 years when he finally pried himself loose to pursue other options in June. But you have to worry even more about his replacement: Vito Zingarelli started production managing at the Rep in 1980 and went on to a string of even more high-profile gigs at the Berkeley Rep and Canada's Stratford Festival. Returning to the Northwest in 1995 to build himself a house on Whidbey, Zingarelli couldn't break the habit. First, he did a couple of shows at Whidbey's Island Center for the Arts, then he produced a 1996 European tour for world-music star Loreena McKennitt. In September he returns to the full-time grind at ACT, now a 12-month-a-year production machine under workaholic artistic director Gordon Edelstein.