Following 18 months of tense back and forth that threatened the future of the Colorado Springs Philharmonic, its musicians and management reached an agreement that puts the orchestra on stage again.
The new three-year deal comes after Philharmonic management and the Pikes Peak Musicians Association both “made concessions to preserve the future of the organization during this unprecedented time,” according to a news release announcing the agreement on Friday.
It’s cause for celebration amid compromise, as groups involved have long worked toward a solution that resumes Philharmonic concerts after a hiatus started by the pandemic and strung out by contract negotiations.
The problems go back to April 2020, when musicians were promised a nearly 30 percent pay raise under a new five-year agreement. As the pandemic ravaged the Philharmonic’s revenue and canceled performances, discussions about a new deal went south.
That contract was canceled in September 2020, leaving musicians without pay or certainty about whether concerts would return or when.
More than a year later, Philharmonic president and CEO Nathan Newbrough says this agreement is “good news for our patrons.”
“We have a deal and that’s the important thing. That gives us a healing moment after so many months of discord,” he said. “I’m only sorry it took awhile to get here. That’s water under the bridge now.”
Returning to the stage won’t come without some lingering bitterness for members of the orchestra, who see the new agreement as a step backward compared to expected pay increases detailed in the April 2020 contract.
Jeremy Van Hoy, a Philharmonic bass trombonist and chair of the Orchestra Players Committee said musicians are “coming back with concessions that are a little bit hard to swallow.”
He said they're making sacrifices to "help the organization get back on its feet."
“We musicians care so deeply about the future of our orchestra that we accepted salary reductions to get us back to work,” said Sarah Wilson, a cellist and president of the local American Federation of Musicians union, in the press release.
Musicians could see about a 40 percent pay cut during the 2021-2022 season, which Newbrough says is “simply because we’re coming out the pandemic.”
Musicians will start out earning between $118 and $147 per “services,” which can include rehearsals or concerts, depending on their position. In a typical year, that equals a minimum salary between $11,800 and $14,700.
Because this will be a shorter season, musicians will make thousands of dollars less than usual.
“That’s why this thing (the agreement) almost didn't go through,” Van Hoy said. “A number of musicians said, ‘We want to get back to work and we can work under these conditions.’ Others said, ‘No, do better.’”
The new agreement also states that the service rate will increase by 4 percent each year, meaning by the fall of 2023, musicians should earn between $126 and $160 per rehearsal or performance and will be guaranteed at least 100 services per season. The agreement includes health and safety protections and increased scheduling flexibility.
Ultimately, they came to a resolution hinged on “true compromise,” said Newbrough.
“We’re ready to focus on the future of what we can do together,” he added.
While Van Hoy said he looks forward to more negotiations, he’s also looking forward to playing for audiences again.
“There’s a degree of relief,” Van Hoy said. “I’m relieved that it’s over and we can go back to being musicians and stop being negotiators. That’s not what I went to music school for.”
He went to school to play in an orchestra like this one, which he joined in 1994 right out of college.
He's since enjoyed playing music that people love, as will be the case when the Philharmonic returns with performances of “The Nutcracker” featuring the Oklahoma City Ballet during the last weekend in November.
More details for upcoming concerts will be announced later this month.