Strike silences Carnegie Hall
- Article by: MICHAEL COOPER New York Times
- October 2, 2013 - 7:29 PM
NEW YORK – Carnegie Hall canceled its star-studded opening-night concert Wednesday after its stagehands went on strike, picketing outside the hall with a giant inflatable rat hours before the season was set to open with a performance by the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Yannick Nzet-Sguin.
Carnegie Hall has long struggled with high stage crew costs: Several of its highest-paid employees are stagehands, some of whom make more than $400,000 a year — more than Carnegie’s finance director earns. The hall’s management drew a line in the sand during recent contract negotiations, denying the union’s request to have full jurisdiction over Carnegie’s new education wing. The union struck Wednesday.
The strike — which officials said was the first in Carnegie Hall’s history — not only silenced the United States’ flagship concert venue on one of its most important nights of the year, but also capped an extraordinary week that highlighted the perils facing classical music in the 21st century.
Another of the city’s cultural icons, New York City Opera, announced its plans to dissolve and file for bankruptcy this week, bringing 70 years of operatic history to an end. Labor strife cost the Minnesota Orchestra its respected music director, Osmo Vänskä, who resigned as a lockout of the musicians continued into a second year. And the canceled Carnegie gala was supposed to be another milestone in the comeback of the Philadelphia Orchestra, which emerged from bankruptcy last year and is generating excitement with its dynamic young conductor, Nzet-Sguin. (New York’s loss was Philadelphia’s gain: With Carnegie canceled, the orchestra decided to play a free concert at Verizon Hall in its hometown.)
Clive Gillinson, Carnegie Hall’s executive and artistic director, said in a statement that he regretted the inconvenience to concertgoers and musicians alike.
“We are disappointed that, despite the fact that the stagehands have one of the most lucrative contracts in the industry, they are now seeking to expand their jurisdiction beyond the concert hall and into the new education wing in ways that would compromise Carnegie Hall’s education mission,” Gillinson said. “There is no precedent for this anywhere in New York City.”
The gala is one of Carnegie Hall’s biggest nights of the year; last year’s raised close to $2.7 million, officials said. This year’s opening gala had been set to begin with a cocktail reception at 5 p.m. followed by a concert of Tchaikovsky, Tiomkin and Ravel, featuring the violinist Joshua Bell. (A gala dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria that had been scheduled for after the performance was moved to 6 p.m.)
The dispute centered on how much power the union would have in Carnegie Hall’s new education wing. The stagehands’ union argued that they should still have jurisdiction in the new spaces, while management argued that they were a theatrical union that does not work in other educational institutions.
© 2013 Star Tribune