The union representing Nashville Symphony players has agreed to pay cuts following the mass furloughs last July. A new contract has been ratified with a 7% reduction in pay for the first year.
But the deal announced Tuesday is also structured to have large annual raises, so players who were supposed to be making a base pay of $70,000 this year will catch up in about three years.
Violist Melinda Whitley led the negotiations and says it feels like a step back, even though musicians are eager to return to what they love doing. The 83 members have until next week to sign their personal contracts. Many have suffered and been forced to sell their homes or go into a new career, she says.
“They’re trying to decide based on the things they’ve had to do so far,” Whitley says. “A lot of people have new opportunities and new interests, and not everybody is going to come back.”
After months of suspended concerts, musicians were furloughed last July. Then, they started receiving a $500 stipend in January and performing limited duties. Their health insurance was covered throughout the pandemic.
The symphony was recently awarded $4.6 million in federal help for venue operators with a typical concert schedule resuming in September.
“While the past year has been extraordinarily challenging for our entire organization, we recognize that it has been especially difficult for our musicians,” Pamela Carter, chair of the Nashville Symphony’s board of directors, says in a statement. “This agreement represents the most essential step in the orchestra’s reemergence, as it enables the musicians’ return to the stage, while at the same time ensuring that the Nashville Symphony can remain sustainable and continue to serve our community for generations to come.”