Bruce Ridge visits Utah Symphony to build bridges between musicians and management

Published: Thursday, Dec. 13 2012 3:01 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — The chairman of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) says that the fine arts, including orchestras like the Utah Symphony, are impressively resilient in hard times.

Bruce Ridge, making a stop in Salt Lake this week to hear and talk with members of the Utah Symphony and its management, said it's important to restore what is taken away in tough economic periods but heartwarming to realize the arts survive, sometimes when it seems improbable to do so.

In 2011, Utah Symphony musicians agreed to $1.1 million in salary cuts over three years, basically an 8 percent base salary reduction that illustrated their dedication to making sure the organization survived.

A hiring freeze was also put in place along with cuts in staff salaries and benefits.

At that time, Ridge praised the musicians and staff and said the area was fortunate to have them.

This go-around, Ridge is urging those involved to continue to cooperate and work together for the future.

Orchestras and opera companies across America have confronted major financial struggles in recent years with many facing musician strikes or being forced to file Chapter 7 and Chapter 11 bankruptcy, but 25 symphonies "doomed to die" 25 years ago, according to newspaper headlines of the time, are alive and well today, Ridge said.

Utah's symphony has avoided the adversarial kind of scenario, largely due to sacrifice and vision on the part of the musicians and the management, Ridge said. "I've been an advocate for symphonies," he said. "I'm not officially a consultant. I like to build relationships, in some cases, I mediate."

George Brown, principal timpanist with the Utah Symphony, said Utah's symphony has avoided the kind of conflict going on nationally between professional orchestras and their managements.

"A number of America's symphonies are currently seeing their contracts gutted by managers and trustees who now feel they should be administering to their orchestras like one would run a call center.

"Although the downturn slammed us here as well, the Utah Symphony has managed to remain relatively stable financially, while even moving forward artistically.

"Even better, it has done so while maintaining its length of season, complement of players, benefits and working conditions along with maintaining a positive and collaborative working relationship between management, board, musicians and our union.

"We're really quite lucky here in those regards and we truly hope this will continue as the entire community benefits enormously as a result," Brown said.

Larry Zalkind, principal trombonist of the symphony, said Ridge's visit clearly reflects on the Utah orchestra's remarkable achievements and its commitment to continue along the path of a world-class orchestra.

Zalkind was one of the lead negotiators for the contract extension in 2011. He said communities much larger than the Utah community don't support a 52-week orchestra.

He said Ridge is in great demand as a consultant and adviser and that to take time out of his very busy schedule to visit Utah is remarkable.

Ridge said his job in Utah is to take the temperature of the symphony and the players and see where he can assist.

He said the Utah Symphony and Orchestra is respected around the world. Its members are serving the community. Its music heals. Jobs are created in a community with a healthy symphony program.

"When the Utah Symphony and Orchestra puts on a concert, everybody benefits," he added. "The arts really are good business."

The Utah musical community has a history of looking at a problem and finding ways to solve that problem, Ridge said. "I think this orchestra can succeed even if there are more challenges ahead.

"I would say the arts and the symphonic orchestras across America will play a vital role in our economic recovery."

Sharon Haddock is a professional writer with 35 years' experience, 17 at the Deseret News. Her personal blog is at sharonhaddock.blogspot.com.

Email: haddoc@desnews.com

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