An Open Letter to the Citizens of Pittsburgh from the Musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra:
What We’re Fighting For
The Musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony are on strike for one simple reason: to preserve the excellence of the orchestra that has been making Pittsburgh proud since 1896.
The PSO is widely known as one of the world’s best symphony orchestras. That reputation was built by generations of Pittsburghers who desired to show the world what Pittsburgh was made of – and by the talented musicians who came to Pittsburgh, made this great city their home, and spent their careers here honoring the PSO’s proud legacy.
That legacy is now threatened. New management of Pittsburgh Symphony, Inc. (PSI) has decided we need a “new reality” – one where steep cuts to the musicians’ pay and benefits, combined with reducing the size of the Orchestra, would relegate the PSO to minor-league status. We cannot agree to that. A second-rate orchestra is not what Pittsburgh aspired to for 120 years. It would be a grave mistake to abandon that ambition now – especially at a time when Pittsburgh is rapidly becoming one of the most dynamic cities in the U.S.
That’s why we are on strike. That’s why we are willing to go without salary or health insurance, stand on the picket line in the rain, and present free concerts to the Pittsburgh community. It is because we believe in the Pittsburgh Symphony – and that means this Pittsburgh Symphony, not a pale imitation of a once-great orchestra.
The Sky Is Not Falling
New PSI management tries to justify its demands for radical restructuring by claiming a “financial crisis.” But they present no evidence of a problem so insurmountable that the only way to deal with it is to destroy the very thing they are charged with preserving. Management has presented nothing but a forecast – a projection that uses pessimistic and unrealistic assumptions to assert future deficits that exist only in theory. It baffles us that management is so eager to present the image of a failing organization, while at the same time boasting – justifiably so – of recent successes in ticket sales and record-breaking fundraising.
Pittsburgh has supported the PSO for 120 years. To claim that this city can no longer do so is an insult to the generations of leaders who worked tirelessly to preserve this orchestra’s excellence, and who always resisted the path the new PSI management is taking – because those leaders knew the consequences of going down that path would be to forever tarnish their legacy. We can only assume that this is a choice made by people who are new to Pittsburgh and just don’t understand what the PSO truly is, and what it means to this city.
There is a better way. Our vision is one of growth: increasing revenue (which is clearly achievable, as the PSO’s recent successes have shown); building ever more meaningful relationships with the Pittsburgh community, and managing expenses responsibly. The Musicians have always been willing to do their part to manage expenses; indeed, we have a long history of working with management to weather financial challenges (as we did coming out of the Great Recession in 2011, when we took a nearly 10% pay cut and agreed to management’s request to close our pension to new and younger musicians). We stand ready to work with management now, as we always have. We will continue to explore ways for the parties to compromise, and to reach a responsible agreement that preserves the greatness of Pittsburgh’s orchestra and its 120-year legacy. That is our most fervent wish. But we need PSI leadership to work with us to achieve that goal.
The Musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony