Tag Archives: orchestra


Nurit Bar-Josef: Behind the Scenes with the National Symphony Orchestra Concertmaster

Nurit-Bar-JosefWhen Nurit Bar-Josef of Local 161-710 (Washington, DC) was selected as concertmaster for National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) at age 26, she was the youngest concertmaster ever appointed to a major symphony orchestra. More than 16 years later, she recalls initial surprise on finding out she’d won the spot.

“I knew some of the others who had auditioned—it’s a small world—and I thought they might think I was too young or too inexperienced,” she says.

The young musician was aware of the huge responsibility she had accepted. “I knew what to expect from my previous experiences in St. Louis and Boston, where I saw just how much the concertmaster has to deal with on a daily basis,” she says. Bar-Josef was assistant concertmaster for Boston Symphony Orchestra and Boston Pops when she auditioned with NSO.

Leading from First Chair

“It’s constant pressure; when you are sitting in that chair, you are expected to always be on—it’s 120%, all the time. I feel like I represent the orchestra and there are times when the whole orchestra is looking to me for guidance,” she says. “That’s the biggest challenge; no matter what is going on at home, or what’s going on around you, or on the podium, you are out there for your colleagues.”

Meticulous preparation is key, she says. “Knowing the score well, in and out, and knowing everything that’s going on. You have to have that first violin part down like no one else,” she says. “And because you are number one, you have to always play the solos and play them well. I try to do my best every single time.”

“It’s a good lesson in time management because there is so much music coming out, week after week,” says Bar-Josef. “It forces me to prioritize and manage my practice, even when I have limited time. I have to figure out what I need to do now and what can wait.”

Above all, she has a passion and dedication to the current repertoire, whatever it may be. “Every week, whatever we are playing, I throw myself into it. That’s what we live and breathe for that week. Oftentimes, I feel like we are actors given a role to play,” says Bar-Josef. “If we play a Shostakovich symphony, he becomes my favorite composer that week. If we are playing Brahms, I am all about Brahms, emotionally and physically.”

For pleasure, she says, “I always, always enjoy playing a Beethoven symphony or even a Beethoven violin sonata. I wouldn’t say that he’s my favorite composer, but I would say anytime I’m playing Beethoven I’m musically and technically fulfilled,” she says.

Like all principal string players, Bar-Josef spends time marking bowings. “The other principals are waiting to get my part in order to mark their bowings to match mine, and I’ve got the library waiting for all of that to happen. That’s added pressure,” she says. “Part of the process is making sure my colleagues have the music well enough in advance to feel comfortable.”

A Conductor’s Liaison

Nurit Bar-JosefBar-Josef has the honor of meeting guest conductors and acts as a liaison to the rest of the players. She ensures a smooth working relationship between members of the orchestra and the conductor. This, she says, “is an incredibly rewarding responsibility.”

“I learn a lot from working with conductors,” she says, explaining that many of them request a one-on-one meeting before the concert, especially if she will perform a solo. “Every musician who comes to visit is different. It’s really important to me that I represent the orchestra well. No matter what is going on, I try to connect with the person on the podium.”

“Conductors travel the world and they conduct all different orchestras, from the top notch to smaller groups in smaller towns,” she continues. “I want them to feel like the NSO is an all-around good experience. As concertmaster, I am part of that—making that connection with the person. It’s a short period of time and it can be really intense for those few days.”

Though Bar-Josef relishes the challenge of these responsibilities, she admits her role can be isolating, sometimes setting her apart from her colleagues. The time requirements mean she has less time for socializing, particularly when they are out on tour. “When we go on tour, I’m constantly thinking about what we are playing tomorrow, what we are playing tonight, and how much time I have to prepare. I don’t have a whole lot of time to hang out and have fun in some new city.”

Though she is passionate about playing solos, Bar-Josef admits, “It’s one of the hardest things I do. It’s very rewarding that I get to play amazing solos like Scheherazade, though it’s stressful. There’s a lot of pressure playing solos with some of the greatest conductors standing one foot away from me.”

Bar-Josef is currently one of an estimated 25 women concertmasters in the US and Canada. While there have been some remarkable women in this leadership role over the years—for example, Cecylia Arzewski (Atlanta Symphony Orchestra 1990-2008) and Emmanuelle Boisvert (Detroit Symphony Orchestra for 23 years)—their numbers are still far below the current ratio of women to men in orchestras. Bar-Josef feels like more women will likely take the leadership role in the future.

Of course, blind auditions help to ensure the best candidates, male or female are selected fairly. And fortunately today, unlike just a couple decades ago, female orchestra musicians enjoy equal treatment. “I have never felt that anyone looked at me as a female or thought they’d rather have a man in my position; I never once felt that a guest conductor was disappointed by having a female concertmaster,” says Bar-Josef. “Today, I feel it’s all about the music and what type of musician you are—gender doesn’t matter.”

The Joy of Chamber Music

nurit-bar When Bar-Josef has a chance, she looks forward to performing in smaller chamber groups. “I always love playing chamber music,” she says. “I enjoy the camaraderie and the intimacy of it—sitting in a group close together, having my sound blend with theirs and not having to worry about leading a section. I can be much more free in a chamber group.”

A founding member of Kennedy Center Chamber Players, she performed with them for nine years. “It’s basically a core group that started out as the principals of the National Symphony—Principal Viola Daniel Foster, Principal Cello David Hardy, and Principal Keyboard Lambert Orkis. We would ask other people from the orchestra, both titled and nontitled players, to join us for four chamber music concerts a year at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater.”

The other group she’s been involved with for a long time, the Dryden String Quartet, came together less formally about 16 years ago. “When I first moved to DC, I didn’t have any family here. I had to play over Thanksgiving so I was stuck in town,” she recalls. “Daniel Foster asked me if I wanted to go to his family’s house for Thanksgiving and he said, ‘Bring your violin, we might do some sight reading.’ He’s cousins with [Time for Three] violinist Nicholas Kendall and [Philadelphia Orchestra Assistant Principal Cello] Yumi Kendall. It ended up being a pretty good group.”

The group named itself after John Dryden Kendall, grandfather to Foster and the Kendalls,  who brought the Suzuki method to the US. “The first concert we played was at an embassy event in honor of their grandfather,” says Bar-Josef. “Unfortunately, everybody is just so busy in their own lives it’s difficult to find time. We try to get together at least once a year, sometimes twice if we are lucky.”

Every now and then Bar-Josef finds time to perform in other chamber groups. “I like to do outreach with different NSO players and Millennium Stage performances at the Kennedy Center, house concerts, or whatever pops up,” she says.

She has performed at the Seattle Chamber Music Festival, Bay Chamber Festival, Aspen Music Festival, and festivals in Tanglewood, Portland (Maine), Kingston (Rhode Island), Steamboat Springs, Garth Newel, and Caramoor, where she performed piano quartets with André Previn at his Rising Stars Festival.

This season Bar-Josef looks forward to working with incoming NSO Music Director Gianandrea Noseda. “I am excited that we have so many great programs coming up with him,” she says. In particular, she looks forward to playing Chausson’s Poème in November. “It’s just such an honor and a privilege. I’ve always wanted to perform that piece and what better opportunity than with the NSO and Noseda conducting.”

Nurit Bar-Josef currently performs on the G.B. Guadagnini, 1773, the “ex-Grumiaux, ex-Silverstein” violin.

Touring Show Update

2017 Touring Show Update

Touring Show Update

During a performance of Elvis Live in Concert, AFM Touring/Theatre/Booking Division Director George Fiddler (left) had the opportunity to meet with Greg Luscombe who assembled the symphony orchestra used in the show.

The traveling show season has begun and most of the new productions have premiered or are about to start their season. I visited Les Misérables in Hartford last month as it began a new tour. There are numerous seasoned road musicians in the orchestra, as well as musicians new to touring. This show has an orchestration for 15 touring musicians, nearly all of them on orchestral instruments. The conductor, Brian Eads of Local 257 (Nashville, TN), has done an amazing job of having everyone play at the highest ensemble level possible. The production quality was first-rate.The show’s stellar cast was accompanied flawlessly by the orchestra, creating a magical performance. The fortunate audiences have certainly received a production worthy of the Broadway experience.

This season there are many shows that have sizable touring complements, as well as large local musician employment. The new Disney blockbuster for the road this year is Aladdin, which has an orchestration of 16, with a minimum local hiring of eight musicians in every city it visits. The King and I continues this season with 13 local musicians hired in all cities.

Another new production with a large musician complement is Love Never Dies, the sequel to Phantom of the Opera. This show travels 15 musicians, with local hiring in select venues.

There are a variety of unusual productions that are not traditional in orchestration or content that will be travelling under our agreements.

As the new director of the AFM Touring/Theatre/Booking Division, I look forward to overseeing a large and varied season of traveling musicals that is sure to provide a genuine Broadway experience to audiences across the US and Canada.

Musicians Come Together to Aid Union Brothers and Sisters

Hurricane Irma left more than 13 million Floridians without power and property damage is in the billions. As soon as it was safe to go outside, members of Florida’s labor unions and unions from across the south pitched in to help other working Floridians by donating and delivering food, water, and supplies, while members of the state’s trade unions set to work rebuilding.

By early October, the AFM’s Hurricane Relief Fund had begun to release funds to help members affected by hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, who were referred by their locals. Numerous orchestras, bands, and freelance musicians have initiated their own fundraising efforts to help people in their recovery, including Local 802 (New York City) members who pitched in to collect funds and supplies.

In early October, the ICSOM Governing Board issued a call to action requesting donations for the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra, an ICSOM member since 2003. The ICSOM Governing Board was in touch with ICSOM representative José Martin, vice president of Local 555, on the day before the storm hit. Due to power outages and lack of cell coverage, it was two weeks before they were able to reach him again. “Those musicians of the Puerto Rico Symphony truly are heroes and they have the respect and support of their ICSOM family,” says ICSOM President Paul Austin.

Martin says, in part: “Some have lost their homes to floods or winds. We’re grateful for the spiritual, heart, and material support. The musicians, as they emerge and get in touch, are stating that the orchestra will be playing for the different communities and at shelters and fundraisers for all the people affected by the hurricane.”

The call to action asked ICSOM membership, and all AFM brothers and sisters, to respond generously to the Puerto Rican members in need. At this writing, $122,500 has been collected through the Call to Action.

Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico as Houston Symphony Orchestra (HSO) musicians, members of Local 65-699 (Houston, TX), were cleaning up from Hurricane Harvey. Even though flooding near its hall cancelled a number of HSO’s concerts, the orchestra’s musicians played on. They gathered in smaller chamber groups to perform in area shelters. Although there are ongoing repairs as a result of flooding, the symphony returned to Jones Hall October 21.

A support system and assistance fund were set up to help Houston orchestra members, staff, and chorus members who had lost homes and possessions, or needed assistance with cleanup.

The Music Performance Trust Fund (MPTF) has also given funds to hurricane affected locals. These funds provide much needed earnings for musicians who are temporarily out of work, as well as help to provide free live music for the communities that are rebuilding.

Orchestra Steps Up to Heal the Island

Nearly one month after damage from Hurricane Maria left 10% to 15% of Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra members homeless, the orchestra began a series of free concerts to help heal the island’s people. The orchestra’s musicians are members of Local 555 (San Juan, PR).

“Our idea is to play for those who need more,” says Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra Music Director Maximiano Valdés in a WBUR radio interview. “There are many people left with nothing here.” The themes of the concerts, which include both classical and traditional Puerto Rican music, will be loss, survival, and rebuilding. 

Local 555 President Miguel Rivera, a trumpet player, also took part in the radio interview. He said the needs of the people go beyond food and water. “The people of Puerto Rico need food for the soul, I think. And music for me, is the best art because it goes right to your heart,” he says.

The first concert was performed October 13 in San Juan. The goal is to bring music to the hearts of many of those affected by the hurricane. The musicians plan to perform throughout November, not only in the capital city, but also in smaller interior cities.

“I think it is very important that we start performing as an orchestra and reaching out to people because we need to feel hope and I think music helps us feel hope,” says piccolo player Ana María Hernández. “Music is the universal language, and it can definitely heal people.”

Composer and playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda’s benefit single, “Almost Like Praying” continues to raise funds for relief. NBC aired a special about his fundraising efforts on October 24 for the Hispanic Federation’s UNIDOS hurricane relief fund.

Music Induced Hearing Disorder

Hearing Protection Is Key for Today’s Orchestra Musicians

Studies have shown that musicians have more than three times the average risk for hearing loss. The risk of developing a music induced hearing disorder (MIHD) should be a major concern for orchestra musicians. According to Heather Malyuk, AuD, who has worked with both Chicago Lyric Opera Orchestra and National Symphony Orchestra, orchestra exposure to sound is difficult to study due to variables in repertoire and orchestra size. However, more than half of orchestra musicians surveyed have experienced MIHDs.

“These musicians are highly susceptible to MIHDs, including tinnitus (ringing in the ears), hyperacusis (sensitivity), diplacusis (detuned pitch perception), and distortion,” she says. MIHDs are more likely than modest hearing loss to affect a musician’s career, yet they are seldom discussed.

“It’s easy to forget musicians are everyday people susceptible to other causes of hearing loss such as disease, poor vascular health, sudden loss, genetics, strong medications, and lifestyle choices,” she says. “Musicians’ brains are amazing in their plasticity to adapt and adjust to changes in hearing. They are often afraid to discuss hearing for fear of losing work or negative perceptions from peers. Hopefully, that will change. If we are open and educated about these issues as a group, we can more effectively prevent them.”

Music Induced Hearing Disorder

Though hearing damage is often associated with louder instruments, every instrument group is at risk. “Injury is not from volume alone, but volume and length of exposure time. Practice, rehearsal, and performance create many hours of exposure,” she explains. “The US doesn’t have regulations or safety scales unique to music, but musicians can use the scales designed for industry workers to effectively protect hearing.” These scales measure noise levels in decibels (dBA).

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulatory scale states that 90 dBA of sound is safe for eight hours. The safe time is halved every time the sound intensity increases by five decibels. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) scale is more stringent, starting at 85 dBA for eight hours, with the safe exposure time halved every time the sound intensity increases three decibels. (See table.) Musicians should consult with specialized audiologists to assess their risks.

Members of symphony orchestras are exposed to all kinds of noise in their daily lives, plus the sound of all the other instruments in the orchestra. (See sample noise level charts.) Adding to this is the current popularity of pop stars guest performing with orchestras. “Pops-style concerts have changed the way orchestral musicians listen and protect themselves. They are a driving factor in the pursuit of hearing wellness,” Malyuk says.

According to Malyuk, more must be done to protect orchestra musicians. “Occasionally hearing protection is provided, often in the form of foam, universal fit earplugs. Orchestras are not required to provide hearing protection, so it is a nice gesture, but often an incorrect one, as these are virtually unusable in professional orchestral environments,” she says. They are not designed for music and don’t have a flat frequency response (dampening high pitches more than low pitches), making it difficult for musicians to hear subtle nuances of music.

Other “engineering controls” are sometimes implemented to protect hearing. “Baffles can be used, but they are often expensive, tricky to deploy, and vary in terms of attenuation, depending on make and positioning. In theory, changing orchestral seating can reduce levels by a few decibels, but this affects instrumental balance for the audience,” she explains. Solutions like rotating string players and limiting louder repertoire are also not feasible in the orchestra setting.

“Giving the auditory system breaks is healthy, but it all comes down to repertoire and sound levels,” she says. “If decibel measurements can be taken on each individual player, then educated choices about breaks can be made. However, that can be costly and time consuming, and orchestras can’t conduct such a study on each piece of music.”

In-ear monitors (IEMs), when used correctly, help many musicians to hear themselves and their colleagues accurately, while also protecting hearing. “It’s possible for orchestras to use IEMs, but logistical issues stand in the way. For musicians to have personal audio mixes, extra gear is needed,” says Malyuk. “Two members of the National Symphony Orchestra have used ambient IEMs for pops performances, and I’ve fit several musicians with these devices as active variable level earplugs, used without a monitor feed. But, filtered earplugs are currently the best option for orchestral players because they are less expensive and less cumbersome.”

Some musicians are resistant to earplugs due to past experiences. “I’ve found that this is usually because they’ve been fit incorrectly,” she says. “It takes a knowledgeable, specialized audiologist to choose the best quality filter, select usable but effective attenuation, and take accurate ear impressions. Just like any area of health care, audiology has specialties.” She recommends an annual wellness visit with a specialized audiologist to check for MIHDs and hearing loss and to learn about the latest protective measures like filtered earplugs.

More often hearing protection is becoming a subject of orchestra committee discussions. “Recently, the affordability and necessity of hearing wellness programs for orchestra members has been a focus in negotiations. Education is needed in this area and that falls on the shoulders of orchestra committees, who are often underequipped for that task,” says Malyuk. This is an area where trained audiologists can assist, providing current research, cost points, and risks, as well as information regarding wellness programs and hearing protection options.

“A common arrangement I have seen within collective bargaining agreements is a reimbursement program. Musicians pay for the wellness visit and custom hearing protection costs and are reimbursed a certain, agreed upon percentage. Annual hearing wellness care is not only best for the musicians, but it also helps protect employers (such as orchestra management) from potential legal action for hearing injury,” she says. “Musicians are small muscle athletes and, as such, need annual care for their most valuable instrument—their ears.”

Heather Malyuk, AuD has spoken at ICSOM and ROPA conferences. Her clinic, Soundcheck Audiology (www.soundcheckaudiology.com), features concierge services for orchestras, supporting musicians through hearing wellness and MIHD prevention.

Orchestra Steps Up to Heal the Island

A little more than three weeks after damage from Hurricane Maria that left 10% to 15% of Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra members homeless, the orchestra began a series of free concerts to help heal the island’s people. The orchestra’s musicians are members of Local 555 (San Juan, PR).

“Our idea is to play for those who need more,” said Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra Music Director Miximiano Valdés in a WBUR radio interview. “There are many people left with nothing here. The themes of the concerts, which include both classical and traditional Puerto Rican music, will be loss, survival, and rebuilding.”

Local 555 President Miguel Rivera, a trumpet player, also took part in the radio interview. He said the needs of the people go beyond food and water. “The people of Puerto Rico need food for the soul, I think, and music for me, is the best art because it goes right to your heart,” he said.

The first concert was performed October 13 in San Juan. The goal is to bring music to the hearts of many of those affected by the hurricane. The musicians plan to perform throughout November, not only in the capital city, but also in smaller interior cities.

“I think it is very important that we start performing as an orchestra and reaching out to people because we need to feel hope and I thin music helps us feel hope,” said piccolo player Ana María Hernández Candelas. “Music is the universal language, and it can definitely heal people.”

Diversity and Inclusion

Diversity and Inclusion: More than Buzzwords for Symphony Orchestras’ Future

by Rochelle Skolnick, AFM Symphonic Services Division Director

Diversity and Inclusion

My first year as Director of the Symphonic Services Division (SSD) has been jam-packed with satisfying work—the kind of work that engages the mind and nourishes the soul every single day. Together with the rest of the fabulous staff of SSD, I spend every day providing support to thousands of musicians who make their living performing in US and Canadian symphony orchestras and to the local unions of which those musicians are an integral part.

I’ve especially treasured the opportunities I’ve had over the past year to get out of the office and visit with musicians and others who care about them and the future of symphony orchestras. I’ve spent time in 21 cities and attended 11 different conferences, speaking or presenting in connection with all but one of those. With the AFM conference season at a pause until the start of 2018, this is a moment to reflect on those conferences and some of the trends in symphonic work and labor relations they brought to the fore.

It does not require extraordinary powers of analysis to conclude that this year’s leading symphonic thought trend has been diversity and inclusion. It was, in some form or another, a focal point of all three symphonic player conferences Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA), Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (OCSM), and International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) and the annual League of American Orchestras (LAO) conference. Some may be tempted to write off this push as merely a sop to political correctness or a cynical attempt on the part of orchestra managers to access previously untapped funding. I think that would be a mistake.

Symphony orchestras have long struggled with “relevance”: finding ways to establish their value when they are often perceived as museums presenting musical relics to an aging and ever-diminishing elite. The industry has cycled through a number of ventures aimed at counteracting this misperception. Among other things, orchestras have changed repertoire to include more of whatever is deemed popular at the moment; taken performances to venues beyond the traditional concert hall (think simulcasts and community engagement services); and incorporated visual effects (think Jumbotron images and films projected with live accompaniment).

While these efforts have perhaps moved the needle on public perception, genuine relevance isn’t about pandering to the lowest common denominator or luring unsuspecting patrons into the concert hall through the latest marketing scheme.

For orchestras to have genuine relevance to their communities, each must bring authenticity to the task, finding ways to connect with both traditional audiences and individuals who have yet to experience the wonder of the symphony orchestra. Each of our orchestras is situated within a geographic community that has its own unique history, demographics, and needs for enrichment of the soul. A one-size-fits-all plan to connect with community will only go so far, given the unique attributes of the communities we serve. Achieving genuine relevance to a given community is much harder and more complicated work.

But this is where I take a measure of hope from the ongoing focus on diversity and inclusion. I believe the most important building blocks for orchestras to attain genuine relevance are deep knowledge of community, deep knowledge of the art form, and overflowing passion for the art that compels us to share it with anyone who will pause to listen. I also believe that the voices of orchestra musicians must be part of the conversation about establishing genuine relevance.

Orchestra musicians (and often managers and board members) certainly know our art form and (cynicism aside) we share a passion for that art. In many respects, we know our communities well. But I believe we can and must do better on that score. Part of doing so, in my mind, involves finding ways for our symphonic institutions, both onstage and off, to more closely reflect the communities they serve. If we succeed in that venture, I believe we will also place our institutions in a far better position to actually connect with their communities in ways that will nurture and sustain both community and orchestra.

In remarks I made at the opening of the LAO’s diversity forum in June, I observed that unionized workplaces are one of the few segments of our society where workers of every description are guaranteed equal pay for equal work. I also noted that closing the gender gap in symphony orchestras is directly traceable to the institution of screened auditions, which were a product of collective bargaining. But we still have much work to do.

The number of women concertmasters, like this month’s cover artist, Nurit Bar-Josef, still trails the ratio of women to men in orchestras.  And the racial makeup of our orchestras looks little like our increasingly diverse society. The union movement has always been a social justice movement. We, as union musicians, can join together in support of diversity and inclusion in our symphonic workplaces. I believe that doing so is not only the right thing to do—it is integral to the vitality of our art and our symphonic institutions.

Stars of Lyric Opera

The Stars of Lyric Opera, MPTF Supports Free Concerts in Chicago

MPTF is a sponsor of Chicago’s annual Stars of Lyric Opera, performed at Millennium Park and free to the public.

Now a joyous end of summer musical tradition in downtown Chicago, the Stars of Lyric Opera annual free concert got its start at the turn of the new millennium. In early 2000, Lyric Opera of Chicago announced that it would present its first-ever free outdoor concert the Saturday after Labor Day, in Grant Park. That inaugural concert featured stars of the coming season performing with the Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus, which was conducted by Maestro Bruno Bartoletti.

“For some time, Mayor Richard M. Daley has been hopeful that Lyric Opera could present a free concert, and we are delighted that we are finally able to do so,” said William Mason, Lyric Opera’s general director at the time. “Thanks to a grant from the recording industry Music Performance Trust Fund, which was arranged by the Chicago Federation of Musicians [Local 10-208], it is now financially possible for us to bring the Chicago public a free concert.”

Lyric’s free preseason concert premiered September 9, 2000, attracting an audience of more than 20,000. It was presented in cooperation with Grant Park Music Festival, the Mayor’s Office of Special Events, and the Department of Cultural Affairs.

“The first four Stars of Lyric Opera at Grant Park concerts were in the James C. Petrillo Band Shell, appropriately a venue named for the [former AFM president and] founder of the Music Performance Trust Fund,” recalls William Cernota, who has served 20 years as chair of the Lyric Opera Orchestra Members Committee. He is in his 35th season as a cellist with the Lyric Opera Orchestra.

“In his dual role as trustee and chief executive of both the MPTF and the Film Fund from 1992 until 2013, John C. Hall, Jr., was instrumental in launching these concerts in tandem with Lyric Opera of Chicago,” Cernota notes. “This is a perfect example of how, by providing generous seed money to cover the Lyric Opera Orchestra compensation, the Trust Fund created an ongoing annual series of Chicago concerts that are free and open to the public. These performances stimulate audience members to become subscribers and regular ticket purchasers to Lyric Opera of Chicago.”

Subsequent to the inaugural Stars of Lyric Opera concert in 2000, a number of foundation and corporate sponsors have generously subsidized these free performances over the years, with continuous support from the MPTF. Lyric Opera Orchestra musicians are members of Local 10-208.

The Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park free concert features artists from Lyric’s upcoming season, along with the Lyric Opera Chorus and Orchestra, members of Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL).

After a one-year hiatus for Lyric’s heavily-scheduled 50th anniversary season in 2004-2005, the concerts moved to the “new jewel in the crown of Chicago,” Cernota adds, and was renamed the Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park free concerts. Performances take place in the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, designed by Frank Gehry.

Since 2007, the annual performance has been broadcast live on 98.7WFMT, Chicago’s classical music radio station. Beginning in 2010, the Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park has also been live streamed on www.WFMT.com. Says Cernota, “As a gift to the City of Chicago and the world at large, the Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus allow free live radio broadcasts of these performances on WFMT.”

Over the years, dozens of internationally acclaimed and up-and-coming opera stars have performed in these concerts, some in their American debuts. They include Jamie Barton, Johan Botha, J’Nai Bridges, Lawrence Brownlee, Nicole Cabell, Andriana Chuchman, Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, Elizabeth DeShong, Natalie Dessay, Renée Fleming, Elizabeth Futral, Christine Goerke, Susan Graham, Denyce Graves, Nathan Gunn, Thomas Hampson, Ben Heppner, Brandon Jovanovich, Jonas Kaufmann, Quinn Kelsey, Mariusz Kwiecień, Amanda Majeski, Ana Marìa Martìnez, James Morris, Eric Owens, Felicity Palmer, Susannah Phillips, Matthew Polenzani, Patricia Racette, Sondra Radvanovsky, Christian Van Horn, Deborah Voigt, Amber Wagner, Erin Wall, and Dolora Zajick, among others.

The Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park concert Friday, September 8, 2017, will be led by Sir Andrew Davis, Lyric’s music director and principal conductor since 2000, who has led most of these free performances. Artists from Lyric’s upcoming 63rd season, along with the Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus, will perform highlights from several of the season’s featured operas.

What a wonderful way to end the summer while building excitement for a new opera season!

ICSOM Conference

ICSOM Conference Convenes in Buffalo

by Laura Ross, ICSOM Secretary and Member of Nashville Symphony and Local 257 (Nashville, TN)

The 55th annual International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) Conference, hosted by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra (BPO) and Local 92, was held at the Adam’s Mark Hotel in Buffalo, New York, August 23-26.

ICSOM delegates once again volunteered for a special service event in our host orchestra’s city. This time they partnered with BPO Kids for Exceptional Kids, a program benefiting kids with autism spectrum disorders, cancer, and other chronic physical or health challenges. Thanks to BPO ICSOM Delegate and Member-at-Large Dan Sweeley (of Local 92) for putting this and other conference activities together.

While the “official” beginning of the conference was Wednesday morning, a negotiating workshop led by ICSOM Counsel Kevin Case, a member of Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL) was held Tuesday evening. Before the opening session Wednesday morning, new delegates attended a breakfast to preview what to expect during the conference.

In her first year as ICSOM chair, Meredith Snow (Los Angeles Philharmonic, Local 47) gave the opening address. She reminded delegates that, as our orchestra committees have become stronger, there is a risk that our orchestras may come to view the AFM as a separate entity. But we, the musicians, are the union. We need to uphold the value of our labor and stand up for our colleagues. Individual actions matter. She encouraged ICSOM musicians to reinforce their commitment to their locals, the AFM, and each other. ICSOM is here to help ensure that everyone thrives.

ICSOM President George Brown (Utah Symphony, Local 104) spoke about diversity within the entire orchestral organization—stage, administration, and boards.

AFM Political and Legislative Director Alphonso Pollard reported on various legislative issues, including bills that erode labor protection such as national “right to work” bills proposed in the House and Senate. AFM Symphonic Services Division (SSD) Director Rochelle Skolnick and AFM Negotiator Todd Jelen designed a series of workplace scenarios for delegates and local officers to discuss in smaller breakout groups. A mixer at Pearl Street Grill and Brewery on Wednesday evening offered excellent music, food, and an unobstructed view of a glorious sunset on Lake Erie.

On Thursday, delegates heard reports from officers and others. We were pleased to welcome back two ICSOM Emeritus Presidents—AFM Strike Fund Trustees David Angus (Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, Local 66) and Brian Rood (Kansas City Symphony, Local 34-627). Rood, who also serves as chair of ICSOM’s Electronic Media Committee, and AFM SSD Electronic Media Director Debbie Newmark quizzed delegates about the types of work covered by the Integrated Media Agreement (IMA).

A presentation by ICSOM Counsel Kevin Case and David Sywak (Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Local 72-147) discussed health care bargaining options. The afternoon was devoted to an AFM and Employers’ Pension Fund (AFM-EPF) presentation by fund trustees, staff, advisors, and counsel. That evening, ICSOM’s annual Town Hall, a closed session for delegates and the governing board, discussed issues of importance.

Case moderated a panel of orchestra leaders—musicians, administrative, conductors, and a mediator—that examined the dynamics of orchestra relations in a discussion entitled “Back from the Brink.” ICSOM provided a luncheon for members-at-large and their orchestra delegates to discuss a broad range of issues. Each member-at-large oversees 13 orchestras. Following lunch, Meredith Snow moderated a panel discussion examining diversity within our orchestral organizations. More than 40 conference attendees went to view the American Falls at Niagara Falls in the evening.

ICSOM Conference

A large group of attendees from the 55th Annual International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) gathered in front of the Adam’s Mark Hotel Fountain in Buffalo, New York. They were wearing T-shirts supporting individual orchestras and arts organizations.

On Saturday, Cypress Media President Randy Whatley provided tips about how musicians can craft a community relations program. Kevin Case introduced a welcome addition to the conference: an open forum for delegates to ask questions of legal counsel.

Delegates adopted resolutions addressing the AFM-EPF, national right to work legislation, implementation of an online conductor evaluation survey, and ICSOM’s response to recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia. Resolutions were also adopted honoring George Brown as he stepped down as ICSOM President, and Paul Gunther of Local 30-73 (Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN) who stepped down as a member-at-large after 11 years, following his retirement from the Minnesota Orchestra.

Paul Austin (Grand Rapids Symphony, Local 56) was elected ICSOM President and ICSOM Secretary Laura Ross (Nashville Symphony, Local 257) was re-elected. Kimberly Tichenor (Louisville Orchestra, Local 11-637) and Martin Andersen (New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, Local 16-248) were elected to two-year member-at-large positions; Greg Mulligan (Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Local 40-543) was elected to a one-year member-at-large position.

Many thanks to the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and Local 92 President Jim Pace for a wonderful conference. The 2018 ICSOM Conference will be held in Cincinnati, Ohio, August 22-25.

San Antonio Musicians Agree to Contract Extension

With their previous contract expiring August 31, the Musicians’ Society of San Antonio, Local 23, agreed to a four-month contract extension, while negotiations continue for a successor agreement. This allowed the orchestra’s 2017-2018 season to begin on schedule in September.

The terms of the previous contract remain in effect, including a weekly base salary of $1,120 and a 30-week season. Last season, musicians took a three-week furlough to help alleviate the organization’s financial difficulty. The contract covers the orchestra’s 72 musicians, members of Local 23 (San Antonio, TX).

“We are pleased all parties have been steadfast in ensuring the quality of the orchestra, including a provision in the extension agreement that gains made in upcoming negotiations will be made retroactive to the beginning of the season,” says Brian Petkovich, a symphony bassoonist and secretary-treasurer of Local 23.

As of September 1, the San Antonio Symphony is operated by a new nonprofit formed this summer, called Symphonic Music for San Antonio. The new organization is made up of representatives from the symphony’s three largest donors in recent years. Once an asset sale is complete, the musicians’ contract will shift from the San Antonio Symphony Society to Symphonic Music for San Antonio.