Cleveland Orchestra Makes Temporary Job Cuts, Plans For Future

Franz Welser Most, arms raised, conducts the Cleveland Orchestra
Franz Welser Most, the musicians and staff of the orchestra are taking pay cuts [ideastream]

The Cleveland Orchestra is temporarily laying off 40 people throughout the organization and reducing salaries for remaining staff. The orchestra joins several other local cultural organizations making cuts due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The reductions come two weeks after the orchestra canceled the rest of its spring season. CEO Andre Gremillet said the goal is to share the pain fairly.

We are instituting pay cuts across the organization, taking into account the people who are unable to work at all, obviously, because we don't have concerts,” he said. “And then, you know, that many of the staff who are working harder than ever. So, these pay cuts are taking place starting this week and will continue most probably until September.”

The decision was made to use temporary layoffs instead of furloughs to allow the staff to apply for unemployment benefits. Gremillet added that the goal is to bring everybody back by June, using a combination of the federal relief package and some local fundraising. The rest of the approximately 230 staff members, including the 104 musicians, will see salary reductions.

In a statement provided by the orchestra, the musicians' committee chairman Richard Waugh said the agreement was the result of negotiations between his committee, the American Federation of Musicians and the Musical Arts Association, which governs the orchestra’s operations.

Early in negotiations, President and CEO André Gremillet promised to, ‘take care of our people,’” Waugh said in the statement. “In terms of both our physical and financial well-being, he most certainly delivered on that promise.”

Gremillet added that many subscribers haven’t asked to get refunds for this season’s canceled programs, looking at that money as a contribution to the orchestra’s well-being. He declined to give an estimate of the current size of the orchestra’s endowment, citing current turmoil in the stock market, but he said he was dead-set against tapping into it.

“We cannot jeopardize our future,” he said. “If we need to, we will. But so far as per the current plan, we are able not to touch the endowment.”

Another part of the current plan is to proceed with music making. Gremillet said the expectation is that the 2020 Blossom Music Festival will kickoff over the July 4th weekend and continue through the summer, as will a series of summer concerts at Severance. And then a regular season of concerts will proceed as planned, starting in September. That season will include performances in Miami, New York and Europe, plus a musical exploration of what it means to be an outsider, centered on the Verdi opera, “Otello.”

Clearly, we would love to be announcing the new season under better circumstances,” Gremillet said. “But we are optimistic that this crisis will end, and we will resume activities. And people need to know that we're planning, and we'll be there for them. So I think this is a little, you know, little ray of light, if you will.

A ray of light with some caution.

“Clearly we will not put any of our people or audiences at risk, so we will gauge the situation as we go forward,” he said. “But the planning had to take place, and now it’s there and we'll see how things go as we get closer to September.”

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