Chicago Symphony Orchestra Strike Enters Second Week

CSO musicians
CSO musicians perform last Tuesday at the Michigan Avenue entrance of Symphony Center. Carrie Shepherd/WBEZ
CSO musicians
CSO musicians perform last Tuesday at the Michigan Avenue entrance of Symphony Center. Carrie Shepherd/WBEZ

Chicago Symphony Orchestra Strike Enters Second Week

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After a weekend of contract talks with management, Chicago Symphony Orchestra musicians aren’t back in the pit — so to speak.

Monday marked the second week of the musicians’ strike after their contract expired March 10. The CSO canceled performances and related events March 14 to 19.

The musicians’ pension plan continues to be the major point of contention between the players and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association (CSOA), the governing body that oversees the CSO.

The CSOA’s proposal would change the current defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan similar to what many companies and nonprofit groups have.

“It is such an important benefit for the future of this orchestra,” bassist Steve Lester said of the traditional plan.

The defined benefit plan guarantees a negotiated amount for each year of retirement earned. Lester said changing that plan could discourage young talent from joining the CSO.

“This is about our young people having that same stability, that same support going forward that all of us have enjoyed,” Lester added.

CSOA President Jeff Alexander said a defined contribution plan would not necessarily mean a cut to retirement funds.

“The offer that we’ve made for how that would be funded, according to quite conservative calculations on growth of those funds, would put the musicians in as good if not a better state upon their retirement,” Alexander said in an interview last week.

“Our projections are that over the next eight years we’re going to have to put $36 million into the pension plan,” Alexander said, explaining the motivation behind the proposed change.

Striking musicians received a public declaration of support last week from music director and conductor Riccardo Muti. Calling CSO “one of the greatest orchestras in the world,” Muti emphasized that musicians at this level face demands beyond performances.

“The work that you see on stage is just a small part of the work that they do at home,” Muti told reporters.

Muti said his support should not be seen as a move against management.

“I’m not against the board, the trustees, the donors. I just would like that they understand and listen more carefully to the needs of the musicians,” Muti said.

CSOA President Alexander summed up Muti’s support as a sign to get back to work, calling the conductor “very passionate about music”. Alexander said Muti is eager for a resolution so they can all resume performances.

Ticket-holders for cancelled concerts have options for refunds and re-scheduling, depending on the performance.