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Wednesday, Dec 6, 2023
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Atlanta orchestra suffers lockout: Foreshadowing for future of classical music?

Credit: Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
Credit: Atlanta Symphony Orchestra

BREAKING: (Update Sept. 28) The Board of Directors of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra announced that president and CEO Stanley Romanstein has resigned from his position. Romanstein said in a statement, “I believe that my continued leadership of the A.S.O. would be an impediment to our reaching a new labor agreement with the ASO’s musicians.”
Newly-appointed interim president, Terry Neal, will manage orchestra operations.


Any tourist taking a stroll past the Woodruff Art Center in Atlanta would be alarmed and utterly bewildered by the mass of picketers outside Symphony Hall. What’s more perturbing would be the discovery that these frustrated sign-bearers are none other than the members of the orchestra itself. Why are they not in the Hall, rehearsing and performing for their debut concert of the season? The somber and ignoble truth is that the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra has been locked out of the Hall by the management and has ceased operations for an indeterminate amount of time.

The reason for this travesty? There’s no good one. Few of the cases to mirror this event have rational explanations. In 2012, the ASO suffered a preceding lockout, in which disputes over salary and work hours plunged the Orchestra into inequitable purgatory. The ultimate consequences of this particular dispute included pay cuts of $14,000, a lay-off of eight musicians and a reduced season by ten weeks of work. This seemed to transpire due to financial constraints voiced by the management, in which the ASO was told it would have to cut back in order to keep from filing bankruptcy. These financial figures, however, were never made public or even clear to the leaders of the ASO musicians, resulting in some speculation about the managements’ integrity. This is in part due to the nature of system in place, in which the Woodruff Arts Center oversees all the facilities which compose it collectively, so that no museum or performing venue within it may govern itself independently. Thus, an inevitable divergence of opinion is materialized, and the ASO is not allocated its due of perceived significance.

Now two years later in 2014, everyone is even more outraged, and much more curious about the validity of the Woodruff managements’ claims. After a good deal of digging, many truths were revealed about Stanley Romanstein, president of the ASO board. It would appear that Romanstein received nearly $400,000 in compensation for the previous fiscal year. The legitimate purpose behind this compensation is unknown and rather suspicious. Furthermore, Romanstein has consistently delivered poor budgetary plans, so that the ASO is never sure whether it has the allocated funds it needs to afford its season concerts and to pay Orchestra employees. In a multitude of statements issued by ASO members, Orchestra supporters and the Music Director of the Symphony himself, Robert Spano, the management has been belligerently accused of financial incompetence. It has since become the prevailing sentiment that those in charge of the ASO’s budget have not prioritized the ASO as a necessity worth funding, and that the financial situation has been poorly communicated.

Regardless, the sad fact of all this is that our amazing Orchestra has fallen prey to the epidemic of corrosion in classical music entities. Last year the Metropolitan Opera and Minnesota Orchestra suffered similar disheartening bouts. The trend among these crumbling musical forces seems to suggest an inevitable extinction of classical music as it exists today. Though we fight to sustain the prowess of these groups and hope that they continue to inspire abroad, orchestras simply lack commercial appeal in a broad sense. Still, any who understand the integrity and benevolence of classical music realize what a tragedy this truly is and that we cannot simply lie down and let it die. This art form represents a whole way of life for so many, most substantially for those of us majoring in music and for any who encounter music regularly through church or other sources. The Atlanta Symphony is a major player on the stage of the classical music world, so eyes are on them from around the world. Whatever happens with the ASO will determine the next step for the entire realm of music, so it is critical that their plight be dealt with in a just manner. As young students so close to this historic happenstance, it is crucial that we stay alert, and provide our prayers and whatever support we can to help avail the ASO of its woes.



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