NSO musicians furloughed hours after Kennedy Center received $25 million

Sun Mar 29, 2020 at 12:36 pm
Photo: NSO musicians

The Kennedy Center informed the musicians and librarians of the National Symphony Orchestra on Friday that their April 3 paychecks would be their last for the foreseeable future. That decision came just hours after Congress passed a pandemic relief bill that awarded a controversial $25 million to the DC performing arts center. 

As reported by the Washington Post, the NSO will not be paid again until the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic abates and the performing arts center reopens. Kennedy Center management said they hope that will happen on May 11.

The NSO’s COVID-19 Advisory Committee sent an email to all musicians shortly after being “broadsided” by the salary decision in a late-night conference call with Kennedy Center president Deborah Rutter on Friday. According to the email, “there is no provision of our collective bargaining agreement that allows the Kennedy Center to decide to stop paying us with only one week of notice.”

The musicians are filing a grievance about what they see as a violation of their contract, but their statement makes clear that “while we will do everything possible to expedite this process, we do not expect that it will be completed before April 10.” According to the email, the Kennedy Center will provide health insurance coverage to musicians and librarians through at least May 31.

NSO musicians say that Rutter made this decision “despite the fact that the Orchestra Committee co-chairs had told [NSO Executive Director Gary Ginstling] multiple times that we were willing and open to working together on accommodations to carry us through this difficult period of uncertainty.”

In a statement emailed to Washington Classical Review, the NSO COVID-19 Committee members expressed frustration about the decision, which came as the musicians are “still reeling” from the cancellation of the ensemble’s Asia tour. “We are so disappointed that our decades-long history of working collaboratively with management to come up with creative solutions was tossed aside so cavalierly. The path that the Kennedy Center has chosen was not necessary and makes no sense to us.”

In her statement about the NSO furlough, Rutter stated that “Without concerts and the corresponding ticket revenue, it is an unsustainable strategy to pay musicians to stay at home during this forced and still undefined quarantine period.” She further noted that “the recent funding from the federal government will provide long-term cash flow for essential personnel to ensure that we can reopen the Center and re-employ our staff and musicians. Without this funding, the Center would run out of cash for operations by mid-May.”

In what turned out to be further bad timing, the Kennedy Center opened the 2019-20 season by inaugurating the extension known as The Reach–a $250 million expansion project that ran to over double its estimated budget, and which is increasingly looking like a costly and dubious extravagance.

2 Responses to “NSO musicians furloughed hours after Kennedy Center received $25 million”

  1. Posted Mar 29, 2020 at 7:00 pm by Karen Rqndall

    Does the KENNEDY FAMILY have any input here?
    Any pocket money to spend on the National Symphony Orchestra?

  2. Posted Mar 30, 2020 at 7:50 am by Lisa Stamblesky Butler

    Seriously? I’m all for arts. But your musicians, based in NYC a known hotspot for coronavirus, are upset about being laid off during the virus? How many performances have you been able to give? Who is paying to see your musicians? Where in the world are you planning on going that isn’t under quarantine or lockdown? You can split hairs all you want on the terms of your contract with regard to notice and the terms enumerated within, but this isn’t some ploy of management to usurp employment or deny a fair workplace standard.

    Thanks for making all college-educated people look like ignorant entitled cry babies because they can’t get their way. This is quite possibly one of the stupidest things I’ve seen come out of this event, next to the Ohio Democrats crying about the postponement of a primary election day on March 17. Grow up and use some common sense.

Leave a Comment


 Subscribe via RSS