The concert at Symphony Center was to begin at 8 p.m. but was canceled after musicians went on strike, according to Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association President Deborah Rutter, who called it a "sad night" for the symphony orchestra.
Rutter said that the association has had 11 negotiating sessions with the musicians, the last of which ended around 6:15 this evening when they rejected the association's final offer.
"We believe that we offered a very fair contract," Rutter said.
Among some of the proposed terms, Rutter said musicians were offered salary increases in each year of the 3-year contract, and health benefit packages that totaled about $18,000 per musician. The association also asked musicians to increase their health benefit contribution from five to 12 percent.
In the union's most recent contract, which expired last week, the musicians' base minimum pay increased by 23 percent over a five year period, Rutter said. The average salary for musicians during the last year of the contract was $173,000.
Officials said rehearsals and concerts took place as scheduled earlier this week. However, during today’s meeting, the musicians left the negotiating table and proceeded to strike, officials said.
Bassist Stephen Lester, chairman of the Orchestra Members Committee, which negotiates the musicians contracts, was with fellow musicians setting up a picket line outside the Symphony Center entrance on Michigan Avenue Saturday night.
“We were negotiating all day today after having negotiated many times,” Lester said. “We’ve been doing a lot of negotiating. There was movement, but there remained serious economic issues that were not being addressed by the association. They were trying to force us into a concessionary contract, reducing our benefits and making it difficult for the orchestra to pay for health care and keep our basic standard of life.”
As for the cause of the negotiation breakdown, Lester said, “It was the final economic proposal (from the association), which still required us to take a decrease in compensation and exorbitant increases in the cost of health care. We’re hopeful that we will continue negotiating soon."
He denied that they walked away from the negotiating table.
"We remain anxious to conclude an agreement with the association, and we regret very much that this has affected concerts for the public and for our music director, Maestro Muti, and we hope that the situation can be resolved soon.”
On the subject of whether the musicians and management disagree over the CSO’s financial state: “There is a fundamental disagreement over what a successful orchestra is and what it means, and there’s a fundamental disagreement over the role of musicians...the negotiating style of the association has led us to question the seriousness of their desire for a contract.”
He said there was a strike authorization vote on Thursday evening. They advised the orchestra of the seriousness of the situation.
"We are enjoying extremely strong support from the orchestra.”
As for music director Riccardo Muti’s reaction: “I have been in contact with the maestro on several occasions,” Lester said, noting that he can’t speak for Muti. “We had good conversations, amiable conversations. He understands our situation.”
As the news broke that Chicago Symphony Orchestra musicians decided to walk off the job, an hour before the Saturday show featuring Muti conducting Respighi, dozens of confused and dressed-up concert goers gathered outside the symphony center at 220 S. Michigan Ave., bewildered by the small picket line and signs announcing the strike.
Leon Brenner of Round Lake said his father played in the symphony for nearly five decades and said he's never observed anything like this.