Springfield Symphony, musicians announce new labor agreement
Settlement ends protracted bitter dispute
There is labor peace at Springfield Symphony Hall. Now work begins to build back one of the region’s premier cultural attractions.
Declaring it a “new day” for the 80-year-old Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Paul Lambert, the president and CEO, announced a new collective bargaining agreement with the union representing the orchestra’s musicians.
“I can say that the feelings of optimism, comradery, and joy at the Springfield Symphony Orchestra are very strong,” Lambert said.
The new contract with Local 171 of the American Federation of Musicians guarantees a minimum of eight concerts – six classical and two pop – in each of the next two seasons. The agreement calls for an average of 64 musicians at each of the classical concerts. Musicians will receive a 5 percent raise in each season, according to Beth Welty, the union local president and principal violinist with the Symphony.
She said the union wanted a three-year agreement and a minimum of 10 concerts each season but compromised.
“We tried and it just wasn’t going to happen and we felt like if we kept this going it was hurting the orchestra too much,” Welty said.
From the time COVID-19 shutdown live performance venues in early 2020 to last spring when two concerts were produced under order from the National Labor Relations Board, the Symphony was dark. This season’s sixth and final scheduled concert is May 13th.
Lambert, who took over as interim president in 2022 and was elevated to the permanent post earlier this year, said ticket sales increased as the season progressed and he described the two pop concerts as “outstanding successes.”
“All the same problems that existed pre-pandemic still exist in the marketplace in the changing demographics of who comes to classical symphonic concerts,” Lambert said. “The idea now is to see what we can build on with new approaches, new outreach, new kinds of music, and at the same time embracing what worked in the past, not losing that, but at the same time where do we go from here to make this sustainable for the future.”
Welty praised Lambert and said the musicians are eager to work with him, the SSO staff, and the board of directors.
“It’s a new day,” Welty said. “We have a common goal now.”
Among the challenges ahead for the SSO – hiring a permanent conductor and music director.
“It is a big deal,” Welty said. “There is so much rebuilding that is going to have to happen that right now we’re really not in a space to attract a top-quality music director, so we’re going to have another year of guest conductors. But obviously it is a high priority.”
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, who helped mediate negotiations between the two sides that he described as “arduous,” announced the city will give the Symphony $280,000 over the next two years for educational programs to help bring a new generation of patrons to Symphony Hall.
“To build that foundation so the Symphony will continue on for many-many years to come,” Sarno said.
Addressing a gathering of musicians, orchestra patrons and sponsors assembled in the Mahogany Room of Symphony Hall while holding a baton he’d been given as a guest conductor at a holiday pops concert a few years ago, Sarno called on the city’s philanthropic and business communities to support the SSO.
“When the Symphony is in town, downtown is hopping too,” he said. “Not only is beautiful music being made here, but for a mayor and my ears it is the beautiful music of establishments being patronized.”
During the bitter contract dispute, the musicians formed an organization and put on several concerts under the name “Musicians of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra (MOSSO).” A separate agreement will rename it the “Springfield Chamber Players.” The new entity will present only chamber music concerts while the SSO will produce exclusively full symphony concerts.