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As planned season opening nears, talks resume between ASO and locked-out musicians

Romanstein hopes the empty orchestra seats are filled once again.
ASO President Stanley Romanstein hopes the orchestra's empty seats are soon filled again.

The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Players Association has submitted a new proposal to ASO management, and both sides have confirmed that talks are taking place.

The musicians were locked out at midnight August 26 when their collective bargaining agreement expired without a new contract.

“Conversations have been taking place between Atlanta Symphony Orchestra management and the musicians’ union over the last few days,” said ASO President and Chief Executive Officer Stanley Romanstein. “Because this is a very precious moment in the negotiations, I am unable to discuss any further details at this time.”

Christina Smith, the orchestra’s principal flutist and a member of the musicians’ negotiating team, said today that the musicians formally offered a new proposal Wednesday.

“We gave a new proposal to management that we’re hopeful will end the lockout,” she said. “We feel it’s a very strong proposal and sufficient to end the lockout. We’re confident it’s strong enough.” She declined to give details.

Negotiations between the ASO and the union that represents its musicians broke down after a tentative agreement was rejected by the Woodruff Arts Center’s executive board. The Woodruff is the ASO’s parent organization. The two sides were $600,000 a year apart when the musicians’ contract expired and they were locked out of their Woodruff facilities. On August 31, their health benefits were canceled.

The ASO is scheduled to open its season October 4, with guest violinist Midori. A collaboration between the ASO and the Anti-Defamation League, “ADL Presents Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezin,” is scheduled for the following week. The lockout has appeared to place the opening concerts in serious jeopardy. “It’s quite demoralizing and disconcerting,” Smith said earlier this week. “We want to perform.”

The last work stoppage at the ASO was in 1996, and it lasted 10 weeks before a new deal was reached.

The orchestra has accumulated an estimated $19.8 million in debt since 2003. Romanstein has said it ran a $4.5 million deficit in fiscal year 2012 and that that is expected to grow in 2013. The union contends that the actual deficits for those two years are less than half that amount.

The musicians are producing benefit concerts tonight and tomorrow at the Center for the Arts at North Atlanta High School on Northside Drive. The orchestra will perform Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and Rossini’s “Barber of Seville” Overture under conductor Michael Palmer. ASO Concertmaster David Coucheron and Associate Concertmaster William Pu will perform the Double Violin Concerto by J.S. Bach.

Admission is free, but advance reservations must be made emailing rrcolbert@atlanta.k12.ga.us or calling 404-802-4728 to reserve seats. Emails should include the name of the person making the reservation and the number of seats wanted. Donations are requested to help the musicians pay the costs of being without health insurance.

“It’s nice to play together again,” Smith said. “It feels like going home. We’ve had a tremendous outpouring of support for the concerts.”

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