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Editorial

 

Going back to the start of the pandemic, we expressed concern for the survival of not only the businesses in Springfield and across the region, but also the institutions that contribute to the quality of life we all enjoy here.

That’s a broad category that includes a number of museums, the Basketball Hall of Fame, the Springfield Thunderbirds and other sports teams, and arts venues ranging from Jacob’s Pillow to Tanglewood to the Springfield Symphony Orchestra. All of them are part of the fabric of this community.

Among all those, perhaps the one we feared for the most was the symphony, which has seen several changes in leadership over the past decade and has seemingly struggled to attract younger and broader audiences. If there was an institution that couldn’t afford to be on the sidelines, out of sight, and in many cases out of mind, it was the SSO.

“Reading between all the lines, it appears that concerns about the future of the venerable, 75-year-old institution are very real and quite warranted.”

These fears gained some legitimacy last week when musicians who play for the orchestra issued a press release that doubled as both warning and call to action. These musicians, some of whom have been playing for the SSO for decades, raised questions about how committed the SSO’s board is to everything from giving long-time maestro Kevin Rhodes a new contract to a 2021-22 season for the SSO. They asked for “an encore, not a curtain call.”

The SSO’s interim executive director, John Anz, responded by saying many of these issues are intertwined, and the orchestra cannot proceed with a new contract for Rhodes or a 2021-22 season until negotiations with the musicians’ union are resolved.

Reading between all the lines, it appears that concerns about the future of the venerable, 75-year-old institution are very real and quite warranted.

We sincerely hope the SSO is able to rebound from what is certainly the greatest challenge of its existence. Springfield needs these institutions to become the destination that we all hope that it can be.

Indeed, many things go into making a community livable — jobs, neighborhoods, schools, a thriving downtown, and, yes, culture. Springfield has already lost CityStage; it simply cannot afford to lose another thread of its fabric.

This is especially true as the state and the nation emerge from this pandemic. We’ve heard the talk that large urban areas are now less attractive to some segments of the population, who are now looking more longingly toward open spaces and less crowded areas. And we’ve seen dramatic evidence of this in our own real-estate market.

Springfield is to emerge as a player in this new environment, a true destination, then it will need institutions like the SSO to create that quality of life that both the young and old are seeking out as they search for places to call home.

The SSO has certainly been rocked by this pandemic. Emerging from it will be a stern test. We certainly hope it can move forward and be part of Springfield and this region for decades to come.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — In a letter to supporters and the media on Tuesday, a group representing Springfield Symphony Orchestra (SSO) musicians leveled a number of complaints at SSO leadership, claiming that the lack of a 2021-22 concert schedule, failure to replace departed Executive Director Susan Beaudry or renew the contract of Music Director Kevin Rhodes, and a dispute over the musicians’ collective bargaining agreement have put the future of the organization in doubt.

Musicians of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra (MOSSO) also announced plans to appear at Symphony Hall on Saturday, June 12 at noon to “support the continuation of live symphonic music in Springfield.” The musicians plan to gather on the steps of Symphony Hall to call attention to the “precarious state of the SSO” and offer a free, short concert.

MOSSO alleges that the SSO board of directors’ executive management committee has effectively shut down the organization.

“Despite welcoming donations from music lovers in Springfield and beyond during this past year’s successful development campaign –– which added funding on top of an already-robust $7.5 million endowment –– the SSO board scrapped plans for outdoor summer concerts, and has no concerts scheduled for the 2021-2022 season,” the letter states. “In contrast, the orchestras in Hartford, Albany, and Rhode Island have all announced dates for their live indoor concert seasons starting this fall.”

MOSSO noted that the SSO board has essentially eliminated artistic leadership by minimizing Rhodes’ role and putting off renewing his contract, which expired on May 31, and has launched no national search for Beaudry’s successor. For the time being, Development Director John Anz is serving as interim executive director. “The SSO is in limbo,” the letter states, “because the board has failed to address these two leadership positions atop the organization.”

According to MOSSO, the SSO board’s solution to current financial challenges has been to eliminate staff positions and drastically reduce the number of performances and players performing –– “actions that directly hinder fundraising and marketing efforts by handicapping the organization’s mission to serve the music lovers of the Pioneer Valley.”

MOSSO maintains that the board’s own endowment and fundraising reports show that SSO finances are improving and that, instead of cutting performances, the SSO should continue growing its successful development program, start applying for grant funding (as have similar performing organizations), and turn over management of the SSO to an executive director with a proven track record of success.

The SSO board claims that the 2021-22 season cannot be planned in the absence of a successor to the 2017-20 collective bargaining agreement (CBA), but MOSSO notes that federal law requires that the terms of an expired CBA remain in effect until a new agreement is reached, yet the board refuses to honor this legal principle.

“The immediate obstacle to achieving a successor CBA is that the board presently lacks a negotiating team; all of its members have departed the organization,” the letter goes on. “As a result, negotiations ground to a halt in March. The American Federation of Musicians, Local 171, has filed an unfair labor practices charge, alleging bad-faith bargaining by the former SSO management/board negotiating team, as well as threats by the board to cease operations unless the musicians settle their contract. Absent a team that MOSSO can negotiate with, there is no possibility of arriving at the long-term agreement that both parties desire.”

Unless the board changes direction, MOSSO concludes, “there will be no further SSO performances in Symphony Hall. After a run of more than 75 years, this would be a tragic ending for our region’s finest orchestra, with incalculable economic, cultural, and educational losses for Greater Springfield and the Pioneer Valley.

“The musicians of the SSO, many of whom have dedicated their entire careers to performing with the symphony, will not be silenced. With the lifting of pandemic restrictions, they are determined to bring back the music.”

For more information and updates on the June 12 concert, visit www.springfieldsymphonymusicians.com.