Stage Fright

Musicians of the Florida Philharmonic were none too pleased by the settlement of this fall's strike

Confusing as well was the emergence, weeks into the strike, of another issue awkwardly referred to as "nonrenewal language." The contract clause, which refers to the musicians' ability to elect and reelect 13 of 15 representatives on the peer review board, was brought up by management the day before the strike and ultimately became the final sticking point. The issue was often characterized as a job-security concern, because the clause strengthens musicians' representation during employment review and diminishes the possibility that a player can be fired arbitrarily, a factor which some say affects a musician's ability to perform.

Management wanted to force musicians to rotate these positions; musicians insisted on controlling their representation without interference.

To some members of the public, the emergence of the issue weeks into the strike made it appear musicians were shifting ground. Lewinter says management first allowed musicians their choice for the board, then took back that offer during October 16 contract negotiations, which is the reason it did not surface sooner.

FPO violinist Izabela Cohen plays with the Arcangelo 
Piano Quartet. Her colleague, Yang Xi, is also a 
Joshua Prezant
FPO violinist Izabela Cohen plays with the Arcangelo Piano Quartet. Her colleague, Yang Xi, is also a member.

Explains Mariusz Wojtowicz, a slight, bespectacled violinist with a neatly trimmed salt-and-pepper beard: "Tenure to most people is a foreign concept. When you're on stage, the fear element can't be there. People need a sense of security. Believe it or not, they need to feel a sense of family."

Striking musicians remained stalwart. "The reason the musicians are so strong this year is everybody's fed up," says violinist Yang Xi. "[Management] uses scare tactics, they inflate figures. As soon as musicians sign the dotted line, you can count on it, there's money to spend on public relations, management."

To Lewinter the 1998 wage freeze implied a gentleman's agreement that a substantial raise was forthcoming. When their contract expired this year, musicians felt they shouldn't have to negotiate for what they believed had already been assured. "It seemed to us a betrayal of two years ago," Lewinter said. "During that wage freeze, they balanced the budget. It was time to make good on their promise."

However, music critic Tim Smith, who spent 19 years at the Sun-Sentinel before taking a job in April at The Baltimore Sun, says the FPO must spend more on administration because -- unlike many similar orchestras -- it serves three counties. "It's easy to complain about the salaries on the administrative side," he says. "It's been one badly managed administration after another."

Finding an administration skilled enough to handle the iconoclastic behemoth is nearly impossible. The departure of Hare, the executive director who is leaving at the end of the season, will result in a gaping hole in orchestra management. Though musicians viewed her largely as a go-between in the negotiations, she was a peacemaker. Now they fear her position will be filled by someone far less competent.

"It's a big monster of an organization," Smith adds. "It's like nothing else in the country. You could get the New York Philharmonic's general manager, and they wouldn't have a clue how to run this orchestra."

While poor management has cost the FPO plenty of money and missed opportunities, Smith says administrators also faced the possibility of layoffs. "There's been people who lost their jobs on the management side, and there's never been that on the orchestra's side."

Kristin Halay didn't bring her flute, and now, on a muggy Wednesday in October at O'Hara's on Las Olas Boulevard, she's starting to regret it.

For Halay, the newest member of the Florida Philharmonic, the noontime protest being staged outside is a chance to perform in public, something she hasn't done much lately. She arrived in Florida from Eugene, Oregon, just one day before the strike began; she is on a one-year leave from the Oregon Symphony. She's never rehearsed with the FPO and hasn't even received a paycheck, though she has played as many free community concerts as she can, for the practice.

Halay plops a cell phone, her only phone, on the red-checkered tablecloth, so as not to miss calls from Oregon, where management has offered to fly her back for performances. She's fortunate to work there, she says. "Oregon has the same-length season, better benefits, and they play in one concert hall." A change of scenery, the Florida sun, and proximity to East Coast auditions prompted her to accept the one-year position; her experience with the strike has made her doubt that decision.

Had the FPO season been canceled, she would have returned to Eugene, forfeiting the deposit she put down on her Fort Lauderdale apartment. She shrugs. The place is empty save the bed she bought for $180 at the Salvation Army and a used dresser donated by another musician.

Halay is fair; her dark brown hair glints reddish in the sunlight. Wearing silver rings, an amber pendant, and earthy sandals, she seems like a creative-writing TA at a West Coast liberal arts college -- until you hear her talk. Halay, who can often be found sipping from a stainless steel Starbucks coffee mug, speaks passionately about music. "I have this really wild little piece with just simple, simple F major arpeggios," she says, smiling enthusiastically. It would be great to play here, on the sidewalk, she adds, if only she had brought her flute.

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