Fort Worth Symphony musicians have been on strike since September and the orchestra has cancelled all concerts through the end of this year. Union members and management remain at a stalemate over year-long contract talks. KERA’s Bill Zeeble asked some arts leaders and concert-goers what the strike means to them and the city.
Gerald Thiel has season tickets to the Fort Worth Symphony. But he and his wife haven’t sat in seats 5 and 6, row A, in Bass Hall since Sept 8th. That’s when the musicians walked out.
“It’s a big loss. It’s hard to imagine loving Fort Worth without a symphony,” says Thiel. “It’s like, you talk about a city of culture, you have to conclude the performing arts, and the foundation of the performing arts is a symphony orchestra.”
Take a step back for a broader, global perspective, says John Scott, music professor at the University of North Texas.
“Look around the world, the major capitols of the world. London, Paris, Rome, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago. All of those cities have at the center of their cultural and musical life, a symphony orchestra. And it’s simply one of those ways we measure culture.”
Fort Worth isn’t only city dealing with this. Philadelphia quickly resolved its labor issues. Pittsburgh’s strike is still ongoing. Scott says that’s a shame because he says an orchestra is a way we actually measure the best cities.
“One of the measures of the greatness of a great city is the symphony orchestra that it has.”
Ron DeFord thinks of Fort Worth and its orchestra that way. The Austin resident routinely travels north for the orchestra’s programing and quality performances. Now he worries about both.
“It’s a great orchestra,” DeFord says “And I over the years have gotten to know so many of the musicians. And they are drifting off. If this strikes goes on and on, they’re all going to drift away.”
Jacques Marquis can’t afford that. He heads the Fort Worth non-profit foundation – named for the late Van Cliburn – that runs the world-class international piano competition every four years. In different years, it holds a junior contest for younger teens and also a competition for adult amateurs. The symphony accompanies competitors in each event.
“It would be a disaster if we don’t have the symphony,” says Marquis. “The strike is bad for everyone. It’s bad for the musicians, it’s bad for the management, it’s bad for the city, it’s bad for the donors. It’s bad for other arts organizations. It’s a bad idea.”
The next big Cliburn International competition is this May. Having it without an orchestra is not an option.
“We can think of different solutions,” says Marquis.
Eleven years ago in Canada, Marquis managed a competition. Weeks away from the start, Montreal Symphony musicians walked out. Clock ticking, Marquis assembled a 72-member, professional pick-up orchestra just in time.
“Once again I have faith in finding a solution with the Fort Worth Symphony because an orchestra is not a bunch of individual musicians. An orchestra is an ensemble who can play together. And we need that for the competition.”
Karen Wiley believes Fort Worth needs the orchestra for its own well-being. She runs the Arts Council of Fort Worth.
“This is, I think, an important time for the Fort Worth community to see how special Fort Worth is, and that you can lose something that’s very special to you,” Wiley says. “And sometimes when you have something that’s so wonderful and so much, you don’t realize that you could lose it.”
There’s no way of knowing how many others feel that loss, or how acute it may be. There’s also little indication the dispute that led to the strike will be resolved any time soon.