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Jax Daily Record Friday, Dec. 7, 200712:00 PM EST

Symphony holiday shows canceled; near future remains in doubt

by: Mike Sharkey

by Mike Sharkey

Staff Writer

The First Coast Nutcracker will go on as scheduled this weekend. However, it will be performed to recorded music and not accompanied by the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra.

Exactly which, if any, holiday concerts JSO will perform is also questionable. The Holiday Pops series performances set for Dec. 14-16 and Handel’s “Messiah” scheduled for Dec. 22 will not be performed. According to a release sent out Thursday by Symphony spokesperson Paul Witkowski, ticket holders for these shows may exchange their tickets for future performances. The release also said that no shows scheduled after Dec. 23 have been canceled.

Alan Hopper, executive director of the Symphony, said a meeting between the two sides has been scheduled in an effort to end the lockout as soon as possible.

“There’s a bargaining session Friday (today),” said Hopper.

According to Hopper, the locked out musicians will have to make concessions. Hopper said the Symphony board, chaired by Jim Van Vleck, has put “a strong limit on what’s in the contract.”

Van Vleck sent Mayor John Peyton a letter this week detailing the board’s current stance on the lockout. According to Van Vleck, “despite stellar performances, diverse programming and aggressive fund raising campaigns, the Jacksonville Symphony has accumulated a $3 million deficit during the past decade. Recent and anticipated cuts in Jacksonville’s public funding are forcing all nonprofits to re-evaluate financial reality and learn to live without City funding.”

Peyton, by virtue of being mayor, is a member of the board. However, he’s a past chair of the Symphony board as a private citizen. He did not return a call requesting comment and his spokesperson Misty Skipper said it was unlikely he’d get involved, despite his personal interest in the Symphony.

Hopper joined the Symphony in 2001 and said while he’s seen musicians strike during his career, he’s never been part of a lockout.

“This is unusual for any industry,” he said, adding that the problems Jacksonville’s Symphony is facing aren’t unique. “Large deficits to orchestras all over the country are forcing boards to look at contracts.”

Hopper maintains the biggest impasse in contract negotiations is over the salaries of the musicians.

“This is not high-impact, it’s a concessionary contract,” said Hopper, adding the proposal calls for raises in years three, four and five of the deal.

According to Van Vleck, the minimum salary of JSO musicians ranks 8th among 20 orchestras of similar size across the country.

While the musicians are not being paid by JSO during the lockout, Hopper said many are playing freelance, teaching and performing benefit shows on their own.

Looking at the potential long-term effects, Hopper said he doesn’t think the lockout will adversely affect the JSO’s ability to attract and retain musicians.

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