Spokane Symphony management and musicians are returning to the bargaining table this week in an effort to reach a contract agreement before “The Nutcracker” ballet begins.
If the dispute isn’t resolved in the next week, “The Nutcracker,” a holiday tradition for many local families, will be performed with recorded music instead of a live orchestra.
“We are very hopeful we can find a solution and will be able to have our musicians play in the pit,” said symphony spokeswoman Annie Matlow. “Of course we would rather have our musicians play.”
Both management and the musicians, who have been on strike since Nov. 3, said they would like to reach an agreement in the labor dispute, but didn’t go into further details on this week’s negotiations. “The Nutcracker” opens Dec. 6.
“It would be quite a disappointment to not achieve a fair contract resolution before then,” musician spokesman Adam Wallstein said in an email. “With recorded music there would be no living chemistry between Tchaikovsky’s great score and the action on stage. The audience’s sense of wonder that the drama is unfolding in front of their eyes and ears would be taken away.”
He added, “It just wouldn’t sound nearly as colorful or compelling. I’m sure we own a pretty good stereo system, but there’s no substitute for live music in a terrific concert-hall.”
Matlow said many ballet companies deliver high-quality performances to recorded music.
“It’s not an anomaly,” she said. “It’s not what we’re used to here, but it’s not an anomaly in the performance world.”
If recorded music is used, each ticket buyer will receive a voucher for a free Sunday Classics concert valid through November 2013.
“I think that’s really important,” Matlow said. “We want them to be able to hear this fine orchestra.”
Since the strike began, five symphony performances have been canceled. The symphony has proposed a two-year contract that includes a 13.3 percent pay cut and has said it was saved from running a deficit last year by a last-minute donation.
The musicians have said they offered to take a 6.6 percent pay cut, but deeper cuts are unsustainable. They also oppose what they call an unusually restrictive leave policy and a lack of any guarantees in the contract’s second year.
Matlow said much of “The Nutcracker” ticket sales happen in the final week, but so far they are about on par with last year. Set to the music of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, this staging is choreographed by the Santa Barbara-based State Street Ballet and will feature more than 70 young, local dancers.
Canceling it wasn’t an option, Matlow said.
“ ‘The Nutcracker’ is such an important part of this community,” she said. “We weren’t going to slight those kids and particularly the 73 dancers that have been working for months in preparation.”
In the meantime, both parties in the labor dispute are urging supporters to attend the 30th annual Christmas Tree Elegance, a fundraiser held by the independent nonprofit Spokane Symphony Associates to benefit the orchestra.
“It is the largest fundraiser that we do during the year,” said event co-chair Maureen Boutz. “It’s important every year, really.”
From Nov. 28 to Dec. 9, 12 decked-out trees with themed accessories are on display on the Davenport Hotel’s mezzanine, and six are displayed at River Park Square. Each tree, as part of a prize package worth up to $5,000, is raffled off. Raffle tickets are $1.
Organizers of the event hope to raise more than $200,000. Last year, they raised about $197,000.
Boutz said the organization is neutral on the strike.
“We’re not really involved,” she said. “We just work to support the symphony. That’s our goal.”