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Arts & Culture
Steve Metcalf has been writing about the musical life of this region, and the wider world, for more than 30 years. For 21 of those years, he was the full-time staff music critic of The Hartford Courant. During that period, via the L.A. Times/Washington Post news service, his reviews, profiles and feature stories appeared in 400 newspapers worldwide.He is also the former assistant dean and director of instrumental music at The Hartt School, where he founded and curated the Richard P. Garmany Chamber Music Series. He is currently Director of the Presidents' College at the University of Hartford. Steve is also keyboardist emeritus of the needlessly loud rock band Duke and the Esoterics.Reach him at spmetcalf55@gmail.com.

Concerned About the Hartford Symphony Orchestra? Speak Up

Ryan Caron King
Musicians perform at Blue Back Square in West Hartford to raise awareness of ongoing contract negotiations.
Among other things, work stoppages really scare off donors.

The Hartford Symphony Orchestra contract impasse staggers along.

As anyone reading this is likely to be aware, the HSO musicians continue to be engaged in a dispute with management over the number of services they will be contracted for and therefore the amount of money they will earn next season.

People have been asking me two things.

The first is: Will the start of the new season be delayed? The first concerts in the HSO’s flagship Masterworks series are due to begin October 1, just a couple of weeks from now.

I have no special information on or insight into the negotiations. But I will go out on a limb and say that, based on my unofficial conversations with people on both sides, I get the impression that the season will start as scheduled. That would mean, presumably, that the players would continue to work under the terms of the present, expired contract, so long as there seems to be progress in the talks.

This makes sense. I like to think that all parties understand that a work stoppage -- precipitated by either side -- would be a very bad idea.

Among other things, work stoppages really scare off donors. Also, the symphony has been on a nice roll the past few seasons. And its popular and imaginative music director, Carolyn Kuan, has just signed on for an additional six years, and has officially moved her residence to Hartford. Nobody in their right mind should want to willfully kill the momentum.

Of course, the longer the negotiations go without reaching an agreement, the more precarious the season becomes.

Credit Hartford Symphony Orchestra / Facebook
The Hartford Symphony Orchestra with Carolyn Kuan at the helm.

That brings me to the second question people are asking: What, if anything, can ordinary folks do to help?

Well, the glib answer is that you could get your checkbook out.

But beyond that, I would say that the most constructive and effective thing regular people can do is to simply make themselves heard. Let the HSO leaders know that you’re paying attention, that you care about the symphony’s future. Even if you’re just a sporadic attender, or a non-attender, tell them that Hartford’s orchestra -- one of the finest regional orchestras in the country, and the second largest in New England -- cannot be allowed to slip away over what is really a very solvable dispute concerning the terms it offers to its players.

How to make your thoughts known?

If you know a board member, or one of the HSO senior staffers, give them a call. Or send a letter to the editor at The Hartford Courant. Or email David Fay, who is now CEO of both the Bushnell and HSO. You don’t have to take a specific, partisan position on the negotiations, and trying to do so would be unhelpful in any case.

Instead, simply let these people know you’re expecting them to find a resolution. You want to see a fair, equitable settlement that points to a solid, workable future. Tell them you expect that any sacrifices that might have to be made will be shared among all parties. Tell them you expect them to get this done.

For that matter, be in touch with the City of Hartford’s leadership. It looks like Luke Bronin will likely be the city's next mayor. He should know, as he prepares to take the reins, that the citizens of greater Hartford value the performing arts at least as much as they do a Double-A baseball team.

While we’re on this, it’s not unreasonable to let the governor know that you’re thinking this way. Remind him that the state would be a vastly diminished place if it were to lose its largest and most visible professional orchestra.

In short, speak up. And also keep that checkbook thing in mind.

Steve Metcalf was The Hartford Courant's Fulltime classical music critic and reporter for over 20 years, beginning in 1982. He is currently the curator of the Richard P. Garmany Chamber Music Series at The Hartt School. He can be reached at spmetcalf55@gmail.com.

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