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Columbus symphony

Musicians reject offer, dismissal of Hirokami
Tuesday,  July 15, 2008 3:09 AM
By Tim Feran and Jeffrey Sheban

The Columbus Dispatch
Columbus Symphony musicians have rejected a contract offer from the symphony board that would have cut salaries and caused the firing of Music Director Junichi Hirokami.

E-mail obtained by The Dispatch indicates that the latest proposal -- the result of two days of mediated negotiations last week -- called for a four-year pact.

In the first year, the musicians would have been paid an average salary of $40,265; and by the fourth year, $45,292.

The 27 percent decrease is less than the 40 percent reduction previously requested by the board.

To cover the $300,000 difference between the old and new salary offers, the board sought musician support for Hirokami's dismissal.

The outspoken music director, who lives in Tokyo and couldn't be reached yesterday, has sided with the musicians.

One year remains on his three-year contract.

In e-mail to musicians last week, board President Robert "Buzz" Trafford called the deal "the best offer we can make."

"When you vote on July 10," he warned, "you will be deciding whether the Columbus Symphony Orchestra continues."

Musicians unanimously rejected the proposal, according to e-mail that union President Douglas Fisher sent to board members.

The cuts "would destroy the artistic quality of the orchestra," he said, and the musicians felt "anger and disgust" about the demand to remove Hirokami.

Fisher and Trafford both declined to comment yesterday on the developments, citing a confidentiality clause in the mediation.

Both sides, Trafford said, continue to communicate through mediators Alan D. Valentine, president and chief executive officer of the Nashville (Tenn.) Symphony; and John E. Sands, a professional mediator and arbitrator from West Orange, N.J.

Asked whether the board has lost confidence in Hirokami, Trafford said: "I don't want to comment on Junichi while we're still engaged in the mediation process."

Hirokami should have remained neutral, said Tony Beadle, executive director of the symphony -- adding that Hirokami has also failed to perform key duties of a music director for a major orchestra, partly because he hasn't put down roots in central Ohio.

"A good deal of the work is not done on the podium," Beadle said. "A music director is the face of the orchestra and ambassador of good will to the community and potential donors."