Striking St. Louis symphony planning tsunami benefit

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

ST. LOUIS -- All dressed up with no place to go because of a work stoppage into its second week, the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra is trumpeting plans to stage a benefit concert for victims of the tsunami that ravaged South Asia two weeks ago.

With management's blessings, the ensemble that on Jan. 3 launched its first work stoppage in a quarter century will hold a fund-raiser performance Friday in University City, the symphony's chief contract negotiator said Monday.

"We're just saying, 'Please come, please donate,"' said Jan Gippo, a piccoloist. "The only thing we can do is play. And if we play real good, maybe they'll donate real good."

Gippo insisted that regardless of the labor conflict, the orchestra would have played the fund-raiser at the 1,100-seat site of a former synagogue on Friday -- an open date in the ensemble's concert season that runs through April.

"We're not going to talk about the job action at all" at the concert, Gippo said, calling the fund-raiser "just something musicians do on a regular basis when there are catastrophes like this."

Management applauded the orchestra's gesture. Funds will go to the American Red Cross tsunami relief effort.

"We're not surprised the orchestra wants to do something, and we're happy they are doing that,"' said Jeff Trammel, a spokesman for orchestra management.

The work stoppage prompted cancellation of concerts by the nation's second-oldest orchestra last Friday and Saturday. A decision should come within days whether performances scheduled for Saturday and Sunday also will be scrapped, Trammel said.

Tickets to any of the canceled concerts may be exchanged for shows later in the season or a full refund.

No new talks were scheduled as of Monday.

A day after their previous contract expired, union members of the symphony on Jan. 3 resoundingly rejected a four-year contract offer under which the musicians would take a pay cut. They say they deserve a raise, having absorbed voluntary concessions that included salary givebacks three years ago that helped keep the orchestra afloat.

The symphony's last work stoppage was a 42-day strike in 1979.

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