Atlanta Symphony to resume after two-month labor dispute

The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra will resume performances after a two-month lockout as management and musicians agreed late Saturday on a new labor deal after prolonged wrangling.

The labor dispute was the latest in the US classical music world, where organizations are highly dependent on private donations and some have struggled to stay viable since the 2008 financial crisis.

Atlanta's Grammy Award-winning but loss-making orchestra, one of the premier classical groups in the US South, announced that it will return to the stage Thursday with performances of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 and Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 5.

The management and musicians' union on Saturday approved the new labor deal after prolonged negotiations brokered by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, a US government agency.

Under the new agreement, musicians won a six percent pay increase over the next four years but agreed to pay higher premiums for their health insurance.

"Both sides made significant concessions during these negotiations, and we are grateful for the musicians' willingness to work with us to reach a new agreement," said Virginia Hepner, president of the Woodruff Arts Center which includes the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

But she said that the "hard work begins now" to improve the orchestra's financial health.

"Together we must find new, compelling ways to engage the community to assure the support the orchestra needs," she said in a statement.

The musicians' head negotiator, violinist Paul Murphy, said that the agreement brought "a harmonious relationship within everyone's grasp."

The two sides also found a compromise on a key dispute over the size of the orchestra. After a previous lockout in 2012, the union agreed to reduce the orchestra's size from 95 to 88 musicians.

Through departures and retirements, the management had sought to maintain a smaller orchestra rather than hiring. Under the compromise, the orchestra would employ 77 musicians but reach 88 by the end of the four-year contract.

The agreement follows a lockout of more than one year at another prominent organization, the Minnesota Orchestra. Musicians and management reached an agreement in January.