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Riccardo Muti throws support to musicians in CSO contract talks

Riccardo Muti conducts the CSO Symphony Center, June 18, 2018 | Todd Rosenberg Photography

As musicians for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra near a strike date in their contract negotiations with orchestra management, outspoken music director Riccardo Muti told CSO execs this week that his loyalty is with the people on the stage.

“I hope before my return in a few days, everything will be settled, giving the musicians the recognition they deserve,” he wrote in a letter to CSO leaders. “I hope that the Board [of Trustees] will remember that theirs is not a job but a mission, and that tranquility and serenity will be given for the artists to do their work.”

The letter was addressed to Helen Zell, chair of the CSO board of trustees, and CSO President Jeff Alexander.

The musicians, represented by the Chicago Federation of Musicians, voted in February authorize a strike on March 10 if a deal for a new three-year contract isn’t reached by that date.

“We hold the musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in the highest regard and are working closely with their union representatives to come to an agreement on a new contract,” Alexander said in a statement Wednesday. “While their current contract is among the best in the country, we have offered improvements in salary and working conditions and look forward to finalizing the details with the union as soon as possible.”

Stephen Lester, chairman of union’s negotiating committee, has said that if no agreement is reached, the orchestra’s 100 musicians will walk out after Sunday’s performance of Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto and Dvořák’s Seventh Symphony.