Job fears over Scottish Opera bid to cut costs

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SCOTTISH Opera is expected to cut costs in the face of tightening government budgets by renegotiating contracts with members of its orchestra.

The company will seek to open talks tomorrow on the "under-utilisation" of its 50-strong salaried orchestra, raising the spectre of new job losses. Six years ago Scottish Opera lost its full-time chorus in a savage round of cuts.

Chiefs have been concerned for some time over labour agreements that are "not necessarily the most conducive to keeping costs down". They are said to include strict rules on payments where rehearsals or performances run over time or when the company goes on tour.

Many musicians routinely supplement their income with teaching or appearances in other musical ensembles.

But insiders raised questions last week over orchestra members holding second jobs that suggested heavy workloads outside the opera.

Last week Scottish Opera general director Alex Reedijk confirmed he was opening formal talks with union representatives of the orchestra over long-term "under-utilisation" of its musicians.

Scottish Opera's move may resurrect the long-standing issue in Scotland of whether the country has too many orchestras for the audiences available. With the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, critics have questioned whether Scottish Opera needed one of its own.

In 2004, with growing demands to solve the repeated debt crises and subsequent bail-outs, the opera chose to keep its orchestra and instead lay off its full-time chorus. It now uses singers on a freelance basis.

Opera North, Scottish Opera's equivalent in Northern England, boasts both its own orchestra of 54 members and a chorus of 36. Opera North supplied the chorus for Scottish Opera's recent performances of The Adventures Of Mr Broucek.

There was little surprise in the industry yesterday that members of the orchestra do other work.

Musicians Union regional organiser Sheena MacDonald said the pay scale for orchestra musicians topped out at about 33,000 even for principals.

"While soloists or conductors can claim large sums, the average salary for orchestral musicians is about 25,000 in the UK," she said.

"Performing music is not something that lends itself to a nine-to-five schedule. Orchestras typically work in 3-4 hour sessions, whether it's rehearsing during the day or performing in the evening.

"The management tend to encourage musicians to do work outside the orchestra, going off and playing in smaller ensembles or teaching."