State Employment Board Cites Brooklyn Opera Company Over Virtual Orchestra Dispute

Classic Arts News   State Employment Board Cites Brooklyn Opera Company Over Virtual Orchestra Dispute
The New York Employment Relations Board has issued a complaint against the Opera Company of Brooklyn for withdrawing from its union contract in a dispute over so-called virtual orchestra machines.

The complaint, issued Tuesday, September 7, says that the opera company broke state law in April when it voided its contract with Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians.

The company withdrew from the contract because it objected to a clause prohibiting the use of virtual orchestra machines, which use synthesizers to replicate the music of a full orchestra. The union says that such machines cost its members jobs.

"As we have repeatedly stated, Opera Company of Brooklyn entered into its agreement with Local 802 voluntarily and unconditionally," union chapter president David Lennon said in a statement. "We are pleased that the State Board has affirmed our position."

Representatives from the opera company and the union will likely meet with an administrative law judge sometime in the next month, said Regina Shields, an investigator with the state's Employment Relations Board. The goal, she said, is to get the parties together at the bargaining table. If mediation fails, the judge would then hear the case to determine if the opera company violated state law.

Local 802 has been at the center of an ongoing dispute over virtual orchestra machines. Last year, Broadway musicians went on strike when producers sought the right to replace pit orchestras with the devices for some shows. And in April, the union reached a contract agreement with the Variety Arts Theater: one of New York's largest Off-Broadway houses: to ban the machines for ten years. Realtime Music Solutions, the leading producer of virtual orchestra machines, appealed the ban before the Federal National Labor Relations Board, but lost.

According to the RealTime Music Solutions web site, the machines can follow a conductor's tempo and musical nuance during live performances, and have been used by national Broadway touring companies and by the New York Shakespeare Festival.

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