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Issues: Scotland's McOpera cooperative heralds a new way of keeping together an orchestra

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McOpera members in front of St Andrew's church in Glasgow (Colin Meams photo).
McOpera members in front of St Andrew’s church in Glasgow (Colin Meams photo).

Orchestras and opera companies are under a lot of financial stress that includes musician contracts geared toward steady work for the best pay. Things are still okay in Toronto, but cuts and strikes in the United States and Europe are causing the status quo to begin falling apart.

An interesting development in Scotland over the last year or so has been the foundation of a big music cooperative out of the Orchestra of Scottish Opera in Glasgow.

The new organization’s official name is Music Co-OPERAtive Scotland, but everyone is calling it McOpera, which has really unfortunate connotations on this side of the Atlantic. But these people are anything but purveyors of musical junk food.

Faced with an inevitable eventual elimination of their 28-week contract, the orchestra musicians with the support of the musicians’ union took action and became a self-managed body last fall. This weekend, they present the Orchestra of Scottish Opera’s final concerts of the season.

The new setup is a lean, super-flexible organization that can mould itself to whatever opportunities there are to make music, probably in ways that will connect in a more personal way with audiences.

Of course there are huge downsides, not the least of which is complete uncertainty about how much each musician will be able to earn during any given season.

Looking around at the future of the symphonic landscape in the western world, my guess is that all but a half-dozen of the great orchestras are headed toward this sort of get-paid-as-you-go model sooner or later, probably at the end of more bitter strikes and lockouts and filings for brankruptcy protection.

In the meantime we’ll all be locked into a battle of short-term versus long-term thinking. The calculus for each musician is a question of lobbying for the status quo, which pays well and ensures stability now, versus acknowledging now that the world has changed and that there may be different ways to piece together a living tomorrow.

It’s the now that pays the rent, though, not some vague tomorrow.

You can read all about the Orchestra of Scottish Opera’s adventures in today’s Scotland Herald here.

I’d love to know what your thoughts are on the situation.

John Terauds

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