Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra: Another View

In response to a laudatory article about the non-union Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra titled “This orchestra wants no conductor: How Kaleidoscope aims to move in different directions” published in the LA Times by Rick Schultz on Feb. 13, 2019, we share another view written by AFM Local 47 Director Vivian Wolf. Kaleidoscope refuses to sign onto an AFM contract and currently appears on the union’s Do Not Work For list for failure to pay musicians according to industry standards. Along with the entire Executive Board, Wolf is deeply concerned about this situation, and Local 47 will continue to reach out to Kaleidoscope in order to discuss organizing the orchestra and its musicians under an AFM agreement.

It was with great interest that I read the article by Rick Schultz describing the Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra. The article was highly laudatory and indeed, there is much to praise about the ensemble founded by Benjamin Mitchell. It is the only conductor-less orchestra in the Los Angeles area, it brings music to unique venues and champions new repertoire. What it doesn’t do, is pay the performers a fair wage. In fact, by refusing any involvement with the American Federation of Musicians Local 47, Kaleidoscope is exploiting the enthusiasm and energy of its young musicians. Even though the ensemble receives many large contributions, the orchestra does not have any kind of contract and certainly doesn’t offer the players any health or pension benefits — benefits that would be in play under a union contract.

Despite initially coming to the union with the goal of a union agreement after the first few seasons, five years later no such agreement is forthcoming. Mr. Mitchell did meet with the Local 47 Board of Directors fairly recently, at our request, but remains highly resistant to any consideration of paying his players more than the substandard wages he currently offers. In our view, there is no transparency in the finances of Kaleidoscope, which leads to young artists being taken advantage of.

There are many community orchestras in southern California which perform under a union agreement. Orchestras which have far fewer funds than Kaleidoscope and operate on a budget which is a fraction Kaleidoscope’s. These orchestras have CBAs (collective bargaining agreements) with Local 47, that work within an orchestra’s budget, but guarantee wage protection, benefit contributions, and fair working conditions. While Kaleidoscope doesn’t charge admission for many of its concerts, neither do most of these community orchestras. However, it is worth noting that the concerts mentioned in the article had tickets priced at $25-$55, far more than any of our community orchestras charge. Kaleidoscope clearly has the resources to place advertisements in many publications, which other ensembles that do have CBAs with Local 47, cannot.

The union and its leadership, being performing musicians ourselves, fully understand the desire to perform and practice one’s art. But by allowing themselves to work for far less than their worth, young musicians contribute to the “race to the bottom” mentality, creating an environment where accomplished musicians cannot sustain a livelihood.

– Vivian Wolf, Director, AFM Local 47

– This originally appeared in Overture Magazine, April 2019