Scene Last Night: Weill, Paulson at Carnegie Amid Strike

Guests attending Carnegie Hall’s dinner gala faced striking stagehands who wanted love and respect after killing the opening night concert that was meant to precede the event.

Standing at the entrance of the Waldorf Astoria last night, union members handed out flyers saying that the hall’s reputation as one of the finest venues in the world “is largely due to the efforts of the professional stagehands that we represent.” Some of the workers’ pay with overtime tops $400,000.

Four members of the musicians’ Local 802 played Dixieland tunes outside the hotel as guests arrived for the annual fundraising event.

“We were asked to support our fellow union members,” said Brian Nalepka, on tuba.

The gala took place without the Philadelphia Orchestra concert as members of Local One stopped work. The dispute is over staffing the music education wing that is planned to open in a year.

“I think it’s very selfish on the part of this union to ruin the experience of all these supporters,” said hedge-fund manager John Paulson, owner of Steinway Musical Instruments Inc., who was attending his first Carnegie Hall opening night.

The timing of the labor dispute irked him. “My understanding is the education hall won’t open until the fall of 2014, so why pick tonight to strike?” Paulson said.

Fundraising, Frustration

The situation didn’t derail the gala, which raised $3.4 million for arts and education programming, an increase of $700,000 over last year. Still, there was frustration.

“It’s very disappointing that this has to do with arts education, that we’d come apart at the seams over this,” said Jessye Norman, a soprano and Carnegie Hall board member.

“I’m very, very sad,” said violinist Joshua Bell, who was supposed to perform during the concert. “I don’t know the details of what’s going on, but these days, it’s hard enough for classical music to survive. It’s a shame.”

It was left to Sandy Weill, chairman of Carnegie Hall, to sum up in a few words the conflict with the union.

“We just couldn’t afford to enter into an agreement that would make our education space a performance space,” Weill said at the lectern.

Clive Gillinson, executive and artistic director, is “the one person at Carnegie Hall who makes more money than the stagehands,” Weill said.

Pay Levels

In 2011, Gillinson earned $1.1 million, the properties manager $465,000, and a stagehand more than $400,000 including overtime.

Gillinson said salary talk could have a focusing effect on donations.

“If I were a donor,” Gillinson said, “I might want to make sure my money was going to education and not to pay these stagehands.”

The gala had been due to start at 9 p.m. after a performance at Carnegie Hall with Bell and vocalist Esperanza Spalding. Instead, the subdued event began at 6 p.m. The substitute entertainment: some string players on stage, a dance floor, and a video of a news segment about Carnegie’s National Youth Orchestra.

(Amanda Gordon is a writer and photographer for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are her own.)

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