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Pittsburgh Symphony has new musicians' contract

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra has reached a 3-year contract with its musicians, nearly restoring their pay to levels in 2010-11, after which they took a pay cut to help the symphony get its finances in order.

The new deal bumps musicians' base pay by 4 percent to $104,114 annually for the 2013-14 season. Wages will be frozen for the following season, then raised 3 percent more to $107,237 for the 2015-16 season.

The musicians' base pay was $110,854 before the pay cut. However, many earn more than the base salary because of their years of service, or for holding a named or solo chair in the orchestra.

Bassist Micah Howard, who chairs the musicians' union, called the contract is a "morale booster" that shows that management is committed to attracting and retaining the best musicians.

The latest contract "won't get us back to where we were, but it gets us close. In the climate we're in now, this is a great contract. It keeps the PSO as a destination for the world's best talent," Howard said.

The Pittsburgh Symphony is hardly the only American orchestra to have struggled financially in recent years.

The Philadelphia Orchestra became the first major U.S. orchestra to seek Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization in 2011, citing dwindling attendance and donations, shrinking endowment income, the recession and an aging audience. It emerged from bankruptcy last year and just wrapped up a tour of China that is part of an effort to rebuild its finances and reputation.

Musicians with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra went on strike for six months over wages in 2011, and earlier this year the Minnesota Orchestra canceled the rest of its season, citing musicians' refusal to negotiate during a lockout that began Oct. 1, after the union's last contract expired.

The Pittsburgh orchestra had a $3.5 million deficit when its last fiscal year ended in August, but its president, James Wilkinson, hopes to balance its budget by the 2014-15 season.

Wilkinson said the musicians comprise "one of the best orchestras in the world. It's extremely important we continue to reward them by keeping their salaries within the top 10 in the country."