As the man left holding the baton when musicians walked off the job six months ago, Detroit Symphony Orchestra Music Director Leonard Slatkin said the most difficult thing was standing by as the strike played out.
On Thursday, as musicians gathered for their first rehearsal in Orchestra Hall in about 9 months and prepared to vote on a tentative agreement that ended the walkout, Slatkin said his silence was frustrating but necessary for the normally loquacious leader.
"Clearly I had ideas and thoughts about what I thought should happen but my role, really, had to be in the middle," Slatkin told reporters before the rehearsal. "I answer to the board _ they're the person who hired me. And I'm answerable to the musicians, because I'm the person that leads them."
"It's uncharacteristic of me to shut up _ I usually talk quite a lot," he said. "This time, even my best friends didn't know a great deal of what I was thinking because I chose to stay as quiet and out of it as possible."
The first concert of the reconstituted orchestra is scheduled for Saturday night, and the program includes Dvorak's "Symphony No. 9, From the New World." Slatkin called the piece, commonly known as the "New World Symphony," an "obvious choice."
The two sides said Monday that they reached the settlement after lengthy talks over the weekend. The musicians officially vote Thursday afternoon on the tentative agreement and results are expected Friday.
The dispute was over how deep a pay cut the musicians would have to take to help the struggling symphony balance its budget.
Management had implemented a 33 percent base pay cut in September, from $104,650 to $70,200 in the first year. Musicians had offered to take a 22 percent reduction in the first year, to $82,000, but proposed significant increases by the final year.
Management put the cuts in place after declaring an impasse with the union Sept. 1. Musicians walked off the job Oct. 4.
An orchestra musician who spoke on condition of anonymity because the agreement's terms haven't been released publicly told The Associated Press this week the minimum starting salary in the first year of the three-year contract will be $71,080 _ $33,000 less than before. The minimum salary rises in subsequent years, ending at $74,600.
The salary would be increased through an electronic media guarantee, money musicians will receive through radio and television broadcasts. That would put the minimum starting salary at about $79,000, according to the musician who spoke to the AP.
An optional educational and community outreach component to the agreement, which had been a sticking point during negotiations, also could bring each musician an extra $3,450 per year for additional work beyond the contract requirements, the musician said.
Slatkin said he's thrilled by the public demand from the weekend performances but acknowledges that the fact that they are free has something to do with the interest. He said the "real test" comes in the next full season when paid performances return.
Slatkin returns to a slightly smaller orchestra. Four players left during the strike, but he said some have moved on to better opportunities and "would have gone anyway."
"I think we're going to have to make a strong effort in our recruitment of players for the vacancies we have," he said, but added that he's confident the organization has "reached a place that ensures growth."
Slatkin said he can now be "the glue for both sides." He said he plans to form committees and give musicians more input in the orchestra's daily operations.
He said the strike put the orchestra in the news constantly and officials need to "capitalize on that." And although the nationally renowned concert hall is the orchestra's home base, he plans more performances in Detroit's suburbs to reach people who choose not to come into the city.
Slatkin said the strike was frustrating for all sides but the process "probably played out the way it needed to."
Within minutes, he back was on the podium, leading the orchestra through a passionate run-through of the "New World Symphony."
As they played, orchestra President and Chief Executive Anne Parsons listened in the wings, pleased that after a bruising strike the orchestra sounded like it wasn't missing a beat.
"It's what we're here to do," she said.