By Ronnie Cohen
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The San Francisco Symphony on Saturday canceled its fourth performance since musicians went on strike this week, as management and the orchestra players' union pressed on with federally mediated contract talks.
Both sides said the marathon negotiations were aimed at reaching a labor pact before the 103 musicians are scheduled to leave next week for an East Coast tour featuring recitals at Carnegie Hall in New York and the Kennedy Center in Washington.
But with no settlement yet, management canceled performances scheduled for Saturday night and Sunday afternoon of Mahler's Ninth Symphony, symphony spokesman Oliver Theil said.
The strike, which began when the musicians boycotted a Wednesday rehearsal, forced the symphony to cancel two shows earlier in the week.
Symphony management and union representatives met with a federal mediator for bargaining sessions on Thursday and Friday that lasted 13 hours and 11 hours, respectively, and returned to the bargaining table Saturday afternoon for yet another lengthy session, Theil said.
Neither side would comment on Saturday about the progress of talks except to say they were continuing to work toward a new three-year contract.
"Talks are ongoing," said musicians' spokesman Nathan Ballard.
"I wouldn't want to speculate as to the progress of the negotiations, because I'm not there. But they're working very hard to reach an accord by tomorrow (Sunday), which would be in time to save next week's tour," Theil told Reuters.
The musicians say that to retain the most talented players, they must be compensated as well as their peers in the country's top orchestras. Base pay for musicians in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Los Angeles Philharmonic is slightly higher than base pay for San Francisco Symphony musicians.
San Francisco's musicians earn an average annual salary of $165,000, with a minimum salary of $141,700, Theil said. The union has said management was out to freeze musicians' wages and was seeking concessions in pension and healthcare benefits.
Brent Assink, symphony executive director, said concert production, healthcare and pension costs were rising nearly four times as fast as revenues.
The musicians have been working without a contract since February 15, five days after the ensemble received its 15th Grammy Award for best orchestral performance.
(Additional reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by James B. Kelleher and Xavier Briand)