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Striking San Francisco Symphony cancels second show as talks resume

By Ronnie Cohen

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Striking musicians for the San Francisco Symphony have narrowed their differences with management in contract talks that resumed on Friday with a federal mediator, but two performances have already been canceled, an orchestra spokesman said.

The union representing the 103 musicians had no comment except to confirm that negotiations were ongoing in advance of a U.S. East Coast tour set to begin next week featuring concerts at Carnegie Hall in New York and the Kennedy Center in Washington.

Orchestra spokesman Oliver Theil said management had presented a revised contract offer to union negotiators on Thursday, and the two sides went on to hold a 13-hour bargaining session before taking a break at 4 a.m. local time on Friday.

He said the parties returned to the bargaining table, again with a mediator, early Friday afternoon.

"Things are moving forward," Theil said. "Progress is being made, I think it's fair to say."

Union spokesman Nathan Ballard declined to characterize the talks, saying by email, "We are in negotiations at this very moment, and it would be premature to make any public statement about how close the parties are right now."

Because no deal has been reached, management canceled a Friday night performance of Mahler's Ninth Symphony, Theil said. A matinee performance was canceled on Thursday.

The strike began on Wednesday after contract talks deadlocked over disagreement on wages and benefits.

The symphony's musicians have been working without a contract since February 15, five days after the ensemble received its 15th Grammy Award, for an album of two pieces by composer John Adams that won for best orchestral performance.

San Francisco Symphony musicians earn an average annual salary of $165,000, with a minimum salary of $141,700, he said. The union says management was out to freeze musicians' wages.

The Minnesota Orchestra in Minneapolis locked out its players in October after it failed to reach a deal with the musician union over wage cuts, leading to performances being canceled through April 7. Musicians at its cross-town rival, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, are also locked out in a salary dispute.

Last fall, Chicago Symphony musicians walked out only to return 48 hours later when management offered them a 4.5 percent increase over three years, according to symphony news releases.

(Additional reporting and writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Alden Bentley and Dale Hudson)

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