PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Heinz Hall has gone silent.

Musicians with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Union walked off the job at 10 a.m. Friday, and 99 members of the American Federation of Music spent the day walking the picket line outside of the theater.

“Pittsburghers get behind things we like, and we like our symphony,” said Alice Gelormino.

“These are Draconian cuts that would change this orchestra forever. This orchestra is known for its excellence, both here in Pittsburgh and worldwide. That is what is threatened here. That is what we are preserving. The musicians will not let this happen to this orchestra,” said musician Micah Howard.

The musicians say talks with a mediator broke down and management refused to budge on the best, last and final offer tendered on Sept. 18.

“This is the crown jewel of this city, and it has been for 120 years. We want to preserve that. The City of Pittsburgh has preserved that for 120 years. This is not the right direction to go,” said percussionist Jeremy Branson.

The union says pay will be cut by 15 percent, pension contributions for members with less than 30 years service will be eliminated and the number of musicians will be reduced.

“The size of the orchestra is very, very important and our salaries also are important for recruiting and maintaining the very best musicians in the country,” Howard said.

But the COO of the orchestra says they’re facing some hard financial realities.

“We are expecting a $20 million cash deficit in the next five years,” said COO Christian Schornich. “It is unfortunately not possible to meet the musicians’ expectations during the negotiations, which is actually a hefty salary increase.”

There are millions who know Pittsburgh because of the sports teams, yet for supporters of the symphony and the musicians, they say it is their music that makes Pittsburgh sing.

“It is the heartbeat of the city. I have been coming here when the city was dead at night, and the city is thriving and the Pittsburgh Symphony is certainly a part of that,” Gelormino said.

The PSO canceled three weekend shows. Last month, the Symphony president projected a loss of $1.2 million for the Broadway series and a budget deficit of $1.6 million. Yet the musicians say they refuse to let the PSO go backwards.

“Just like New York, Chicago, we are a destination orchestra and that is what we have to maintain,” Howard said.

This weekend’s symphony shows have been cancelled. This includes Friday evening, Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon performances of “The Music of John Williams”. For more information on future shows, visit the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s website.

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