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Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra management and musicians reached tentative agreement early today on a three-year contract that would boost the players' base pay by about $10,000 over three years and allow Saturday night's opening gala to go on as scheduled.

Under the proposed contract, the base salary would rise to about $38,000 in the third year from the present $28,700 -- one of the lowest pay levels among American orchestras. The largest increase would come in the third year.

The deal, signed at 1 a.m. after a 14-hour bargaining session refereed by a federal mediator, also would raise pension payments but not increase the orchestra's size from the current complement of 72.

The musicians wanted a three-year contract that would have boosted their base pay from the current $28,700 to $40,000. Orchestra management had offered a deal that would have raised the base salary to $40,000 over five years.

The musicians, who gathered in Kleinhans Music Hall at 10 a.m. for the first rehearsal of Saturday's program, featuring new Music Director JoAnn Falletta, will vote on the proposed pact Friday.

The ratification session could not be held today because the musicians' lead negotiator, New York lawyer Leonard Liebowitz, was in Ohio bargaining a new contract for Columbus Symphony musicians.

Although the bargaining impasse threatened to scuttle Saturday's concert, "there wasn't a tremendous gulf" between the proposals by orchestra management and musicians going into Wednesday's do-or-die bargaining session in the Amherst office of federal mediator Kevin Powers, a musician close to the negotiations said.

"We weren't that far apart. The last day, it was sort of real negotiations. They gave a little, we gave a little," the musician said. "Our emphasis this time was on wages, and we made progress. We made good progress. In some other areas, we didn't make that kind of progress."

Plans to televise Saturday's concert on WNED-TV became a casualty of the dispute, due to the expense involved and the uncertainty surrounding negotiations. Other concerts are still scheduled to be televised.

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