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Top US orchestra faces bankruptcy
April 16, 2011 9:02 PM   Subscribe

One of the US's world-class orchestras ... has decided it must re-organize to survive. 'A big orchestra has never done this before.' Led by Stokowski, the Philadelphia Orchestra recorded the music for Disney's groundbreaking 1940 animated feature Fantasia.

The 111-year-old ensemble acquired a top-notch reputation while under the baton of Eugene Ormandy between 1936-1980. There's been "a 'tremendous decline' in audiences over the past five years." And $33M in revenue won't cover $46M in expenses.
posted by Twang (48 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
How does an orchestra run up $46m in expenses? I'm not saying that's crazy, I just genuinely don't understand the kind of costs involved with running a high-level arts operation like that.
posted by GilloD at 9:26 PM on April 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


"It is management's position that the $140 million in orchestra and Academy of Music endowment is donor-restricted, earmarked to remain forever in endowment, and is therefore untouchable."

So can someone explain what an endowment is supposed to do, if not to (judiciously) help support the organization for which it was raised?
posted by chihiro at 9:27 PM on April 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


With most endowments, they're supposed to live off the interest generated, but interest rates are being held insanely low by the central banks of the world, so savers can't get much return on their capital. They are, in essence, competing with their capital against endless floods of the same stuff for free. Everyone dependent on interest income is messed up, and charitable organizations like this one really take it in the teeth.

That's why it's called an 'endowment', by the way -- it's supposed to be a permanent source of income, not something to consume and destroy. If it was meant for ordinary consumption, it would have been called a donation.
posted by Malor at 9:32 PM on April 16, 2011 [10 favorites]


Thanks, Malor, that makes more sense now! Still a damned shame.
posted by chihiro at 9:35 PM on April 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand $46 million is a lot of money, especially given that orchestra tickets are expensive enough that enjoyment of that "community resource" is pretty much limited to the very wealthy.

And that's part of the underlying problem: here we have an art form designed to be attended by European nobility, and performed by talented professionals for low wages. That worked in 1820 Vienna, it doesn't work now that a clarinetist wants a house on the Main Line and a chance to send his daughters to Bryn Mawr.

And the expansion of middle class opportunities for educated trained professionals means fewer clarinetists, and thus higher prices for the remainder. Which further raises the prices of seats, and further limits the potential audience.

I like classical music, I'm playing some Flemish Polyphony right now, I make six figures. But I don't often go to the orchestra: I have to put on pants, I have to sit upright in an uncomfortable seat, I have to wear a suit, I have to drop $100.

Maybe one answer is to emulate Vienna in 1820, and emphasize fun over "high art": sell beers in the concert hall, not just wine in the intermissions, and de-emphasize the dress up factor.

Or record each performance direct to mp3 and sell it both as a souvenir of attendance as concert-goers leave the hall, and online by subscription. At five bucks for a two hour recording, I'll buy (or subscribe) a bunch, even if the quality isn't stellar.

I'll definitely buy a recording of a performance I just attended, and with a modern computer, that's easy to produce on-demand, either physically on a DVD or by giving me a url to access when I get home.
posted by orthogonality at 9:36 PM on April 16, 2011 [7 favorites]


Perhaps if the Congress and the President could maybe lower gas prices,

What's he supposed to do, invade Iraq?
posted by stavrogin at 9:39 PM on April 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Perhaps if the Congress and the President could maybe lower gas prices, NOT hike taxes more, and get the economy working stuff like this wouldn't happen.

I sincerely hope the future of classical music does not depend on gas prices going down over the next ten years.
posted by IjonTichy at 9:39 PM on April 16, 2011 [9 favorites]


After reading the article, it sounds like they're just trying to dodge out of paying pensions, more than filing out of true necessity. That could be slant by the article writer, but it smells fishy.
posted by Malor at 9:40 PM on April 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


chihiro, it's basically fiduciary irresponsibility to cannibalize an endowment for temporary reasons. Nevertheless, they have entered bankruptcy court, and what is likely to happen is a bid by their creditors to crack open the endowment in some fashion, at the discretion of the bankruptcy judge and case law. I have no idea how possible that is, but it's out of the orchestra's hands now.

I was on the board of a church that was sipping 1% or so from its endowment every year during a difficult period. It was never an easy decision.

ericdano, is there some actual connection between your comment and this post, not to mention reality?
posted by dhartung at 9:41 PM on April 16, 2011


That's why it's called an 'endowment', by the way -- it's supposed to be a permanent source of income, not something to consume and destroy.

[dick joke]
posted by Sys Rq at 9:48 PM on April 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


But I don't often go to the orchestra: I have to put on pants, I have to sit upright in an uncomfortable seat, I have to wear a suit, I have to drop $100.

One of the things I enjoyed most at SXSW was a few hours I spent at a modern classical showcase that was dedicated to fixing the expense and suit parts of the problem. The chairs weren't that great, though.
posted by immlass at 9:57 PM on April 16, 2011


Orchestra management has retained Brian Tierney, former publisher and CEO of now-defunct Philadelphia Media Holdings LLC, former owner of The Inquirer, to handle its public relations; and, as bankruptcy consultant, Tierney's successor, Joseph Bondi, who was interim CEO of the former media company.

WHAT THE FUCK? Tierney as PR sounds like an April Fools joke.
posted by desuetude at 10:09 PM on April 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


desue--

Got a story to tell?
posted by effugas at 10:12 PM on April 16, 2011


I've never felt out of place wearing jeans to the symphony. Try not to look too shabby, but I don't feel compelled to put on a monkey suit just to hear some good tunes. Although it has been quite a while since I've purchased a series (But Mrs. Fartknocker is buying me one for my birthday this year! I'm leaning towards the one with Pinchas Zukerman and Yo-Yo. But Itzhak is alway good, too).

It says the endowment is only $140 million. That doesn't seem like a lot of money anymore.

On the dumbing down of the American populace, something, something... maybe they could have Snookie guest conduct.
posted by fartknocker at 10:47 PM on April 16, 2011


This Philadelphia Mag article explains what Tierney did with our financially-troubled newspaper and gives a pretty good idea of his character. The asshole stuff aside, he was just so ludicrously short-sighted.
posted by desuetude at 10:57 PM on April 16, 2011


The main problem with classical music orchestras as I see it, is lack of education. The audience is not exposed to anything other than the same rigid narrow canon, and as a results demands and expects nothing else. It makes it seem like fossilized music, nothing alive or evolving. There's nothing wrong with playing the canon, but in my opinion, that should be the minority of what they do. Modern classical music since about the 50's has lost touch with the masses - or the other way around. As late as the 30's you could cause a riot by playing controversial work. Nobody would bat an eye today, no matter what you played. There is no engagement. When your audience has narrowed expectations so drastically that your repertoire is on autopilot, well, it's bound to eventually die out. You better engage and educate and expand your concert goers taste, or else. It may be already too late.

But then, you've also got those who argue the opposite case[pdf], with an optimistic outlook.
posted by VikingSword at 11:24 PM on April 16, 2011 [7 favorites]


I sincerely hope the future of classical music does not depend on gas prices going down over the next ten years.

The gas price thing is a red herring. It doesn't really matter what the economy is doing; prices will be high, regardless. When oil prices came down from $140/barrel, gas prices stayed high.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:00 AM on April 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


immlass:One of the things I enjoyed most at SXSW was a few hours I spent at a modern classical showcase that was dedicated to fixing the expense and suit parts of the problem. The chairs weren't that great, though.
This idea intrigues me.. can you elaborate more on this event? Best bits/worst bits, repertoire (if you can remember, I never can)? I'm heavily involved in a community orchestra here, and one of our major issues is - like everyone else - filling the house. Being non-professional adds its own challenges, but might also allow us to pursue ideas such as this.

In fact, if anyone has any other suggestions on what might bring you to a show, please pipe up!

Malor:interest rates are being held insanely low by the central banks of the world, so savers can't get much return on their capital.
Are endowments like this allowed to invest in places other than the USA? Cos (and I don't know if this is stiil "insanely low") interest rates here in Australia for a bog-standard savings account are currently at 6%. Long-range term deposits are returning 7 or 8.
posted by coriolisdave at 12:36 AM on April 17, 2011


Sorry about the length of this, but I have a vested interest in the topic.

VikingSword makes an interesting point that orchestras are losing touch, although not all of them are, or at least not all of them have lost as much as others. Our own orchestra, like many arts organizations, tries to maintain a fine balance among: getting bums in seats with the masterworks (or warhorses, depending on your point of view), pandering to the masses (the Jeans 'n' Classics stuff), A-list soloists (Itzahk and Yo-Yo); standard, but challenging repertoire for the musicians (Bartok Concerto for Orchestra); audience and orchestra development with contemporary or otherwise infrequently played music.

Occasionally, these combine in interesting ways. My husband, a musician in the orchestra, maintains that some of the most exciting developments in composition right now are in video game music. He's playing a multi-media event tomorrow, "Video Games Live" as part of a pick-up orchestra, but the full orchestra has played it as well, and it's one of the city's hot tickets. Most of the main series programs will include a shorter piece of repertoire that's more challenging for audiences. The orchestra does a lot of community outreach. Mr. A recently played a duo concert in a homeless shelter, and free orchestra concerts in office towers and shopping centres are part of the beginning and end of every season. Each main series concert (in the concert hall) begins with an orchestra musician taking the stage and talking about his/her part in the concert including personal anecdotes.

Plus, the orchestra has gone out of its way to encourage people to come as they are--jeans and t-shirts are fine in our concert hall. They've made $12 tickets available to people between the ages of 15 and 29.

So, by the tiniest of margins, our orchestra is in the black. Mind you, they locked out the musicians about 15 years ago and forced them to take a 30% pay cut to get back to work. My husband's paycheque finally got back to the pre-lockout salary this season. He's a 28 year veteran of this orchestra and has been playing his instrument for over 45 years, and is earning about $40K. In other news, a Brazilian orchestra canceled its season and hired the local youth orchestra to play the rest of the concerts. I think that there's a good possibility that the problem in Philly has a lot to do with the pensions.

Classical concert music is seen as elitist and stuffy, but people don't realize that an orchestra provides the backbone of musical experience in a community. The musicians are the music teachers of countless kids. They provide music for ballet, opera, church recitals. They provide social capital that makes a community a great place to live.

And while I'm glad that recordings exist (my husband performs for them), and I enjoy them immensely, nothing, nothing beats a live performance of great music. I don't get comp or discount tickets, but we still find the money to make sure our kids heard live performances of Beethoven's 9th, Rite of Spring, La Boheme, and yes, Video Games Live. The greatest classical music represents the pinnacle of artistic expression, articulates what is best of humanity. I think my kids need that; I think every community needs that.
posted by angiep at 12:46 AM on April 17, 2011 [17 favorites]


What Angiep said - not all, but many great (and merely very good!) orchestras are doing so much more than running an expensive set of concerts by dead Europeans in a posh space. Getting out into the community and onto the Internet isn't so much on the agenda for survival as THE agenda for survival, and it's as risky and unknown for them as it is for anyone.

There's also a crisis in recorded classical music, which doesn't get as much attention as the shenanigans going on with the mainstream music industry. That's fascinating, as (as far as I'm aware) there hasn't been the same Internet-mediated illicit content sharing going on. I suspect that this probably demonstrates that P2P, etc, hasn't been the major issue for mainstream either, and that similar factors are at work, but that's a different conversation.

What is heartening is stuff like Bachtrack, which plays its part in encouraging and fuelling the sort of passion that will keep classical music healthy. Perhaps significantly, this is run not by an orchestra, publisher or agency, but a massively enthusiastic couple of people with yer actual sense of mission.
posted by Devonian at 2:36 AM on April 17, 2011


There's also a crisis in recorded classical music, which doesn't get as much attention as the shenanigans going on with the mainstream music industry. That's fascinating, as (as far as I'm aware) there hasn't been the same Internet-mediated illicit content sharing going on. I suspect that this probably demonstrates that P2P, etc, hasn't been the major issue for mainstream either, and that similar factors are at work, but that's a different conversation.

It's very prevalent in the newsgroups.

But unlike modern music, I don't think there is much crossover between recordings and concert attendance. A modern music concert might be socially powerful, a classical concert is sonically powerful. The classical music "scene" drives home hi-fi developments (or it did until dvd/blueray put theatre-class sound in the home) and it's still just not good enough.
posted by gjc at 4:57 AM on April 17, 2011


I play clarinet in a community orchestra, so here's my $.02. Excellent comments already.

"Listen to This" by Alex Ross is a book that I haven't finished reading yet, but I think he makes some great comments about the classical music scene. The whole "classical" label suggests music under glass, museum pieces. In the days when a lot of this stuff was being written, audiences were impatient with old music and wanted to hear new material. Concert halls were lively places where the masses went and, if they didn't like something, you didn't have to wait for the review to find out.

I don't know that I want to return to the days when vegetables might appear on stage, but modern concert etiquette is far too stifling. Composers expected applause between movements; hell, they WROTE endings that would encourage it (I'm glad our audience locally tends to be "uneducated" enough to applaud soloists at the end of the 1st movement of a typical solo concerto - the music so obviously calls for it).

All that is the artistic problem, and it's been a constant for over 100 years in orchestra concerts. I don't think it's getting WORSE so much as it's a set of problems you get when you turn over an art form to the academics. And the worst kind of academics - more concerned about "correctness" than authenticity or audience enjoyment, and the type of eggheads who write unlistenable music (newer contemporary is usually much better, but it's taken us a couple generations to get over tone rows and the like)

The financial problem is that it's an art form that requires dozens and dozens of musicians to play music which doesn't sound well amplified or really all that great recorded, so you can't sell out a stadium. And these musicians are extremely well educated - many of them have side jobs in academia (or often the school is their main income, really, and they do the orchestra as a major side job). So I think it will always be a "non-profit" situation for most orchestras. As has been stated, current financial issues like the tanked financial market compound the difficulties.

While we obviously can't play at the level of the majors, I frankly feel community orchestras may be the format that can keep the music alive and available to most audiences. We don't make a living at this, and we're not trying to. But it sure makes for a business model that is more sustainable.
posted by randomkeystrike at 5:44 AM on April 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


"This idea intrigues me.. can you elaborate more on this event? Best bits/worst bits, repertoire (if you can remember, I never can)? I'm heavily involved in a community orchestra here, and one of our major issues is - like everyone else - filling the house. Being non-professional adds its own challenges, but might also allow us to pursue ideas such as this.

In fact, if anyone has any other suggestions on what might bring you to a show, please pipe up!"


Outdoor summer community concerts. The CSO (for one) is smart to make its summer home at Ravinia. Many communities have an outdoor ampitheater or similar space, so you can have some traditional seating for those who prefer it (and charge more for it); everyone else comes with picnic blankets and sprawls on the grass. People LOVE summer evenings sprawling on the grass listening to classical music, chatting quietly or listening while eating dinner picnics. This also allows families to bring children, who can run around in the grassy area. Extra points for an alcohol permit if your parks department doesn't allow people to bring alcohol, and for "split concerts" where you do the first half with more familiar and "kid friendly" music (maybe even a video game score!), take a LONG intermission (during which there are concessions!), and then play more "interesting" repertoire into the night. Price it so the families feel like they got their $5 worth when they leave at the half. Let community organizations (Jaycees, Rotary, whatever) sponsor each concert and run the concessions, especially if there are alcohol concessions. Then they can raise funds too ... and pay for the advertising. And be involved with your organization so interested in its success.

We have a community orchestra that plays neighborhood parties in the summer, which people adore. They come and play for an hour and then the block parties (for a whole huge neighborhood, not just one block) start. We partner with local merchants to hand out free ice cream.

I mentioned in the other thread, concerts in churches are popular around here, especially involving sacred music (Mozart Masses, etc.). You get an audience who's typically pretty receptive to learning something about the music and often WANTS a little pre-concert lecture to teach them a little about How Palestrina Saved Polyphony and how that impacted later church music development. The performance space is cheap or free, especially if you split receipts with the church in some way, but sometimes you don't even have to do that; lots of places just want interesting programming for parishioners and the public.

And while I do think our local orchestra's tickets cost too damn much (and I blame the taxpayer-funded boondoggle of a concert space they have to use), plenty of people go in blue jeans and a nice shirt. Plenty of people dress to the nines, furs and all, but there are always plenty of people in jeans, and there's always a collegiate cohort in the front of the balcony wearing anything under the sun while bickering spiritedly about the conductor's interpretation during intermission ... I think they contribute a lot to the "come as you are" feel. (And no, there's no sense of "you're underdressed!" from the fur-wearing cohort; the sense I get is more "I'm dressing up because I like to and this is a venue where I can.") While I like dressing up for the orchestra, I'm always a teeny bit surprised that there are still non-opening-night classical performances where there AREN'T people in blue jeans!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:17 AM on April 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


Oh, another thing I haven't seen locally but I've heard of -- some places do "lunchtime" concerts in the business district, more informal, about an hour, boxed lunches available with tables rather than in a traditional concert-hall seating. Often a smaller ensemble doing more chamber music. That's a fun idea, too.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:21 AM on April 17, 2011


coriolisdave: The showcase was put on by the founder of nonclassical, a UK label dedicated to modern classical. We saw two sets: Matt Haimovitz and Uccello (mixed jazz and classical) and the Calder Quartet (modern classical that included some electronic elements in one song; they also had some compositions that they'd commissioned). Part of the schtick, and I can see how this would be hard to translate from the quartet/quintet level to the large orchestra level, was that the show felt like a lot of the other shows at SXSW: it was in a bar, they didn't get all sniffy when people not just in jeans but very casually dressed were present, initially people were standing (but they brought in chairs, which was nice), and they didn't get in people's faces for quiet talking and drinking. It was, in that sense, like going to a small rock concert in terms of atmosphere.

It wasn't my husband's bag for musical reasons, which is, I think, an issue of ears being trained to more rock-like structures, but I thought it was fantastic. I mention the more rock-like structures because the thing we bailed on this showcase for was a string metal band called Judgement Day, which is a trio playing music in the heavy metal style with violin, stand-up bass, and drum kit, which he loved.

(hope this makes sense; it's my first post of the morning!)
posted by immlass at 6:23 AM on April 17, 2011


Is it possible that the ages-old assumption that classical music achieved universality was incorrect? That perhaps Bach and Brahms and the rest created music no less tethered to time, place and audience than, say, Balinese gamelan or klezmer music? If so, people move on to new forms and no guilt complex, however well-internalized, will keep them obedient to old ones for very long.

So there may be "classical" ensembles, but not as long as their mission, covert or otherwise, is to keep the specifics of pre-modern European art music untouched.
posted by argybarg at 6:47 AM on April 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


The solution to their money problems is easy - charge less for tickets. The increase in attendence will make up for the reduce earnings per ticket.

(This idea brought to you by the GOP)
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 7:47 AM on April 17, 2011


What would get me out to a night at the symphony? More attention payed to the minimalists and their students. I went to the Met Opera HD Broadcast of Nixon In China. I'm making plans now to fly someplace to see Einstein On The Beach when it tours in the next year or three. I'd buy tickets today if Music For 18 Musicians or The Desert Music were on the schedule.

Heck, for that matter, even just some of the more "interesting" modern composers. Samuel Barber could be fun.

I guess that the classical music I listen to that I want to see performed live isn't the kind which places choose because it isn't safe or whatever. But that's what would get me in the seats.
posted by hippybear at 7:48 AM on April 17, 2011


We need less attention paid to the minimalists and their demon spawn! There is already plenty of it out there, at least in NYC. Hippy, move to NYC and you'll be able to hear Music for 18 Musicians played badly almost 4 times a year, Workers Union batted out ad nauseum by every "indie classical" group under the sun, Philip Glass missing notes on his own pieces because he can't play the piano anymore (I've heard him live more times than I care to admit so I'm not just making stuff up), many "new music" groups who play world premieres of all different kinds of music (some good some bad) and as you say, Einstein next year and always more minimalism and post-minimalism than you can shake a stick at. Somehow, Wordless Music figured out that if you pair Steve Reich with indie/electronica, then the young audiences will come for the indie rock and get turned on by minimalism. Big problem is, now you have way too many people into minimalism who still don't give a shit about real orchestral music or contemporary music, or even the quality of the performance they listen to. Minimalism was a populist niche reaction against modernism and atonality and it worked for quite some time. Don't think I'm just being a jerk. I had Einstein memorized before I was a freshman in college. Yes, I can actually sing the insane counting choruses from memory, and I've seen Steve Reich perform Music for 18 multiple times. Saw his video opera The Cave, and the world premiere of Triple Quartet. I've performed Drumming, Music for Mallets Voices and Organ, Nagoya Marimbas, Piano Phase, Music for Pieces of Wood and City Life (twice!).. my reaction against post-minimalism has to do with how ubiquitous, watered-down, and badly performed it has become, since the young musicians who take to it would rather be swept up by the music than perform it intelligently and accurately. So, yeah call me an elitist, but I certainly know how I prefer my minimalism!
posted by ReeMonster at 8:22 AM on April 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


I make six figures. But I don't often go to the orchestra: I have to put on pants, I have to sit upright in an uncomfortable seat, I have to wear a suit, I have to drop $100.

This is such a bizarre statement to me. I'm getting my Ph.D. at Penn - my student status means I can go to every concert on the Philly Orchestra's schedule for $25. I don't mean that I pay $25 for each concert - I mean that I pay $25 every academic year, and I can go to any - or every - concert I want for free.

I have never gone to the orchestra in anything but casual clothes, and I have been going to orchestras for over 15 years. Saying that you don't want to go to the orchestra because you have to wear a suit is as strange to me as saying you don't want to go to college because they make you wear black robes and funny square hats every day.
posted by mormolyke at 9:00 AM on April 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm really not sure that the solution for everything in the universe is "move to NYC". But thanks for the advice.
posted by hippybear at 9:14 AM on April 17, 2011


Baumol's cost disease
From the article:

The original study was conducted for the performing arts sector [1960s]. Baumol and Bowen pointed out that the same number of musicians are needed to play a Beethoven string quartet today as were needed in the 19th century; that is, the productivity of Classical music performance has not increased. On the other hand, wages of musicians (as well as in all other professions) have increased greatly since the 19th century when not adjusted for inflation.
posted by humanfont at 9:19 AM on April 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


angiep writes: Classical concert music is seen as elitist and stuffy, but people don't realize that an orchestra provides the backbone of musical experience in a community.

With all due respect, I am quite positive your closeness to the situation is clouding your viewpoint a little bit. The backbone of musical experience in the community is roughly as follows:

1. What kids talk about is cool amongst themselves
2. Ringtones
3. Holding your phone with Shazam on it up against the wall
4. YouTube
5. Pandora/streaming music sites
6. Bittorrent
7. iTunes Music Store
8. Pitchfork/whatever the new music site is now
9. Podcasts
10. Restaurants with music playing
11. Clubs
[...]
58. Over the air radio
[...]
197. Open air music festivals
[...]
3,322,264. Classical music orchestras

I would further venture to guess that there are more than fifty million people right now sitting in their basement plinking away on Ableton Live and Logic and Garage Band, or learning the three chord guitar riffs, or banging away at a CostCo drum kit, or making improvised music off the side of a chain link fence with a stick.

Great orchestra sounds incredible, and is an experience not to be missed; no doubt. But am I sad that a member of the orchestra gets paid only $40k for their part time work doing something that they love, which is about what the average full time American makes? Not exactly. Is it right to think that Joe Cellist is a truly fundamental piece of any given local music scene? No.

I've been in operas, I love a lot of classical music and get chills whenever I hear "a cenar teco m'invitasti", but the times have changed, and not necessarily for the worse.
posted by felix at 9:23 AM on April 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


But am I sad that a member of the orchestra gets paid only $40k for their part time work doing something that they love, which is about what the average full time American makes? Not exactly.

I don't know why this inspired me to look this up, but a returning Minor League Baseball player can expect a minimum of $67,300 salary for the 2011 season.

Not sure why that seemed like a point of comparison in my mind, but there it is.
posted by hippybear at 9:33 AM on April 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


I've been going to the Philadelphia orchestra on and off since a few years before they moved to the Kimmel Center. Then the cheapest tickets were $14, now I think they are $33 or so. The view is much better and the seats are substantially more comfortable. You can get $10 rush tickets if you get in line at 5:30. They also play a number of free community concerts around the city each year which I've heard are well-attended. I like to take advantage of the chance to wear nice clothes and not look like a weirdo, but there are always plenty of people in jeans and otherwise normal daily wear. I am pretty sure the bar does sell beer. Oh, and in the summer they also perform outdoors at the Mann Center in the park. Lawn seats there are $10 and you are allowed to bring your own food and beverages, plus there are french fry stands and things like that.

I think a bigger problem may be that they moved to a big fancy new concert hall a few years ago, which is a huge improvement in many ways but is more expensive than the 150 year old building they were in.

Here's some more information on what members of the Philadelphia orchestra make. Their minimum salary is the 6th or 7th highest in the country, to give that some context.
posted by sepviva at 12:00 PM on April 17, 2011


We just had a six-month musicians strike here in Detroit. From what I can tell, there was plenty of blame to go around:

- bad management
- a gifted large expansion of their facility that, while nice, now consumes more money to operate
- and musicians who, while willing to take a pay cut, displayed the union attitude of "but it's always been this way and we can't change" (this in a city where two of their largest corporate benefactors went through bankruptcy -- maybe you heard about it)

I don't know what the long-term financial solution for American orchestras is, but I hope someone finds one soon.
posted by pmurray63 at 12:39 PM on April 17, 2011


Management has weighed bankruptcy for more than a year after deciding it no longer wanted to participate in the musicians' current defined-benefit pension fund. No one was forcing a sudden withdrawal from the plan, which would trigger a payment of about $25 million, but it is an obligation of about $3 million annually which leadership believes it can shed in bankruptcy proceedings, along with other contractual obligations it claims will save it more than $40 million over five years.


This is the issue. They don't want to pay the promised pensions.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:56 PM on April 17, 2011


Yeah, that's what I'm thinking too -- that's it's a bad-faith attempt to starve out old people who gave their lives to that orchestra.
posted by Malor at 4:43 PM on April 17, 2011


On the other hand, wages of musicians (as well as in all other professions) have increased greatly since the 19th century when not adjusted for inflation.

And, if I read the history of performance quality correctly, classical & romantic composers would be pleasantly surprised by how much 'their' music has improved. (E.g. Schubert's 'Great' was 'too difficult'.)

I comb through the performances posted on Youtube every so often, and the comments are often amazing - and some of the performances are amazing, with tens of thousands of listens.

Clearly classical isn't for everyone (Dudamel notwithstanding), but I'm inferring from YT that great music is reaching many new listeners around the world via the web. Maybe the Philly ought to consider that, put some performances on the web and charge -a little- for them. Video podcasts. Catch the long tail. Where's the Philly phone app?
posted by Twang at 4:45 PM on April 17, 2011


Is it possible that the ages-old assumption that classical music achieved universality was incorrect?

Yes, except that few assume that classical was ever universal. A cursory glance at music history and lives of composers shows that most of the greats were grinding out music to make a living. Much of it was written for occasions - masses, tributes to kings, etc.

My earlier comment spoke to the problem of putting it under glass and trying to keep any of it from changing, and that is true, but the pieces that are hundreds of years old and still in the repertoire are generally there because they're truly great - the masterpieces created in the turmoil of trying to make a living writing music and doing other things.

In much the same way, Glenn Miller's "In the Mood" and Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" will likely be played a 100 years from now, while "Daddy" and Leo Sayer's "When I Need You" hopefully won't.

We need to keep finding and listening to new music, but that's not an argument that the old greats should go away.
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:25 PM on April 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


If only more Philadelphians were more interested in the cultural and historical aspects of the city rather than.. oh, I don't know, the god awful Eagles.. maybe the libraries, cultural institutions, and those other aspects of our city that we should take pride in wouldn't be in such financial straits. I hate being from a town that only cares about sports.
posted by Mael Oui at 8:25 PM on April 17, 2011


Many communities have an outdoor ampitheater or similar space, so you can have some traditional seating for those who prefer it (and charge more for it); everyone else comes with picnic blankets and sprawls on the grass. People LOVE summer evenings sprawling on the grass listening to classical music, chatting quietly or listening while eating dinner picnics. This also allows families to bring children, who can run around in the grassy area. Extra points for an alcohol permit if your parks department doesn't allow people to bring alcohol,

Philly does this. Summer home for the orchestra is the Mann, which is pretty much exactly as you describe.
posted by desuetude at 9:28 PM on April 17, 2011


Minimum salary for an MLB player is $414K. This isn't some minor league orchestra.
posted by humanfont at 9:34 PM on April 17, 2011


This is the issue. They don't want to pay the promised pensions.

They don't want to pay the contractually obligated pensions which were part of the compensation package for orchestra members all along and which the organization did nothing to actually fund during the run of the contract.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is bad management, bad faith contract-making, and all around bad business. Pensions aren't something you promise people and then put a wish and a prayer aside as an investment. Pensions need to be fully funded from day one, and we need to change our laws to prevent this kind of thievery.

As much as I love orchestras and think they need to be a part of any vital community, I say let the fuckers close if they want to back out of contractual debts through bankruptcy reorganizing. If people tried to do that to corporations, they'd be put in debtors prison to rot.
posted by hippybear at 7:31 AM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Minimum salary for an MLB player is $414K. This isn't some minor league orchestra.

Seems kind of pointless to compare the wages for something that is popular to something that isn't.
posted by smackfu at 9:35 AM on April 18, 2011


If only more Philadelphians were more interested in the cultural and historical aspects of the city rather than.. oh, I don't know, the god awful Eagles.. maybe the libraries, cultural institutions, and those other aspects of our city that we should take pride in wouldn't be in such financial straits. I hate being from a town that only cares about sports.

This goes back to the gas price thing being a bit ridiculous. Pennsylvania and Philadelphia decided to put substantial taxpayer monies into paying for baseball and football stadiums used mostly by suburbanites from outside Philadelphia and neighboring districts in New Jersey. Those stadiums make very little tax revenue for the city and state in which they are located.

One significant reason that Philadelphia can't subsidize the arts, can't pay for libraries, can't pay for schools, can't collect trash is because it ties up its increasingly meager resources in vanity projects affiliated with corporations that need no public subsidies whatsoever.

The city and state decided their priorities, and here we all are. It's frustrating when voters are so f*#$% shortsighted that they look for easy targets to blame, instead of themselves.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:52 PM on April 18, 2011


It's frustrating when voters are so f*#$% shortsighted that they look for easy targets to blame, instead of themselves.

Why would I blame myself as a voter? The city didn't ask my opinion. And there were no "anti-corporate-kissass" candidates.
posted by desuetude at 3:03 PM on April 18, 2011


There is a lot more going on with the Orchestra than just the lack of state funding. Unfortunately for the Orchestra, there's been a slow mounting of problems between its supporters and the running of the orchestra. Verizon Hall and the Kimmel Center were not the excellent facilities that were promised. The Hall has needed acoustic adjustments ever since it opened, and the center itself has always been accused of being cold and sterile. Former music director Christoph Eschenbach was not beloved by the musicians or the orchestra's supporters, and he was relentlessly scrutinized by the Inquirer's chief classical music critic. The search for the new music director in 2009 and 2010 teased some very big names, but the orchestra ultimately settled for a conductor without name recognition. In 2009, the orchestra's patron, Lenore Annenberg died, and at that time, there were articles mentioning that her descendants were primarily on the west coast and no longer had ties to Philadelphia and more funds were not likely to be coming.

The past couple of years have been a revolving door of leadership changes on the Orchestra board, and the staff at the Orchestra Association. And, frankly, just a few years ago, the Kimmel Center turned to the philanthropic community for and urgent $30 million infusion to get out of debt, the Barnes Foundation began building it's Parkway building, the Free Library started its expansion (which it had to contract due to lack of funds), and the Art Museum opened the Perelman Annex. There's just not an endless supply of money to combat the market, declining ticket sales, no charismatic leadership, poor/lack of management, and the overall aging of the classical audience.
posted by gladly at 4:11 PM on April 18, 2011


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