[Dixielandjazz] Troubled Times
Stephen G Barbone
barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Thu Mar 12 07:35:43 PDT 2009
This is not OKOM specific. But it does tie into funding for the arts
and the sad shape the classical music business is in. Very similar to
OKOM business in many parts of the USA. <grin>
Questions: The beginning salary for Philadelphia Orchestra members is
$124,000 a year. Should they consider a pay cut? Is this similar to
the trouble that the Jean Goldkette orchestra found it self in during
the late 1920s? Too much expense, not enough revenue to meet those
Or, is it a case of bad management/administration? Seems to me that
their projected deficit this year, of $2.2 million could easily be
eliminated by some competent leaders. After all, it is only 5% of the
total $46 million budget.
Some of the Orchestra musicians believe that they administration is
way too top heavy, having become bloated over the past couple of
March 12, 2009 - NY TIMEs - by Daniel Wakin
Notes of Distress and Discord From the Esteemed Philadelphia Orchestra
PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Orchestra, a storied American
institution that lifted classical music to new heights of public
awareness when Leopold Stokowski conducted it for the 1940 Disney film
“Fantasia” and that has remained one of the world’s finest musical
ensembles, is in trouble. The Fabulous Philadelphians, as the
musicians have long been known, are being hit by leadership turmoil
even as they suffer from the financial distress that has struck most
orchestras during the recession.
The Philadelphia Orchestra, which appears at Carnegie Hall on Tuesday
evening, is functioning without a permanent board chairman, chief
executive or music director. It has canceled a prestigious European
tour scheduled for this summer, delayed a project to stream concerts
on the Internet, and will see its recording deal end with no clear
extension or replacement certain. And its new home, Verizon Hall in
the Kimmel Center, which opened with much fanfare in 2001 and has been
dogged by criticism of its acoustics, faces yet another acoustical
On Wednesday the orchestra announced salary reductions and deep cuts
in the administrative staff. Those measures are the sharpest shrinkage
recently among the traditional Big Five orchestras, which also include
those of Boston, New York, Chicago and Cleveland. The Pittsburgh
Symphony said on Monday that it would lay off nine employees and cut
two unfilled jobs.
Few would argue that the Philadelphia Orchestra has lost even a stride
in musicianship. It maintains the golden glow of its famous string
sound and its tradition of impeccable woodwind playing. But experts in
the industry fear that if the distress continues, its status among the
anointed may be threatened.
“There’s a huge vacuum right now,” said David Nicastro, a violist with
14 years in the orchestra. “We’re hungering for a leader, someone we
can trust musically and artistically to lift us up and realize all the
potential that’s there.”
The vacuum, he said, has hurt morale among the musicians. “It’s
actually amazing to me that the orchestra is still performing” at such
a high level, he said, “considering the missteps and lost
Of deeper concern is worry that financial downsizing or dysfunction
will dampen its reputation for orchestral primacy, which helps attract
top soloists, guest conductors and tour invitations. “I’m constantly
aware of how fragile it is,” Mr. Nicastro said.
Might the orchestra fall from its pedestal? “That’s something that
we’re not going to allow to happen,” said Frank Slattery Jr., a
Philadelphia businessman and orchestra patron who volunteered to serve
as temporary executive director.
And other orchestra players were less pessimistic. Gloria de Pasquale,
a cellist who is married to one of four de Pasquale brothers who have
all played in the orchestra, said that the board — of which she is a
member, elected by the orchestra — had stepped up with money and ideas
to meet the challenges. “You find the strength of a board in times
like this,” she said at the intermission here last Tuesday night, when
the orchestra was performing Berg and Mahler with the guest conductor
On Tuesday there were signs that the orchestra might be starting to
turn the corner. The board hired a task force of five industry
experts, led by the orchestra consultant Thomas W. Morris, a respected
former executive director of the Cleveland Orchestra, to diagnose its
ailments and suggest solutions. In addition, a new chairman has been
selected, with an announcement expected next week, Ms. de Pasquale
said. That in turn will open the door for a chief executive to be
hired. Then a music-director search can proceed in earnest.
“It’s going to turn to be a great institution again,” said Charles
Dutoit, who is serving a caretaker role as chief conductor and
artistic adviser. “It’s never been anything else.”
Mr. Dutoit, who has a long and close association with the orchestra,
provides continuity and gives the players a sense of security. Several
musicians said he had the confidence and familiarity with the
orchestra to maintain its sound yet still strive to improve it. But
his tenure (four seasons) and powers are limited.
At a rehearsal of Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony on Tuesday, he made
his intentions clear. “I need a richer sound,” he told the first
violins at one point. “The balance is disturbed because the sound is
The Philadelphia Orchestra has been around for 109 seasons. Stokowski,
who created its trademark lush string sound, was followed by Eugene
Ormandy, a prodigious recorder of the standard repertory on LPs.
Together their tenures lasted 68 years. Riccardo Muti, Wolfgang
Sawallisch and Christoph Eschenbach followed as music directors for
terms of diminishing length. Philadelphia was the first American
orchestra to visit China, in 1973.
After a two-month strike in 1996, the orchestra has been weakened by
occasional factionalism on the board, high staff turnover and another
bitter labor dispute in 2004. Music professionals also sense a current
of insularity and privilege among the players. One reason may be that
many members come from the Curtis Institute of Music, an elite
conservatory down the street. And for years individual players were
accustomed to having royalties pour in from the recordings that poured
out before the classical record industry collapsed.
Meanwhile, other orchestras have moved forward. The Cleveland
Orchestra is establishing residencies in Florida and elsewhere to
increase its donor base. The Los Angeles Philharmonic hired Gustavo
Dudamel, a hot young conducting talent, as its music director. The New
York Philharmonic became the orchestra that went to North Korea and
plans to go to Vietnam.
When asked what set the Philadelphia Orchestra apart these days, Mr.
Slattery cited its high profile, its home in the birthplace of the
United States and its “distinctive sound.”
Like orchestras across the country, Philadelphia has been hit hard by
the recession. As of Jan. 31, the endowment was down 30 percent,
compared with a year before that, Mr. Slattery said, noting that the
market has declined even more in the last six weeks. About $3 million
in state and city funds is gone, although Mr. Slattery said he was
holding out hope that much of it would be restored. The average
donation is down 10 percent, and ticket revenues are off by 14 percent.
Without cost reductions and additional donations, Mr. Slattery said,
the orchestra faces a potential $2.2 million deficit on a budget of
$46.6 million this year. He refused to predict what the financial
picture might be next year or to disclose even provisional budget
“I have no clear idea as to what’s going to happen,” he said. “If the
markets don’t turn, I can see catastrophe for American orchestras.”
Mr. Slattery said that of 92 employees, 12 would be laid off, and six
unfilled positions would be eliminated. He declined to specify the
positions. Those who earn more than $50,000 would take a 10 percent
pay cut on salary exceeding that amount, and the orchestra’s six vice
presidents would take a bigger hit, according to a complicated
formula. The cuts are expected to save $900,000 a year, Mr. Slattery
The staff salary cuts set the stage for efforts to roll back a
generous contract granted the musicians during flusher times, in 2004.
“Everything is on the table,” Mr. Slattery said, but declined to say
whether he would ask the musicians for givebacks. Their current base
salary is $124,800, although most earn more.
Programming already has been affected. Mr. Dutoit said that the
orchestra had replaced an expensive concert performance of Strauss’s
opera “Elektra” with orchestral music.
The orchestra’s latest round of woes dates to the tenure of Mr.
Eschenbach, who left as music director at the end of last season after
five years, the shortest term in nearly a century. The orchestra was
divided over his effectiveness. The most common complaint was lack of
chemistry. Last July the president and chief executive, James
Undercofler, announced that he was canceling a tour to prominent
European festivals, citing financial pressures.
The next blow came in January, when Mr. Undercofler resigned nearly
seven months before his contract was to end to pursue other “career
interests,” the orchestra said. Mr. Undercofler did not immediately
respond to a message left with the orchestra. Orchestra members and
officials knowledgeable about the management said that he failed to
keep board members informed of significant decisions and mishandled
Mr. Eschenbach’s departure and the tour cancellation.
Mr. Undercofler, a former conservatory dean, had little experience
running orchestras. Ms. de Pasquale, who was on the search committee,
said he was a risky choice. “It turned out that we probably shouldn’t
have taken the risk,” she said.
Later that month the board chairman, Harold A. Sorgenti, stepped aside
earlier than expected, for what the orchestra said were business
reasons. A temporary substitute was named.
“We get bad press probably because of some of the things we’ve done,”
Mr. Slattery said. “It’s my job to fix that.”
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