[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  
Steve Barbone

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  
Vladimir Jurowski.

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  
tense. Rich!”

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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