Philadelphia – it's the worst outcome

Philadelphia – it's the worst outcome


norman lebrecht

April 16, 2011

The board of the Philadelphia Orchestra has voted to take the company into Chapter 11 bankruptcy, presumably to protect itself against spiralling losses. The current season is $5 million down on a $46 million budget.

Philadelphia is the first of the Big Five and the largest US orchestra ever to go into meltdown. Concerts will continue for the rest of the season while a fundraising campaign is mounted. The baord hopes the bankruptcy warning can be removed by the end of the season, but the move places a huge question mark over the orchestra’s future.
More than that, it foments uncertainty across musical America.
Here’s the latest WQXR report.
The Philadelphia Orchestra recently appointed the young Canadian Yannick Nezet-Seguin as its next music director. He must be reading these reports with anxiety.


  • Jim Tavegia says:

    It will be time for orchestras all across America to reinvent themselves. Although it is always about the money, I think in 2011 there are other issues.
    1.) Repetoire: I would not recommend everyone become like the Boston “Pops”, but I do think more “musical” programs will be necessary to attract younger patrons to classical music. Too much classical music I hear, especially out of academia is not enjoyable enough to attract a wide audience. It may be techically demanding and enlist better players to perform it correctly, but that will not sell tickets. This is a business, lest we forget.
    2.) Younger Students: While learning to play their instuments from Middle School through High School it is important to teach the classics, but also to find them arrangments that are fun for them to play and entice them to practice more. I also think it is important for students to have their concerts recorded so they can critique their own performances and work to get better. Playing for just a fall or spring concert is not much of a motivator, but knowing a recordings is being made does up the ante for them. I have been recording, gratis, our local public school bands and our local University for 2 years now and find the students appreciate hearing themselves perform for the first time.
    So, find away to support learning students and change what you play that will attract a new following of patrons. That is the only short term solution in this down economy.

  • Brian Hughes says:

    The band from Philly was the second of the “Big Five” that I happened to catch in my life (the first was Cleveland and both visited East Lansing, MI in May 1976.) Their performance remains indelible to me: it was my live introduction to both that famous “Philadelphia sound” and to the music of Gustav Mahler (first symphony). Even in the horrid acoustics of the old MSU “Auditorium,” the memory remains very strongly alive. May they rise up from this horrible situation and remain strong.

  • JohnofOz says:

    “The worst outcome?” Perhaps not. What we of the anglo legal tradition sometimes overlook is the helpful protection a Chapter 11 filing in the USA can provide while a revised business model can be pursued. It is clear orchestras are in trouble and some will not survive. But those with stature and history, such as the Philadelphia Orchestra, have much going for them if all the stakeholders make use of the Chapter 11 provisions to work towards a model that will ensure a future. It is, of course, disturbing that the musicians reject the filing. No matter what the road followed, there is a need for the hard-heads at all parts of the board, management, musician spectrum to come together with a joint and positive purpose, with all the issues on the table. This should not be like a contract negotiation with unassailable positions; rather a workshopping of what the future demands and what the artistic and business model needs to be to function in the 21st century. It is not a case of too big to fail, but rather too good to fail. Trench warfare is not an answer. Perhaps Chapter 11 is.

  • Frank says:

    I’m sure that Nezet-Seguin has already had talks with agents and contacts with other orchestra reps. He’s one of the few really hot tickets with possible dates on his schedule.

  • Philly Jobs says:

    It is a major concern for the musical community and those pursuing a career in music. Often school music programs are put on the cutting board when budgets are problematic, which adds to the stress. We need to revamp the current music program to encourage a new audience and keep students interested in music.