Critic to Philly: Be more like Cleveland

Critic to Philly: Be more like Cleveland


norman lebrecht

October 18, 2015

Peter Dobrin lacks confidence in the Philadelphia Orchestra’s faltering one-track strategy:

philadelphia china

This orchestra needs to be everywhere, like the Cleveland Orchestra with its residencies at Indiana University, in Vienna and South Florida. Philadelphia’s residencies in China, given that country’s periodic spasms of hostility toward Western culture, don’t seem like a sure bet. The orchestra needs to examine turning the Mann into an urban answer to the Tanglewood Institute, where students in summer can learn from the masters. Miami’s New World Symphony, with its outdoor music park, offers a lesson in equal access.

And it needs to get serious about leading arts education in local schools.

Read the full critical essay here.


  • william osborne says:

    The Cleveland Orchestra works as a scab orchestra in Miami. For the details see:

    Unfortunate that Dobrin would find this a worthy model, but what one would expect from Philly which has the 9th largest metro GDP in the world but ranks number one among America’s major cities for people in deep poverty. Like Cleveland, vast regions of the city have social conditions found only in Third World countries. Philly also ranks 168th in the world for opera performances per year. Scab orchestras and social neglect are an inherent part of the City of Brotherly Love. Dobrin labels this successful policy. A true American arts journalist.

  • Robin Mitchell-Boyask says:

    No, the Miami point was a VERY SMALL part of the picture in that piece. The main issue is the complete lack of ambition on the part of the board. Peter is dead right that it’s nuts Curtis is aiming to raise over 2.5 times what the orchestra where many of its graduates work is trying to do. My fear is that the administration and board think that their phenomenal luck that YNS has been better than they hoped is enough.

    Scab orchestras in Philadelphia? Huh?????

    • william osborne says:

      It’s true that the Cleveland reference is only a part of Dobrin’s article (though I wouldn’t say a very small part in the eyes of classical musicians,) but it’s the main point of this blog entry. Ironically, it is Michael Kaiser himself who has stressed in a prominent article the potential and problems if major orchestras begin to raid the donor bases in other cities and force local orchestras out of business. He has predicted that this will become the model of the future. If Philly does, it too will also become a scab orchestra — a way cities can eliminate their local unionized orchestras and hire guest performances on the cheap. Any suggestion by a major music critic that this practice be expanded is a serious issue — though I suspect you are not aware of it.

      I also disagree that Curtis is any sort of model to be emulated when it comes to creating more equitable opportunity in classical music. A school that small and elitist will by necessity always cater to pedigree children who are given privileged and very expensive musical training from a young age — a fact hardly disguised by tokenism. Programs like Sistema illustrate that there are much more democratic methods of music education – and that they go far deeper than Curtis students going out to the public schools for a monthly day of charitable “good deeds.”

      This makes it all the more ironic when Dobrin praises an aristocrat, Nina Baroness von Maltzahn, as a model to be emulated in arts funding. As if feudalism and plutocracy were the way forward instead of the forms of public arts funding and wide-spread arts education used in every other developed country. Instead we have Latin American Baronesses…

      All the same, if one takes Dobrin’s article as a whole, his heart is in the right place. He identifies many of the problems, even if his proposed solutions seemed to be based on very limited perspectives. If only American arts journalists would take a deeper look at the international arts community and see how progress could be better accomplished.

    • william osborne says:

      One can read about and order Michael Kaiser’s book about the coming loss of small and mid-sized orchestras here:

      This article, in the Miami Herald of all places, reviews the book in some detail:

      In reality, what he describes in the orchestra world evolved decades ago with opera. The model has long since been established.

  • Nick says:

    “Philadelphia’s residencies in China, given that country’s periodic spasms of hostility toward Western culture, don’t seem like a sure bet.”

    What on earth does the writer mean by that? That there may be another Cultural Revolution on the horizon? He clearly is unaware of what has been happening in China over the last 30 years and that whatever China’s leaders may have occasionally said against western influences – and how many countries have at the same time not criticised how China runs its country? – he has little knowledge of the massive development in classical music it has nurtured.

    A residency in China makes a great deal of sense. It opens up the potential both to develop its brand within the country along with substantial funding, as well as to make a more meaningful appeal to the Chinese diaspora, many of whom are exceedingly rich. If managed properly – and of course therein lies the rub, given concerns expressed here and elsewhere about the orchestra’s administrative leadership – it could open a lot of new funding doors.