Deadlocked Philly cuts short-term deal

Musicians and management of the Philadelphia Orchestra agreed on a 12-month contract last night to enable the present season to continue. But divisions remain deep.

Local sources say the deal includes a 3 percent pay rise and one extra musician to he hired.

Official statement:

The Philadelphia Orchestra Association and the musicians of The Philadelphia Orchestra have reached a tentative agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement. Out of respect for the union, Local 77, American Federation of Musicians, the details will be released only after the agreement has been fully ratified by both parties. The Association expects the musicians of The Philadelphia Orchestra to perform as scheduled in the interim, anticipating ratification.

kimmel center philly

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  • Paying orchestra musicians base pays from $130,000 (Philly) to $190,000 per year (The Met) is a clear indication that our society does not know what genuine musical creativity is, nor the truly urgent and challenging musical goals we need to pursue. By reinforcing with such strong financial rewards a field that has fallen to orthodoxy and a distinct lack of creativity, we are actually harming creative progress.

    There are interesting correlations between these spiraling labor costs and the psychology of orchestra musicians. They are highly gifted people who abdicate their responsibility to be genuinely creative artists to a conductor. In a futile effort to compensate for the creative degradation they experience, they demand more and more financial reward, not realizing that the trap of endlessly increasing materialism only further dulls their artistic souls.

    The field’s mindless musical orthodoxies, authoritarianism, hierarchies, and hollow status has cruelly but justifiably led to the term “orchestra zombies” — a term whose aptness is clear when you interact with many of these people. When will we find cultural leaders who will lead us away from the symphony orchestra’s destructive trends and to a genuinely creative musical future where more musicians can work with genuine intelligence and creativity? It will be a better world where they have a bit more to think about than more and more money.

    • What do you suggest that all these overpaid orchestra musicians should do to help build this ‘better world’ you are talking about? Practise and play less to have the time to amass endless statistics? Create their own gospel and preach it over and over again in some blogs? Or what?

    • Yes. Groups like Orchestra of Our Time, The American Composers Orchestra, Ensemble Intercontemporain (Paris,) and Ensemble Modern (Frankfurt) clearly illustrate genuinely creative paths even in the orchestral format. Not to mention many chamber groups devoted to genuinely living music such as Eighth Blackbird, Bang On A Can, International Contemporary Ensemble, etc.

      The generally cadaverous programming of the Philadelphia Orchestra and similar groups stands in stark contrast – dull, inert, 19th century programming delivered with conveyor-belt routine. To say it is degrades the creativity of musicians is being polite.

      All of that is bad enough, but these orchestras consume every available financial resource, thus leaving the rest of classical music community in our cities impoverished. And they can’t stop obsessively asking for even more.

      • Hi, member of Ensemble Modern here. I would respectfully disagree. Comparing a group like mine with the Philadelphia Orchestra, or any other orchestra, is a bit of apples and oranges. At least here in Germany, both the audience and the funding sources are largely separate. Likewise, our mission and the mission of our counterparts at the Frankfurt Opera and HR-Sinfonieorchester are just not the same thing. There is, of course, some overlap, but I’m not convinced the purpose of playing a Brahms symphony and premiering a new work are the same thing.

        All of these institutions are important to our shared culture. I’m always happy when we have collaborations with symphony orchestras or the opera, but I’m also happy to see them play standard repertoire. It’s really what they do best, and they should celebrate that fact.

  • Perhaps I should add here that the first trumpet in Philly makes $300,000 per year. If good trumpet players are that short of supply, then our most famous schools like Curtis, Julliard, Eastman, Northwestern, New England and Indiana University should just pack up and quit, because they obviously aren’t doing their job.

    We should also compare that $300k to the $13k which is the average salary of a musician in a regional orchestra, even though many of those orchestras serve metro areas of over a million people.

    Public funding systems look at society and cultural access as a whole and distribute funds accordingly. A private system simply follows the myopic whims of rich people and concentrates funding in a few financial centers where they live.

    • How do you know the orchestra management isn’t wasting money due to it’s incompetency, or even, robbing the bank behind the scene? Do you not know how some of the non-profit executives spend money extravagantly (aka ‘operation expense’) while barely staying upright after drinking $$$$ bottles of wine during fundraising meetings? There seems to be a discussion on the ledger’s transparency (or lack of). You got that?

      So, while the management is crying wolf about excessive musician pay and benefits — and they surely want the public to side with them by information manipulation — how about the hidden cost of the management itself?

      You may see how much a musician is paid. But you will unlikely to see the money wasted and/or written off by bad management decision, or such ‘operation expense’. Remember the $2000 hammers sold to U.S. Army. Yea, that.

      And I don’t get your point. Beckham makes ocean-liner load of cash more than a local amateur soccer club’s player. So what?

      • You are right. As just one example, the $1.8 million Debra Borda makes at the LA Phil leading a non-profit is a betrayal of the public trust.

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