Philly heads for confusion as Kaiser climbs aboard

Philly heads for confusion as Kaiser climbs aboard


norman lebrecht

October 07, 2015

Just when everything seemed to be going so well, the Philadelphia Orchestra has hired Michael Kaiser as a consultant to help out with income policy and future strategy.

Kaiser’s record is mixed. He helped London’s Royal Opera House out of a deep pit of despond, leaving before the job was done, but the latter half of his decade in charge of Washington’s Kennedy Center was marred by inertia, jobs for pals and general retreat. The Center has thrived again since his departure.

Philadelphia musicians might like to be reminded that Kaiser in Washington hired his friend Christoph Eschenbach, a conductor they overwhelmingly rejected, at the highest music director salary in the US.

That Philadelphia should now need Kaiser’s non-FDA tested brand of snake-oil is cause for despair.




  • Olassus says:

    Does that woman Vulgamore do ANY work? Surely “wage negotiations and future strategy” are precisely what she gets paid for.

  • Simon says:

    Alison Vulgamore has a base salary of at least $450K and they have to engage Kaiser to assist on wage negotiations and future strategy. (?!?) And people need to ask why the American orchestra business is in trouble…. Clearly that board of directors have their heads up their bums.

  • NYMike says:

    Arts consultant Kaiser is known for stating that an arts entity can’t cut its way to excellence or prosperity. Unfortunately, the Philly Bd., having declared a faux bankruptcy in 2011 in order to rob its musicians of their defined benefit pension plan and cut wages by 20%, has evidently never heard of Kaiser’s maxim. Unless there’s a further extension, the “play and talk” phase of the current negotiation is up tomorrow.

    • NYMike says:

      The Philadelphia Orchestra is one of the crown jewels of the entire orchestra world. It’s maddening that its board doesn’t seem to understand or treat the Orchestra with the respect that it deserves.

  • Robert says:

    What is wrong here, apart from Michael Kaiser being brought onboard, is the fact that The Philadelphia Orchestra CEO, Allison Vulgamore is deemed incapable to manage such a fundamental aspect of her job, namely contract negotiations with the musicians. This woman, who has a rather dubious management reputation, is being paid a near seven figure salary to do her job, yet the board accepts to bring in another seven figure salary person to deal with and advise on what Ms. Vulgamore should be able to do on her own.

    Once again, U.S. orchestra management shows its lack of pedigree and its tolerance and acceptance for incompetence. Orchestra CEOs are paid the highest salaries in the United States and yet they seem to show repeated incompetence and deficiencies, yet instead of resolving that, they just keep hiring these people, paying them obscene salaries at the expense of the donors and then, when real management skills are required, they pay again an enormous sum to bring in an adviser of also dubious management pedigree. How long will this circus go on, before an intelligent and savvy board member pulls the plug and then another and another…

  • Has been says:

    I believe many American companies, including all the major automobile manufactures, bring in specialist negotiators for union negotiations which are very technical and full of financial and tax minutia outside the scope of tabloid headlines. Alison Vulgamore is certainly not a tax accountant nor a legal expert. The skill sets to run an orchestra are entirely within her capability. I have no idea if Kaiser is the right person but bringing in outside consultants is not unusual.

    • Eugene says:

      Regarding the wisdom of bringing in outside experts, I agree 100%.

      The unfortunate reality is that Kaiser is, as we say in Texas, “all hat, no cattle.” He has a incredibly poor track record, with his best skill being “getting out of Dodge” before people can successfully pin the failures on him. He also has a well-deserved reputation for cronyism, invariably placing his friends and acolytes in senior positions in companies.

      The snake-oil metaphor, above, is unfortunately all too well deserved.

    • Timothy says:

      Comparing negotiating a new contract for musicians in a classical symphony orchestra to the same scenario in the automobile industry is absurd. One concerns one hundred or so employees, while the other involves tens of thousands of employees, use of machinery, safety and health issues and very many complexities found only in heavy industry.
      If Ms. Vulgamore is judged unable, or incapable to manage negotiations with around 100 musicians in what is, compared to other sectors, a very basic and straightforward contract, then she shouldn’t be in her job and shouldn’t be demanding a hedge fund manager’s salary. The classical music business is, for the most part, made up of amateurish managers, extorting obscene sums from gullible boards with big pockets, only to cry for help when their job responsibilities exceed toasting a new music director’s signing. That The Philadelphia Orchestra needs to bring in one of Ms. Vulgamore’s former colleagues to help her in her job, at a high cost to the donors, is laughable, if it wouldn’t be so tragic.

  • A Met Fan says:

    This type of situation is not without major precedent in the U.S. Joe Volpe was retained for years after his retirement to head up labor negotiations at the Metropolitan Opera, until he and Gelb had a rather vicious (hardly private; the entire company was aware of every detail) falling out in the late spring of 2014. Joe kept an office in the building prior to that, as well as a hefty–and probably well-deserved–consulting fee. Gelb either realized his deficiencies in diplomacy or was simply deemed incapable by the board prior to that time to head the negotiations for the management side. Judging from the mediocre outcome of last year’s contract negotiations and the resulting desperately poor morale of the majority of union members, they probably should have retained Joe Volpe. Hindsight is 20/20.

  • Bennie says:

    Eschenbach was right when he claimed the management is amateurish. Vulgamore is simply clueless. She treats this world-class national treasure as if this is some freelance band. If her vision is misplaced already, there will be no good decision coming out of her head.