Philly eyes the barricades over Kaiser waltz

Philly eyes the barricades over Kaiser waltz


norman lebrecht

October 09, 2015

Negotiations are the Philadelphia Orchestra are deadlocked. The musicians don’t like the small pay increase on the table. And they especially don’t like the introduction of ex-Washington boss Michael Kaiser as an external consultant – along with the company’s refusal to show them his eventual recommendations. (UPDATE: The company has since clarified that the idea of hiring Kaiser was initiated by the musicians union.)

‘The biggest sticking point is, they don’t want to show us his report,’ one musician told the ever-reliable Peter Dobrin. ‘We were really close twice last night, and then it sort of fell apart.’

Read Peter’s full account here.

kimmel center philly


  • Milka says:

    Get all you can before the ship sinks as it eventually will sink.
    Whatever audience is left cannot keep this afloat .

  • Yuval says:

    I don’t think that both parties realize that soon the entire game will be over, especially for an ensemble like The Philadelphia Orchestra. They have a small endowment compared to other ensembles, they are located too close to New York to justify saving them and the community of donors and potential donors is limited compared to other US cities. They also have a long history of bad labor relations, bad management and a terrible experience with a disastrous music director, Christoph Eschenbach, who not only degraded the quality of the orchestra, but nearly bankrupted them with his and his manager’s greed and exorbitant financial demands, giving practically nothing in return. This all served to weaken this orchestra and they may not be able to make it through this time, in spite of finally having an appreciated music director who has repaired a lot of the artistic damage wrought by Eschenbach. I wish the first orchestra well, but they must keep in mind that they are walking on the precipice.

    • william osborne says:

      To close to NYC to justify saving them? So Philly’s metro population of 5.7 million are all to make the arduous trek to New York to see a concert? With local transit at both ends we’re talking about 3 to 4 hours each way. And then a drive home after the event to get in at about 1 or 2 AM. Or they could spend the night in exorbitantly priced NYC hotels? And don’t even count on decent mass transit. That suffers the same fate as public arts funding in the US of A.

  • william osborne says:

    The list below of orchestra budgets illustrates why the musicians in Philly are unhappy. It’s not just money, but budgets and salaries as a measure of status.

    1. Los Angeles Philharmonic $97M (2011)
    2. Boston Symphony Orchestra $84M (2013)
    3. Chicago Symphony Orchestra $74M (2014)
    4. San Francisco Symphony $72M (2011)
    5. New York Philharmonic $69M (2012)
    6. Philadelphia Orchestra $46M (2011)
    7. Cleveland Orchestra $42M (2012)

    The budget of the Philadelphia Orchestra is not even half of the LA Phil’s, and yet aside from a lot of marketing hoopla, it is probably a better orchestra and with a vastly richer tradition.

    The Berlin Phil’s budget is $39 million, just 52% of Chicago’s, and only on 40% of the LA Phil’s.

    Due to our funding system by and for the wealthy, there is far less funding than in Europe, and the funding that does exist is concentrated at the top. One result is that our major cities only have one top orchestra, while similar European cities often have up to 5 or more such as Paris, Vienna, Berlin, Munich, and London.

    Given the American social mindset, it is not surprise that Philadelphia has 180,000 people living in deep poverty (less than $10,000 per year for a family of three) which includes 60,000 children who face daily problems with hunger. Now cover your eyes and pretend you see nothing…

    • Oscar says:

      So very well put, “cover your eyes and pretend you see nothing.” That is the fundamental problem when dealing with any problem in the United States, people pretend that it doesn’t exist, or that the same problem is worse elsewhere, or the usual favorite of jingoism and chest pounding, believing that they are living in the chosen land. Also, no action is taken for resolving key problems and issues, i.e. Poverty, child poverty, high infant mortality, lack of affordable care for the aged, proper employment insurance, violence, gun massacres, drug addiction, mental illness, maintaining cultural facilities that are thriving and accessible, etc. Hardly anything is done to make a dent in these problems, so they just get worse and worse. I conclude that it is a basically lazy and fearful society, without much true love of country, only false patriotism, but no love of their fellow citizens, nor any collective identity worth upholding. It’s all so much like the Soviet Union before its collapse.

    • Daniel F. says:

      There is no “probably” about Philly being a better orchestra than Los Angeles, and there is as well no doubt in their having, in YN-S, the better, though less well-promoted conductor. These minor points aside, Mr. O’s comments are well taken here.

      • Mark Henriksen says:

        all of the monetary differences listed there are due to cost of living differences.

        • Olassus says:

          … and to the fact that L.A. and Boston have the Hollywood Bowl and Tanglewood festivals in those budgets.

        • william osborne says:

          The budget of the NY Phil is only 71% of LA’s, but the cost of living in NYC is even higher. Most all of these orchestras have pops concerts and summer festivals. Summer events, festivals, and cost of living do not account for such large variances in budgets.

          • Mark Henriksen says:

            The correlation here is generally between cost of living and budget with extensive summer festivals folded in as Olassus points out. If you doubt that, check cost of living for each city. For example, LA is, in general 20% cheaper than NY (google it!) but the Hollywood bow has a very significant season that includes another orchestra as well as numerous pop acts. Not at all comparable to the summer parks concerts of the NY phil.

          • william osborne says:

            As you note, the NY Phil has 71% of LA’s budget and yet the cost of living in NYC is 20% higher (at a conservative estimate.) The Hollywood Bowl can seat up to 26,000 people and brings in large sums with pop acts. It also doesn’t account for the differences in budgets. Things like Debra Borda’s $1.8 million yearly pay does.

          • william osborne says:

            And article in the LA Times from Feb. 15, 2015 notes that the LA Phil’s budget is now $115 million. It also notes that the orchestra earns about about $50 million per year from the Hollywood Bowl. The article states:

            “The Hollywood Bowl may be the least obvious but most important asset. Most orchestras don’t have such a prominent second venue. The Bowl is owned by Los Angeles County, but the Phil has run the nearly 18,000-seat complex for decades, scheduling its own summer season of classical music and also booking the facility’s rental to promoters for pop acts such as Bruno Mars and Billy Joel.

            “A 30-year lease signed in 2004 guarantees the orchestra a steady income — $50 million for its most recent fiscal year. The Bowl generates most of the Phil’s ticket sales, which in recent years have accounted for more than a third of the orchestra’s revenue. For that, the Phil pays the county about $2.5 million annually to cover operating, maintenance and other costs — clearly a bargain for what is considered by many the best outdoor venue in America. Since 1992, the county spent $70 million renovating the site, including constructing a new band shell.”

          • william osborne says:

            By European standards, the $50 million the LA Phil makes from the Bowl would actually be used to fund at least two other orchestras, thus creating a much richer and more varied cultural environment. But rich people don’t think that way. They concentrate the money in one place for themselves.

          • Mark Henriksen says:

            Here are the numbers that matter (for 2013). Income for LAPhil: 125 million.
            Expenses: 110 million. This is around 11% “profit”. Around 8% of income is drawn from the endowment. Around 11% (with 3% inflation) has to be put back into the endowment to keep the endowment even. 760k comes from the government and over 11,000 patrons give $1000 or more. Only 9% of the expenses are for administration and they don’t need government subsidy like you suggest. Having the government pay for something that 5% of the people use for entertainment is an absurd idea to tax payers, no matter how much we would like to see it happen. This is how capitalism works.

          • william osborne says:

            Without documentation your numbers don’t mean much. A healthy society does not simply say 5% of the people are interested in classical music and leave it at that. Through education and programs allowed by public arts funding, it expands the demographic — sort of like, for example, those evil Venezuelans.

          • Mark Henriksen says:

            All of my numbers come from the LAPhil website under information for donors – fiscal year summary – and from guidestar online (total reported budget and expenses). The LA Phil invests a sizable portion of its budget into music education through a number of programs.

          • william osborne says:

            The LA Phil’s ticket prices for the Rite of Spring on October 15 range from $60 to $200. See:


            All their concerts have similar prices. The average price is around $120, so a couple would need to pay an average of $240 for the evening. Now tell us we don’t need public arts funding.

          • william osborne says:

            What a irony that the LA Phil has educational programs, presumably for a broad Sistema style demographic, while its average ticket price is in the area of $120. It is unlikely that our top cultural institutions, which clearly have an ethos of elite cultural country clubs for the wealthy, will ever have the same success as the democratic and socially aware approach of publicly funded systems. This is demonstrated not only in Europe, but even in impoverished Venezuela. We see how our funding system creates dysfunctionality at almost every level of the cultural enterprise.

    • Ravi Narasimhan says:

      Your point about the poverty in Philadelphia is well made. The rest of it is just sniping. Like her or lump her, Deborah Borda has shored up finances, gotten the local moneybags to cough up, and tries new programming ideas. There’s also been relative labor peace. The Philadelphia Orchestra isn’t entitled to anything because someone put it on the ‘Big 5’ marketing list some time ago.

      If Vulgamore and Co. can’t do the same and brings in the likes of Kaiser to do her job for her, the musicians can exercise their right to change the dynamic through a strike.

      • william osborne says:

        Philly has the 9th largest metro GDP in the world. The Mainline area contains uncountable wealth. It is thus absurd that the city only has one orchestra and that it recently declared bankruptcy. The cause of these problems is our lack of public arts funding.

        This lack of social responsibility is politically correlated to larger and much more serious issues A report by the Mayor’s office in 2001 reported that Philadelphia had 14,000 abandoned buildings in a dangerous state of collapse, 31,000 trash-strewn vacant lots, 60,000 abandoned autos, and has lost 75,000 citizens in recent years. In the following 14 years little has changed. It leads American cities for people in deep poverty. (See above.)

        • Ravi Narasimhan says:

          I don’t dispute your numbers and agreed with your comment about poverty. The city needs to look after those in the most need. The uncounted wealth owners need to step up in both areas. I don’t see how increasing city subsidy to the Philadelphia Orchestra solves the real crisis.

          • william osborne says:

            Increasing the PO’s budget obviously wouldn’t solve the city’s larger problems, but a general change in government and social consciousness would. Apparently I’m not the only one who thinks this. I’m surprised at how well Bernie Sanders (the “art’s President”) is doing.

    • Anon says:

      Isn’t it a good thing to fund excellence? Or should we spread funding more evenly, but reward swathes of unneeded mediocrity in the process?

      Separate observation – the UK’s London orchestras get by on around $12m – $15m; the UK’s regional (but still full-time) orchestras on less.

      • william osborne says:

        The Philadelphia Orchestra with less than half the budget is a better ensemble than the LA Phil. The idea that endlessly spiraling budgets makes better orchestras is dead wrong.

        • Ravi Narasimhan says:

          I am no LA Phil apologist but I just checked the websites and IRS statements of the LAPO and POA. The LA Phil organization seems to present far more programming including visiting orchestras, several specialty series, a conductor development program, commissions, international music, and they pay their musicians well. In addition, they sponsor youth musical instruction (the El Sistema analog) in underserved areas with a $3.5M/year budget.

          You may prefer the Philadelphia orchestra’s sound and history and that’s perfectly reasonable. But you are misplacing their financial woes on LA’s shoulders. You can’t balance Philadelphia’s books from LA’s accounts. In turn, LA has to balance the needs of more classical orchestras with the $50M Hollywood Bowl windfall against its own exploding social inequity problems.

          I hope your wish for more governmental social and arts spending happens. Even if it does, I don’t think you’ll get the purity of essence you think will follow. These are ultimately human enterprises.

          • william osborne says:

            I’m not looking for purity of essence (whatever that is,) but just a reasonable program of public arts funding like ALL other developed countries have long had.

          • Ravi Narasimhan says:

            William Osborne writes: “I’m not looking for purity of essence (whatever that is,)…”
            [The blogging software does not permit replies at this indentation level]

            Public funding is a good idea but does not guarantee excellence, equitable distribution among groups, fair play, or good treatment of artists and/or patrons. An overreliance on tradition and “it was always this way” is also problematic. You’ve presented evidence of this on your own blog where publicly funded European orchestras behaved very badly.

            The LA Phil and a few other orchestras have managed to raise money to do more than just stay afloat. Philadelphia hasn’t. Lay your ire at the feet of their Board of Directors and management.

          • william osborne says:

            The problems are systemic. In recent years the orchestras in San Diego, Miami, Kansas City, Albuquerque, Syracuse, Tulsa, San Antonio, New Orleans, Denver, San Jose, Colorado Springs, Honolulu, Miami, and Philadelphia declared bankruptcy. Many more are in continual financial trouble.

  • Dave T says:

    What’s a pay increase? Most Americans wouldn’t know.
    I guess it’s something that $130,000 and trips to glamorous world capitals couldn’t live without.
    Status, ego, greed ===> no sympathy.

  • Jevgeniy says:

    Having heard Philly in NYC several times in recent years, I’ve counted them out more than a couple. With Muti and Rattle the work was pretty shoddy. The mahler 2 with YNS was very good – was it better than concerts by St Louis and Montreal and Detroit? Sadly, it was not significantly better. I think they overstate their relevance. Big Five is very 1982.

    • NYMike says:

      As a retired professional musician, I beg to differ. Hearing most of the world’s big orchestras as they come through NYC year after year, I will categorically state that the Philly Orch. is at the very top with a unique blend of ensemble, intonation and solo playing by their principal chairs. Other than Amsterdam’s RCO, no other orchestra satisfies me as much.

      It’s shameful that the POA’s board treats this treasure with so little respect.

      • NYMike says:


        What have Vulgamore and the POA Board been doing to right the ship in the last FOUR years since their faux bankruptcy?? WHERE’S the money??

  • william osborne says:

    It is interesting to compare our system of supporting the arts by donations from the wealthy to the facts presented in an article in today’s NY Times. See:

    + Just 158 families have provided nearly half of the early money for efforts to capture the White House (just as small circles of super rich control many of our arts institutions.)

    + They are overwhelmingly white, rich, and older (similar to the classical music public.).

    + 138 back Republicans and only 20 Democrats (similar to the large donors and Board members for classical music.)

    + The families overwhelmingly support candidates who have pledged to pare government programs (similar to big arts donors who wish to maintain the privileged status in the arts by preventing public funding.)

    + They are often business partners, neighbors, and patrons of the same symphonies and art museums.

    + They are concentrated in communities for the super rich in only 9 cities (similar to the way American high culture is concentrated in a few financial centers where wealthy donors live.)

    + Minorities make up less than one-fifth of those neighborhoods’ collective population, and virtually no one is black (just as the public for classical music.)

    + Most are secretive and keep their identities as political donors hidden. (This contrasts, because big arts donors often like their names incongruously stuck onto arts institutions. They just don’t like their rightwing politics revealed.)