Philly musicians sign short-term deal

Philly musicians sign short-term deal


norman lebrecht

October 19, 2015

After seven months of negotiation, the Philadelphia Orchestra has struck a one-year deal. This is not good practice.

kimmel center philly


Company press release:

(Philadelphia, October 19, 2015)—The Philadelphia Orchestra Association announces the ratification of a new collective bargaining agreement with the musicians of The Philadelphia Orchestra, Local 77 of the American Federation of Musicians, effective September 14, 2015, through September 11, 2016. The agreement was ratified by the Board of Directors of the Association and by the membership of the Orchestra.


Under the terms of the ratified one-year agreement, annual salaries for the musicians will rise 3%. In addition, the musicians’ healthcare will move to a consumer-driven plan, with the Association investing in health savings accounts for each musician. This change, brought about because of national healthcare cost trends, both ensures that individual musicians will have equivalent access to health providers, and the Association will achieve meaningful savings. The Association will audition for one position during the course of this contract, reducing the hiring freeze implemented in 2010 from 10 to nine positions. Some changes have also been made to contractual rules governing travel to reduce costs and ensure the viability of future international touring.


Philadelphia Orchestra Association Chairman Richard B. Worley said, “We appreciate the tireless efforts of both parties in achieving this contract. We all share a commitment to assuring the future of The Philadelphia Orchestra and are working toward the same goal—to keep this institution healthy for the next generation to also enjoy.”



  • Andrew R. Barnard says:

    Norman doesn’t like a new orchestra contract? Nothing new here.

    • william osborne says:

      The point is that orchestras are in serious trouble when they can’t plan more than one year in advance.

      • Andrew R. Barnard says:

        I would take you more seriously if you don’t find a way to justify most of Norman’s rants.

        • william osborne says:

          The fact I state is obvious and speaks for itself. If anything, Norman is belaboring the obvious — though for the commentators here, that is often necessary.

          • Andrew R. Barnard says:

            The only thing that’s obvious is that you and Norman make something terrible out of every piece of news. Is there something less than ideal about the current contract with Philly? Sure, but I’m tired of hearing about why you think everything is wrong in the musical world. As if though whining about everything will help. Let’s try to be positive at least now and then!

          • william osborne says:

            What pompous ignorance. Bury your head in the sand if you want, but allow others to address these problems. The issues facing the Philadelphia Orchestra, one of the most important in the world, are deeply alarming, and very much worth discussion. Such organizations must plan years in advance, and yet Philly can’t work out more than a one year contract due to its precarious financial situation — something every American concerned with the arts should closely consider.

          • Andrew R. Barnard says:

            What you fail to realize is that naysayers don’t attract support. Yes, there are issues, but Norman offers no solutions, and in many cases makes issues out of nothing, like in the entirely explainable case of Petrenko renewing in Munich.

            If Classical music is going to improve, it’s not going be from critics crying doom at every corner. I’m not sure why this is so hard for some people to understand.

  • Nick says:

    That orchestra is in a long trend decline. They are lucky that Curtis Institute is in town, otherwise, they eventually will have terrible time to compete for talents against other top orchestras. They are the first to accept bankruptcy, and now getting rid of group health program, to hold on the shaky finance. They are doing the best to set bad examples for the industry. Regardless their exciting young music director, it is not an ensemble people holds with high admiration like it once commanded. Shame!

  • herrera says:

    Why won’t musicians govern themselves, form a partnership, share the profits in fat years and eat their shoes in lean years?

    Because, in America, musicians want to be taken as individual artists, but they want to be paid like employees. In Europe, it’s the same, they want to be taken as individual artists, but they want the job security of state bureaucrats.

    In short, musicians want the best of the Marxist and capitalist models: they own their means of production and expect to be paid high for their production, but they expect someone else to guarantee the revenues of their production even when their expectations exceed market demand, which means in the American system, relying on the largesse of the rich donor class, or in the European system, relying on the largess of the state.

    So they better not complain about having to negotiate a contract every year, the alternative is they risk the ups and downs of the market on their own.

  • W. Narvik says:

    What is outrageous here, particularly in the case of The Philadelphia Orchestra, is the fact that the orchestra’s financial woes are nothing new. Yet, knowing the dire straits that they were in, their CEO, Allison Vulgamore, upon accepting the job, did not think twice in demanding a large salary increase for herself, nearly the double of her predecessor. American orchestras operate first and foremost on personal greed, without consideration for the effect that may have on the overall health and viability of the ensemble. They are also, with a few exceptions, managed by amateurish and often fairly incompetent individuals, who too often don’t have a clue of how to build a financially solid organization for the future. Their prime interest is getting as much for themselves as is possible and then leave the mess to the next leader. The Philadelphia Orchestra and its CEO are among the worst offenders in this area and their future is dismal at best.

    • JCJ says:

      I live in Philadelphia and have to agree with Mr Narvik. These musicians are earning almost $130,000 per year as a BASE salary (many members, and particularly principal players earn much, much more). That level of salary goes a very long way in Philadelphia and its environs. It’s irrelevant how big orchestral salaries are in Los Angeles or Boston because those places are far more expensive to live in.

      Frankly I started to question the sanity of the members of this orchestra years ago when they turned down a recording contract with EMI because the “royalties” weren’t high enough. Please. To pass up the opportunity to keep your name and sound out there in the wider world, simply because the musicians think they deserve a piece of a vanishing financial pie, is crazy. They also turned down offers from smaller connoisseur labels because they felt only a “major” label would suit their level of “prestige”. Again, please. Look at the classical recording industry. It’s effectively one of two things: 1) dead as a doorbail, or 2) a self-financing vanity endeavor whereby ensembles pay for exposure.

      All of this being said, in my opinion the Philadelphia Orchestra is still superior to almost every European orchestra. In most cases, the contest isn’t even close. All the great American ensembles (Philly, Boston, Cleveland, Chicago) run rings around their European counterparts. The only reason this truth isn’t more universally acknowledged is because of widespread snobbery and false sense among Americans of intellectual and artistic inferiority vis-a-vis Europe. Henry James may be a century in the grave but his spirit lives on.

      • NYMike says:

        The real irrelevancy here is what it costs to live in other major orchestral cities. It’s always been a matter of prestige for musicians to feel that their board appreciates their quality and pays them accordingly. This board, full of hedge fund types with little appreciation for the abilities of this iconic ensemble, fails epically in providing adequate funding consistent with the Orchestra’s quality. Trashing the defined-benefit pension, instituting health savings accounts and cutting 10 full-time positions while declaring a faux bankruptcy certainly indicates the disrespect this board has for its world-class musicians. CEO Vulgamore is just another example of the League of American Orchestra’s recycled trash.

        • NYMike says:

          I forgot to mention that after the board cut regular musicians’ compensation by 20% and subs’ by 30%, they gave Vulagmore a raise!