Editorial: No good faith in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia orchestras

The two orchestral strikes are umbilically linked. Both orchestra have run deep deficits and are trying to force their musicians to accept pay cuts.

The musicians say that if the orchestra management wants to retain world-class status – with all the attendant kudos of international tours and civic prestige – they need to maintain a world-class pay level. If they don’t, the best players won’t stay for long.

What has become apparent over the past few weeks is that the boards of both companies have put their fingers in their ears and adopted fixed positions, preparing for an inevitable walkout.

In Pittsburgh, a ‘last, best and final offer’ was made to the musicians on September 18. It involved a 15 percent pay cut. When the musicians rejected it, a federal mediator was summoned from Washington. But there was no intention on the employers’ side to budge one cent from their final offer – effectively, an ultimatum. They were simply wasting Government time in calling in a mediator. When the musicians saw no movement on the other side, they walked out.

In Philadelphia, an external consultant was called in a year ago to advise on the best way of maintaining musical standards while reducing the deficit. None of his recommendations was activated. The management put a pay cut to the musicians. When they declined it the only way out was to strike.

In both instances, the employers’ side was not interested in talking – only in imposing terms.

That’s a mark of bad management. It’s also a sign of bad faith.

Allison Vulgamore in Philadelphia and Melia Tourangeau in Pittsburgh have not played fair with their musicians.




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  • One is a disciple and confidant of other,
    They were linked since one was in Atlanta and the other was graduating from Oberlin

  • The dinosaurs are slowly dying , where is this world class nonsense pay level
    to come from ? The average Philadelphia citizen could care less , the rich patrons
    have other interests and orchestra pecker matching is not one of them. One day these
    sad little nobodies will walk out to show their displeasure and find the doors permanently
    closed to them and whatever audience they had also gone ,,it’s “evolution”
    Don’t they realize that at one time they mattered to a great many , now they don’t .

    • You’re reasonable. I’m afraid the musicians, if they care about having a job, had better listen to you. Nothing against them, they deserve all they can get, but that’s less and less as time goes by and the thing “evolves.” It’s really no different for most American workers. We’re going down.

  • The idea that Pittsburgh musicians would leave and there would be no one to replace them is utter nonsense. I’m willing to bet there is a list as long as your arm just waiting to be employed.

    Also, where does this ‘world class’ orchestra business come from? There must be some managers who can balance the books. The musicians shouldn’t have pay for incompetence of the management team.

    One final thing. In all this strife, I never hear one word about management taking a pay cut. Hmmmm?

  • “…they need to maintain a world-class pay level. If they don’t, the best players won’t stay for long.” Oh, really? And where are they going to go? Just how many unfilled orchestra seats do you think there are?

    Listen, I’m a musician, and I support the musicians, but in strict supply-and-demand terms, there are too many (and, always more) musicians fighting for a piece of an ever-shrinking pie.

    • And no doubt that is one reason why the Boards and managements of these fine ensembles dig in their heels. Yet, as I have stated here before on several occasions, the drafting of budgets, the approval of budgets, the monitoring of budgets and the creation of deficits are almost exclusively the responsibility of these same managements and Boards. The really sad fact is that most of those who make up Boards and managements seem happy to sit back and permit deficits to balloon – thereby illustrating their own basic incompetence – whilst they sit back and wait sometimes for years before issuing ultimata towards the end of contract negotiations that the musicians, the very talented professionals who, unlike incompetent managements, do their jobs with astounding success week-in-week-out, are the ones who must always suffer.

      Of course times change, Of course the make-up of communities change. Of course fund-raising can become more difficult and a great deal more tiresome – the more so when managements and Boards whose responsibility that is don’t grasp the nettle and go out as before to twist arms, unlock funds from foundations or increase the amount of individual giving it takes to become one of seeming hundreds of sit on these often ineffective Boards.

      Milka can rant – as she often does – as frequently as she wishes. But the responsibility for these strikes and lock-outs is perfectly clear – incompetent managements and incompetent Boards.

      • Milk never rants , but others like Nick go on and on oblivious to the fact the times
        have changed .Has Nick ever seen photos of trucks carting pianos to the city dump ?
        Perfectly good pianos ……….instead of pianos, kids now play computers , does Nick need
        a list of piano companies gone out of business or drastically cut back to the point where
        purchasing a piano ( for show ) is prohibitive to the average household . Has Nick counted
        the radio stations that have quit playing so called classical music. At one time it was
        considered almost the norm to consider “classical music “something special and a
        snobbish cultural achievement of sorts ,to-day most people have discovered that a full
        busy life can be had without ever entering a concert hall., extra money can be given to medical research and a hundred other research groups screaming for attention .
        Most so called classical music lovers cannot quite imagine a world without a Mozart
        a Chopin, but one might observe millions more find they can and do live quite well without having a Mozart or Chopin enter their lives . It is no longer a feather in ones’
        cap to support the arts . If one has lost the support of those that could be persuaded
        to help where does one go from there ? To indulge in walk outs is stupid and if
        reasonable negotiations cannot be then shutdown,,,,,,no one owes
        these musicians a living ,they picked this as a career..it doesn’t go the way it has in
        the past … tough …life is tough for millions.

        • If Milka has actually managed a symphony orchestra in trying times, then I will be prepared to accept her ranting. She may have. More likely she has not. I have managed such an orchestra. I have worked with a Board and with musicians who wanted to be paid more in line with what they felt their talent deserved. And no doubt more Milka-isms will be thrown in this direction, but it remains a fact that with the help of Board members my team and I managed to get a budget increased in a city which had hitherto shown no great love of classical music by more than 450% over a period of 7 seasons.

          I am perfectly well aware that times change and that the range of leisure opportunities nowadays seems to increase exponentially every year. No-one owes a symphony orchestra a living. It is up to its Board and management to make the pitch, do the hard sell and get the cash. If anyone thinks the cash is not there, in most cases they are dead wrong. Obtaining it is the hard part.

          • Milka having served on boards for decades is quite familiar to the cause.
            Instead of pot shots at Milka Nick might put on his thinking cap if he has one.

          • With people and attitudes like that on the boards, it’s not surprising that many orchestras are in trouble.

  • The bogus numbers used by PSO management are so wrong .
    Up 10% on annual fund drive, up on all ticket sale ( I was at the annual meeting where Lying and crooked Melia paint a very rosy picture)
    Then they gone to projected next five years base on declining income, I repeat, declining income . Is this a lack of faith on her ability to raise money or based on the 3 or 4 members who had for a long time wanted to cut musicians on everything with the new chairman who think this lis ike a insurance company’s disaster coverage fund.( insurance consultant )
    Why forced some one who had donated 30 millions dollars out if not for philosophical stand ????
    Destroyed a top orchestra based on bogus numbers ? Why
    In the 1990s, the deficit was 3 millions, PSO was not destroyed, and budget was a little over 30 millions
    This year( 2016 ) the deficit was 1.5 millions, asked yourself, why ruin a top orchestra ? Creating a regional and easy to manages orchestra for the management and the board.

  • Ever-shrinking is right. It’s really sad. Think of the astonishing legacy of both of those orchestras – and there aren’t enough people in Pennsylvania who give a damn anymore? It’s more than a loss of major corporations in both cities. It’s changing demographics and a lot more. Too many competing entertainment options for these expensive orchestras to continue as it. Depressing, to say the least. And yet American music schools still grind out some 30,000 performance majors every year.

  • It is interesting that the public scorn is directed at the musicians, but never at the upper management folks who earn much much more than anyone on stage with the exception of possibly a music director. And there are thousands of business school grads who would love to do their jobs for much less than the 400-600k salaries plus bonuses and benefits that they make.

  • I demand that my town of Smallville have a world class orchestra! Because we are cultured! I demand that my World Class Orchestra be paid World Class Orchestra salaries! Because it is only fair. Plus, if you don’t pay them World Class salaries, they won’t come and play at Smallville.

    I know the average income of Smallville is way below the base pay of $140,000 I am demanding, but our World Class musicians are from the finest conservatories who have devoted their lives to perfecting their art, and should he fairly compensated for their talent and years of hard work, and the cost of their rare instruments.

    I will NOT pay more than $25 a ticket! I will NOT donate money, becaue it is just rewarding bad management, it is the job of the Board to go out to Smallville and raise money from other people. I demand that other people donate money, lots of it.

    I also demand a World Class hall, with acoustics to match the Muzikverein, and affordable snacks at intermission, I will not pay more than $2 for a sandwich.

    I demand…

  • I am a 3 star Michelin chef from Paris. I will go to Anytown USA and create a 3 star restaurant, whether you asked for it or not, whether you come or not, whether you can afford it or not.

    In order to compensate me for my unique talent, I will price my prix fixe menu at $300, plus a mandatory 20% gratuity. I serve ONLY the classic fares from France, you cannot order à la carte, and I offer a weekly menu depending on what I like.

    And if you don’t come and pay $300 per meal, I will go on strike until you do!

    Ingrates, I will leave if you don’t recognize the gift I am bestowing on you.

    • Not to mention the fact that the masterpieces I create will to you seem like dog food, but only because your taste is not highly refined or educated enough to appreciate it.

    • Sounds like a great restaurant- but alas I cannot afford the luxury .Of course if Nick
      finds the “magic ” Board of Directors who can draw blood from a stone and keep your
      restaurant afloat you will not be required to threaten us poor folk with a shutdown .You
      might even lower prices to let in the unwashed . Perhaps the Nick Board of Directors
      might find a Gates to underwrite your adventure and thus give you and your staff a
      living style you feel you deserve.How many $300 meals would it take to keep you
      afloat in style of course ?Would the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia players consider
      serving as $15 an hr. waiters or would they rather starve than lower the high deference expectations they feel is due them ?

  • To be honest, I think we’re well and truly on the road to oblivion here. The decline really started in the early 20th Century, read Constant Lambert’s ‘Music Ho!’- first published in the 1920s. Germany, spiritual centre of the artform and the country that gave us so much of the best loved music, has not produced a work by any composer that has been embraced by the music loving public internationally since the Vier Letzte Lieder 70!!! years ago. Written by the 83 year old last survivor of the romantic era. There are of course many and complex reasons but the biggy has to be academic dominance. Ticket sales alone will never cover the cost of orchestras, but full houses for music written in our time will at least demonstrate to the wider community that funding it is money well spent. Unfortunately the self interest of those inside the bubble will never let that happen.

  • If management were preparing for a negotiation, then they wouldn’t offer the best they could; they would know they would have to find something later to give.
    Is it possible that management might, once in a while, be better than we assume, and actually make a genuine best offer, in the hope that by demonstrating they are trying really hard to help they might get agreement and avoid walk-outs, negotiation? And if that is possible (and surely we all wish it would be; otherwise we’re saying we thing management should always make a not-quite-best offer and prepare for the worst), then in this scenario it’s clear there is no room for management to give once negotiation happens. Should they be criticised for that? Only if you don’t believe they were genuine in the first place, I suppose.

    • 15 bucks an hr. as waiters obviously did not appeal to the Philadelphia orchestra prima donnas who have a vastly inflated opinion of their modest talents .
      However it is all temporary ..

      • “Philadelphia Orchestra………..modest talents”??? Milka speaks from the amygdala rather than the brain area of musical discrimination. The majority of principal and assistant players are at least the equal of their counterparts in the other top symphony orchestras of the world. Some came from other top orchestras. Some have won seats in other top orchestras, and returned. One world class guest conductor tried to nip one player for his own world class orchestra. No, Milka. Say whatever else you must about a situation that really cannot be so generalized, but Philly players are not “modest talents”!

        • Of course they are much alike to their counterparts in other orchestras…it’s
          a given ….they must all have some solid basic technique and are for the most
          part interchangeable cogs in a machine known as the” orchestra.” Apart from
          individual approaches to the art most have settled to being an “orchestra member”
          it puts the bread and butter on the table . Its not that they haven’t worked to get
          to where they are it’s that they are easily replaced once one passes the mystique
          of being a member of a famous orchestra .

  • Well, there’s no point arguing with people like Milka and Herrera. No, not because they’re right, but because like Donald Trump’s supporters, they have zero understanding of the topic(s) they write about. To dignify their posts with counter arguments would be wasteful of the cyberspace those posts would take up.

    But for those who care and understand the art form, allow me to say that the idea that the “orchestra model” needs to change is bogus. The wordings from management over the past 6-8 years or so has been eerily similar all across the country. “Sustainability” – an orchestra has never and can never be a money making enterprise. The premise of the entire art form is that it has and will forever be supported by the patrons. This is not the NFL, nor can it be run like a business. Those who whine and complain about paying $25 to hear a world class orchestra drop hundreds of dollars when they go to their losing baseball or football games.

    The problem here is not the product. The true problem is the decline in appreciation of the art form. Instead of relying on the 10 elderly donors each orchestra has left, and forcing the musicians to make cuts in order to balance the inflated pockets of the CEO’s, management and boards need to change the model of their own fundraising. There are millions of young people who would gladly give money if approached the right way.

    The easy way out is to make the musicians pay. The harder and the proper thing to do would be to let the musicians play.


    • What an ignorant response, one suspects the writer wouldn’t understand the art form
      nor its history if it were delivered on a silver platter .

  • First of all, perhaps Sir Rattle Effect is in play. The King is to conduct Philadelphia on Oct 6 and Oct 10 — who dares to let Sir Rattle conducting Mahler 6th without an orchestra? He would grab the hammer himself! 🙂 That may have motivated both sides to end the strike sooner.

    Secondly, some people here missed the point that orchestra management missed. Classical music enterprises are not here to make money. Never had. Never will. Unless your music ensemble is lead by a hunky handsome guy dancing Viennese while playing the violin, or making alleged music while brewing Celtic Leaves Strawberry Soup. You know who they are.

    The problem is the management is trying to ‘balance’ the budget (something that’s just not possible for most orchestras to start with) by pushing around the musicians, instead of looking into the mirror, realizing their incompetency in getting more donation/funding.

    Like, in Philadelphia, Alison is making $800k base salary (?) —- somebody tell me why any clinically sane musician would be ok with an financially lean and struggling organization to pay $800k to hire a person whose job is to keep cutting their compensation and benefit? So, the strike in Philadelphia IMHO is more like making a statement rather than “nickel & dime”, like, ‘Don’t you push me around after I have already agreed to so many concessions in the past few years’.

    Just my $0.02.

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