Now Philadelphia goes on strike

Now Philadelphia goes on strike


norman lebrecht

October 01, 2016

A third US orchestra – the biggest yet – has gone on strike.


Below you can read the musicians’ reason for walking out.

But pause a moment for reflection. One orchestra going on strike is a local dispute. Two is a trend. Three is a system failure. There must be a better way of doing orchestra business in the USA.

UPDATE: Editorial: Talks were not held in good faith

We, the musicians of the Philadelphia Orchestra, have decided to withhold our services and strike. We believe this is the only way we can gain the attention of our entire community and begin in a meaningful way the process of reversing the shameful decline of our treasured institution.

This strike is not about the musicians’ greedy search for ever more money. If it were, we would have gone on strike in 2009, when our salary was reduced by more than 1 percent. We would have gone on strike in 2010, when we absorbed a wage freeze. We would have gone on strike in 2011, when our salary went down by a further 14 percent. We make no apology for wanting to be well compensated when we have devoted countless hours of hard work to achieving a level of musicianship which has placed us at the very top of our profession. To claim otherwise would be disingenuous. But our actions over the past decade clearly demonstrate that we have been willing to continue to play at the very highest level while our salary has greatly declined relative to the pay of other major American orchestras.

Over the past nine years, we have endured multiple cuts to our wages, pension, and working conditions in the hopes that our sacrifices would give the Association time to rebuild and restore us to our proper status. We did not strike a year ago, when we reluctantly signed a one-year contract on the condition that the world-renowned consultant, Michael Kaiser, be brought in to lend his expertise to revitalizing the Philadelphia Orchestra. He issued his report in April, 2016. Five months later, the Association has yet publicly adopted a single one of his recommendations.

Just as in any other highly skilled profession, symphony orchestras compete for a small pool of talent, constantly striving to engage the very best in our field.


  • Itsjtime says:

    American Symphony orchestras compete for talent from a gigantic talent pool!!!! It doesn’t matter how much you cut their salaries there will still be that same HuGE pool to draw on.
    In the case of this orchestra, Philadelphia is a cultural WasteLand!!!! Should the salaries reflect their role in the community????? That is the real question.

    • Jerron J says:

      No it’s not. Opera Philadelphia is one of the leading examples of a 21st century opera company in both programming and marketing.

  • Angry in Philly says:

    As the Philadelphia Orchestra Association paid lip service and never adopted any of the recommendations of the consultant brought in at the request of the musicians, then why don’t the musicians demand the resignation of their much loathed and totally incompetent Orchestra Association CEO, Allison Vulgamore? The failure of the Philadelphia Orchestra to secure its future and the repeated contentious issues that strike the POA should make it clear that a major change at the top is absolutely essential.

    • Andy says:

      Right you are. That’ll teach those people who won’t donate. That’ll make them want to open their wallets to the musicians. Fire the businesspeople in the organization. That’ll inspire confidence in potential donors. The POA exists to keep musicians employed after all, right?

      • V.Lind says:

        Too many Orchestra Associations have been existing in recent years without Employed Musicians…it does not exist to be a “business model” either.

        People have to understand what they are making. producing/ultimately selling. The rules are not uniform for how they are operated.

  • Robin Mitchell-Boyask says:

    As Peter Dorbin reported, there was a $90,000 difference for the life of the contract in the last proposal that the board rejected. My guess is that they lost more than than this weekend in ticket sales.

  • Dave says:

    You mean to tell me that management can’t find some Philly fat-cat to make up $90,000? A sad commentary indeed!

  • Steve says:

    I have been listening to dozens of auditions for over 25 years. This idea that there are swarms of young musicians out there ready to take over at orchestras of the level of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh is a myth. While it seems to me that there are fewer really terrible musicians showing up for auditions these days, most auditions will only identify one or two really qualified ones, and a few auditions, perhaps none. This has remained constant for my entire career. It has always been tough to land a job at the best orchestras and it always will be.

  • Brian Hughes says:

    I have never been a conspiracy theorist, but it’s interesting to note that Melia Tourangeau (Pittsburgh CEO) and Allison Vulgamore had a sit-down shortly after the latter was hired by Atlanta (and we know how that eventually turned out).

    A spurious correlation in the least.

  • Former Philadelphian says:

    While there probably are 30,000 musicians who want to play with the Philadelphia Orchestra, only about 100 musicians in the entire world have the highest level of skill, ensemble sense, musicianship, and artistry to be in the Philadelphia Orchestra- and they are The Philadelphia Orchestra. They are not replaceable, even if there are 100,000 wannabees out there.

    The unforgivable mismanagement of this venerable institution is a travesty. Stay brave, musicians!

  • Former Musian says:

    These musicians are still being paid over $100k for their services. When you consider the shabby state of the US economy, the lack of jobs across a wide spectrum of professional fields, the outsourcing of manufacturing, computer science, and other jobs overseas, and the decrease in quality of life and wages in the US, the whining of these musicians about their salaries seems a bit strange.
    Compare these jobs to other important professions. These musicians play the same repertoire 97% of the time, they have a few rehearsals per week and a few concerts. Being a classical musician is not a 9 to 5 job. A programmer would have to work twice as hard to earn the salary that these musicians are getting.

    • BSDetector says:

      It sounds like 1. you didn’t have what it takes to make it at this level AND 2. you don’t have a clue of the time it takes to maintain it in outside work hours once you get there. Comparing these elite orchestral positions to other fields never works.

    • NYMike says:

      Adding to BSDetector – Contracts in major orchestras average 20hrs/wk in actual rehearsal/performance. Add to this another approx. 20hrs/wk in private maintenance – home/studio practice, not counting chamber ensembles drawn from orchestras’ ranks for other concerts. “A few rehearsals per week and a few concerts” betrays your ignorance and points to your own failed career as a musician .

    • NYMike says:

      Contracts in major orchestras average 20hrs/wk in actual rehearsal/performance. Add to this another approx. 20hrs/wk in private maintenance – home/studio practice, not counting chamber ensembles drawn from orchestras’ ranks for other concerts. “A few rehearsals per week and a few concerts” betrays your ignorance and points to your own failed career as a musician .

      • Former Musian says:

        Classical music, as a whole, is a failed career. Doing the same thing over and over again (like practicing then going on strike) expecting different results is the definition of insanity. I am currently in a successful career, one where merit is actually acknowledged and not just how popular your connections are.

  • Gerald Martin says:

    As much as I sympathize with the Philadelphia Orchestra musicians, I thought it was extremely bad form and tactic to strike one hour before the opening night concert, forcing (according to press reports) an audience of one thousand well-dressed attendees to go back home. I can’t think of a better way to alienate your most wealthy supporters. Much smarter to begin the strike immediately after the concert, which would then have served as a sad valedictory.

  • Notmuchsupporthere says:

    Sorry naysayers and gloom lovers, stike is over: