Peace in Philly, Chicago goes to war

Peace in Philly, Chicago goes to war


norman lebrecht

March 13, 2019

It was smiles all round as the Philadelphia Orchestra struck a 4-year pay deal with its musicians last night, six months ahead of deadline.

The musicians will get a 2% pay rise in year one, 2.5% in year two, 2.5% in year three, and 3% in year four. Two musician posts that were cut in the last showdown are to be restored and Sunday afternoon concerts are to be increased from 12 to 18.

“The spirit of the process that brings us to this new agreement reflects the beauty of the musicians, of the people of the Association, and of The Philadelphia Orchestra as one whole passionate musical body that I have come to know and love, very much, in these seven years together,” said Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin. “We are here to engage in the joy of music, to be part of the heart and the soul of the beautiful communities of Philadelphia—and now we have a new, long horizon ahead of us. My deep thanks to all for this, for your generosity and commitment.”

Meanwhile, the Chicago Symphony has cancelled two concerts and, though talks are scheduled with the actuaries on Friday, both sides are getting entrenched in a long-established ritual.

Like US health care, there’s no system like it anywhere in the world.



  • MWnyc says:

    “Like US health care, there’s no system like it anywhere in the world.”


  • CSO fan says:

    The battle is decided by the actuaries before the shooting begins.

  • anon says:

    Ironic precisely because Philadelphia got rid of its direct benefit pension plan, precisely what Chicago is fighting over, in 2011 by declaring bankruptcy, not to mention drastically cutting pay.

    So 8 years later, it’s one big happy family and a thriving orchestra under a dynamic young conductor, getting less pay and less retirement benefits than Chicago, yet still content.

    Is that the lesson for Chicago? You too will get over it, you too will adjust, you too will survive, you too will thrive, just throw in a bankruptcy, give it 8 years, et voilà….

    • NYMike says:

      I’m enjoying your sarcasm (if that’s what you meant). Remember that Philly lost 10 rostered positions (filled if necessary by subs getting less than parity per/concert/week), dropped from 3rd to 8th in US orchestra pay besides losing their DBPP and being thrown on the mercy of the PBGC (itsef in dire straits). What they’d lost before that time was some of the oldtimers who’d have voted to strike just like Chicago is now doing. That they’ve retained their luster is mind-boggling.

    • Anon says:

      Try working in a London orchestra – no pension, horrendous conditions yet still achieve excellent results!

    • NYMike says:

      Post-bankruptcy, Philly went from 3rd highest in US orchestra wages to 8th where it still stands. Of the 10 rostered musicians lopped off only 4 will have been added back by the end of this four-year contract. Had some of their old-timers still been in the orchestra in ’11, they would’ve struck just as Chicago is doing now.

    • Musicfan says:

      I’m afraid the issue with CSO is far more complex than just following Philly and simply declaring bankruptcy. The endowment of CSO is such that it won’t allow them to declare it in a first place. From what I am hearing around here, the musicians aren’t out there just because of the pension. They want answers from the board to questions such as why the orchestra receives only 1/3 of the budget when it’s ultimately them who are the CSO, while the rest goes to so called administrative costs and they want to know what costs those are. Also I don’t know if this is true but the management is supposed to have higher number of employees than the orchestra itself, which to me seems little ridiculous. Many of them also speak of management failures to see projects through that they started but never really made happen, projects that were supposed to strengthen the financial position so they would not have to rely so heavily on donations. There is talk about residency in China, Western suburbs, Cuba tour which Minnesota did instead of them, and something that several of them called vision 2020, I am guessing that was possibly a financial goal of the management that also didn’t materialized. I think the musicians deserve the answers before the board and management start slashing their benefits….

      • NYMike says:

        Philly also had an endowment (they own the Academy of Music) but the fix was in between one of their board member’s law firms handling the bankruptcy and the bankruptcy judge. They were allowed to exit the AFM’s pension fund paying about 1/20th of the withdrawal liability they should’ve paid.

      • Mkay says:

        That and Helen Zell is married to the billionaire Sam Zell who doesn’t believe in Pension Plans. He is quoted as saying Americans do not want handouts.

    • Mkay says:

      Well, Sam Zell the billionaire is married to Helen Zell who is calling the shots. Sam doesn’t believe in pension plans cause he is all about Americans not getting help. He is a pretty gross human being and I don’t know why Helen was elected to the board. They must not have known her husband was a nasty piece of work. Considering the CSO keeps making more money every year it’s very confusing. Sam Zell the billionaire is all over the internet being gross. Even said the P (cat) word at a big meeting about gender and hiring.

  • Ben says:

    It’s all about the Chicago supremacy attitude.

    I remember I walked out from an MTT concert w/ Chicago at Symphony Center last December. It wasn’t the earth’s greatest orchestra brilliance show people tend to claim. (quite shaky from the fabled Chicago brass, no less)

    The problem is kinda sum up by a lad, who was very chatty while we were waiting at the coat room: “You’re from Philly? Ain’t you impressed? Nobody plays Tchaikovsky better than Chicago.” … “Philly slipped a lot. It’s not in top 20. May be still in top 50? What’s up with that Canadian guy? Is he any good?” … “Oh you were in Musikverein? Was the hall as good as ours?”

    Typical audience would not have that kind of attitude unless the orchestra projects such onto them. You don’t hear this kind of bragging in Symphony Hall nor Kimmel Center. Heck, not even at Carnegie Hall.

    Nuff said about the Chicago snobbishness.

    • Anson says:

      Shameful behavior by that boor, but I honestly don’t blame the orchestra for that kind of attitude. For whatever reason, symphony concerts frequently attract a certain “type” who don’t know half as much as they think they know. The Chicago management and players certainly would not have claimed that Philly is outside of the top 20 or referred to the “Canadian guy.”

    • barry guerrero says:

      Here in Cali’, when you first someone who’s moved here from Chicago, they immediately start telling you how wonderful Chicago is. When you meet someone who just moved here from Cleveland, they immediately begin apologizing for Cleveland. Just judging by the comparison of their two orchestras, I think Cleveland has nothing to apologize for.

    • Jon H says:

      There are Chicago groupies, and for them CSO is like a football team. You have to appreciate someone with that level of loyalty. And as a more seasoned concert-goer, you have to put up with the guy behind who thinks he knows everything. But he’s bought a ticket, he’s supporting too – and so I say give him a chance to figure it out.

    • Luigi Nonono says:

      They haven’t had a great harpist (or harp) since Druzinsky.

      • Steve says:

        have to strongly disagree here — sarah bullen, the current principal harpist of CSO, is a fantastic artist. her performance of Debussy’s Sacred and Profane Dances last April was great, including her solos in the Tchaikovsky Swan Lake suite!

    • Kyle Wiedmeyer says:

      Check out a concert up north at the Milwaukee Symphony. Some real unsung musicians, who play full-time for less than half the salary in Chicago.

      • Mkay says:

        Ticket sales determine what the members should receive. Sell more tickets and get more donations your salary goes up. Where would you like the money to go? Your comment doesn’t make sense. I’ve seen the LA Phil, London, NYC, Paris and Rome and CSO is by far the best so I’m thinking Milwaukee can’t be that amazing.

        • NYMike says:

          I certainly side with the CSO musicians in this contretemps. That said, I gather you’ve not seen/heard Amsterdam, Vienna, Phiadelphia, Cleveland, Boston, etc. as I do @ Carnegie Hall each season. Before proclaiming CSO as “the best,” you should try to do that.

  • Old Man in the Midwest says:

    The younger players are grateful to get a job. They all know that by the grace of God, there are many other musicians that could have won that job in the audition process.

    The older players think that they’ve earned their status because they’ve been part of BIg Five orchestra for years and have drunk the Kool Aid. God forbid they understand economics and supply and demand curves.

    The CSO management has to be prudent and create a sustainable business model which means that pensions have to convert to a 403 B and not a defined benefit.

    It worked in Philly and it can work here. In a few years, the whole thing will be forgotten and it’ll all be one big family with peace and love abounding.