We are overjoyed to be back playing for our beloved audiences, under our Music Director, Yannick Nézet-Séguin. As our Artistic Advisory Committee stated in a recent letter to the Philadelphia Inquirer, “We couldn't be happier with him as our music director. We have always admired his musicianship and humanity, and our relationship continues to blossom season to season.”
Scenes from some of the 20 different concerts Philadelphia Orchestra Musicians played for audiences around our community in our second annual Audience Appreciation Day, October 4, 2016. This event, as always, was organized and presented by the Musicians of the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Our management has been quoted repeatedly as saying that it is confident that the Philadelphia Orchestra will remain a “destination orchestra”. I have some thoughts on that phrase, based on my forty years in the profession.
Any music student who hopes to enter the orchestral profession knows that at some point, they will need to “hit the audition trail”. After years of study and practice, one has to start competing for the jobs that interest them. It can be an expensive, grueling process, and with limited time and funds, how is a musician to decide where to audition? What destination should one choose?
When I first “hit the trail” the answer was simple - “I’ll go anywhere”. I was fortunate enough to win my first audition, (for the North Carolina Symphony) and joined the ranks of professional musicians. I had reached my first destination!
As I learned the business, I soon realized that there were now only about 30 new destinations that would represent a significant step up for me. And, in a few years I made my next move, to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.
In Baltimore, for the first time I was in an orchestra where I felt that even if I never made another move, I could be content. The music making was excellent, I enjoyed my colleagues, and I was making a comfortable living. And yet.... every musician knew of the famous “Big Five”, those great established, historic orchestras that were the crême de la crême. I still felt the itch to experience music-making at the very top of my profession, and kept hoping for the right job to open up.
Then, an opening in the great Philadelphia Orchestra appeared, and after a very long involved process, they offered me the job. I knew this was a great orchestra, but really didn’t know it well enough to be prepared for what I experienced here.
My first four weeks in the orchestra fell during the summer season. In those weeks, we played fifteen different programs. I was absolutely stunned by how quickly the orchestra prepared music to an incredibly high level. Pieces that were major challenges in my previous jobs were just “in the DNA” of this orchestra. It was thrilling to listen to and participate in.
Then came the fall season, and things only got better. With a full amount of rehearsal time, the orchestra sounded even more polished than it did during my first concerts. Now my attitude was not “this is a place where I could spend the rest of my career”, but “this is the place where I want to spend the rest of my career”.
So, as my career progressed, my potential destinations went from “anywhere” to “maybe 30 somewheres”, to “5 places” to “I’ve arrived, and I’m not even tempted to go anywhere else”.
Now let's fast forward to a very few years from now. I will have retired, and the orchestra will have found my replacement, who in all likelihood will be a young ambitious musician just as I was all those years ago.
Will this orchestra be the destination for that player, or merely a destination? Will he or she be thinking “this is a wonderful orchestra, but I still have the itch to play in one of the really top orchestras”? Will he or she be thinking, “I love the sound here, but in good conscience, should I consider one of the several orchestras that pays considerably more?"
For many many years, the Philadelphia Orchestra has been the kind of orchestra that is the destination for many many great players. Recent events have placed that status in jeopardy. Musicians can no longer assume that a career in Philadelphia will be as rewarding financially as a career in one of the other great American orchestras. Since the bankruptcy of 2011, our salaries have lagged behind our peers to an unprecedented extent. Our new contract does nothing to address that gap, but it does buy us a little time.
What will we do with that time? Will we as an institution come to accept an also-ran status? Or will we redouble our efforts and restore the Philadelphia Orchestra to its accustomed place as a leader in the symphonic world?
It would be a tragedy if current trends continue and the Philadelphia Orchestra becomes merely a destination along the way. We need to ensure that the very best musicians continue to come here. And, we need to make sure that when they arrive here, they want to stay here. The continuing greatness of the orchestra depends upon it.
October 17, 18, & 23 The Johannes String Quartet in Norfolk VA, Williamsburg VA & Utica NY.
October 23, 3PM Philadelphia Orchestra Percussion Group at Widener University, Kapelski Hall Music Room
October 23, 6:00PM Members of the Philadelphia Orchestra and Pittsburgh Symphony brass sections, with guests from the Boston Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra and National Symphony at East Liberty Presbyterian Church, Pittsburgh.
October 23, 3:00 Lower Merion Symphony at Harriton High School, Bryn Mawr. Music of Mozart and Sibelius with Music Director, Mark Gigliotti and violin soloist Amy Oshiro
October 28, 1:00 PM Philip Kates's string quartet, Liebesfreud presents an "Open Rehearsal" from noon - 1pm at the Philadelphia Art Alliance. Admission is free.
October 28, 7:30 PM Shelly Showers plays Mozart's Horn Concerto #3 with Orchestra Concordia at Radnor Middle School
November 4 Philadelphia Orchestra Postlude Concert. Brahms G Major string sextet featuring violin soloist Midori with POA musicians Ying Fu, vln, Che Hung Chen and Burchard Tang, Violas, Yumi Kendall and Priscilla Lee Cellos.
November 7, 7:00 PM Philadelphia Orchestra Musicians Chamber Music Concert, Mitchel Hall at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia
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 not 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.
According to an August 2nd article on Philly.com, “Salaries for first-year lawyers at big firms in Philadelphia are topping out at $180,000 a year to keep pace with New York competitors.” Casey Ryan, a labor and employment partner at the prominent Philadelphia legal firm of Reed Smith, says that "For us it came down to investing in the strongest talent, both from a recruitment and a retainment standpoint.”
Closer to home, Drew McManus points out on his Adaptistration blog that “ According to the [Philadelphia Orchestra Association's Fiscal Year 2013 Federal tax] return, The Philadelphia Orchestra Association undertakes a thorough process to ensure that the executive compensation it pays to its top management officials and all of its officers and key employees of the Association is reasonable given the market in which the Association operates.”
Do the rules about attracting top talent apply to attorneys and Philadelphia Orchestra Association management, but not to world-class musicians? Does it matter to us that last season our base salary was more than 18 percent less than the Boston Symphony, and over 24 percent less than that of the San Francisco Symphony? Yes, it does.
In order for us to remain a great orchestra, we must be able to attract and retain the best players. If a talented musician has to decide between auditioning for Philadelphia or Boston or San Francisco, which orchestra will they choose?
We can no longer remain silent while we continue in a downward spiral. This is no time for business as usual. More than four years after the Philadelphia Orchestra emerged from bankruptcy, we are still waiting for a positive sign, a real indication from the Association that it intends to restore us to our proper position in the symphonic world. This strike is a step we take with the greatest reluctance, only after all other methods have failed us.
The City of Philadelphia, the United States, and the world deserve live classical music of the highest artistic standards, a tradition which we have upheld for over a century.
Choon-Jin Chang, Principal Viola of the Philadelphia Orchestra, shares his thoughts about why we have decided to continue with our plans to hold viola auditions despite the strike:
"In consultation with our Members Committee, the audition committee and I have decided to continue with the ongoing Viola auditions tomorrow although the members of the orchestra voted to go on strike. We wish to honor all the candidates who spent their endless energy and time to prepare to audition for our famed Viola section, and hope to welcome one of these wonderful musicians to our Orchestra when we return to the stage."
It has been more than five years since the Board of the Philadelphia Orchestra voted to file for bankruptcy, becoming the first major American orchestra to do so. At the time, the Orchestra had a $140 million endowment, owned the Academy of Music, and had no debts, according to an NPR article from April 18, 2011.
Although the filing in April, 2011 was opposed by the musicians, the public was told that it was a necessary step, and that when the Orchestra emerged from bankruptcy, things would be much better.
When the court approved the bankruptcy, the Association made wholesale changes to our pension plan. The Plan was frozen and its administration was transferred to the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation, a U. S. government entity. Some musicians may receive lower pensions than they would have earned under the frozen Plan. The retirement benefits which were substituted for the Plan do not guarantee the benefit level specified in the Plan. In addition, the orchestra musicians, who had voluntarily taken a wage freeze the year before, and who had donated a significant amount of money to the Association, saw their salaries reduced by more than 14 percent. The size of the orchestra was also reduced, from 106 full-time positions to 95.
The Association, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer's Peter Dobrin, spent “almost $10 million in professional fees and expenses” on the bankruptcy, and paid settlements of $1.75 million to the American Federation of Musicians Pension Plan, and $1.25 million to the Philly Pops in the process.
More than five years later, Musicians hoped that the Association would view the bankruptcy as a temporary means to regroup and ultimately restore the kind of budget that is necessary to fund a major symphony orchestra, rather than as a way to downgrade the musicians' contract permanently. More than five years later, we are still waiting.
In a July 4, 2016 article, Peter Dobrin of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that, “after six months of looking under the orchestra’s hood by Michael M. Kaiser, chairman of the DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the University of Maryland and former president of the Kennedy Center in Washington,” he issued a report to the Philadelphia Orchestra Association. Dobrin noted that: “Kaiser’s report shines a bright light on a troubling state of affairs, proposes to re-prioritize solutions, and suggests new ones.”
Dobrin also noted that: “The impetus for Kaiser’s involvement was last fall’s round of contract talks between the Philadelphia Orchestra Association and its musicians. In granting an unusually short, one-year deal with a 3 percent raise, management agreed to bring on Kaiser to examine why, four years after exiting bankruptcy, the association still had not generated enough earned and contributed revenue to eliminate more of the concessions musicians gave in the Chapter 11 case.”
Dobrin also wrote that: “It was not clear last week how many of Kaiser’s concepts would be folded into a new strategic plan being developed by the orchestra.” As of this writing, the Association has not adopted a new strategic plan, nor has it adopted a budget for the 2016-2017 fiscal year. Therefore, no one knows which, if any, of Kaiser’s recommendations will be implemented.
The regressive contracts under which we have worked since the bankruptcy have saved the Association millions of dollars. We have patiently endured cuts to our salary, pension, and health care. It is time to move forward and restore us to our proper place in the pantheon of orchestras.
Here's an interesting blog post by Douglas McLennan in ArtsJournal.com, titled, "Some Of Our Orchestras Seem To Be Thriving – Is This A New Trend?" While mentioning several good news stories about other orchestras, he mentions that The Philadelphia Orchestra "has – in my opinion – rarely sounded better. It’s amazing to me that an orchestra can sound that good with all the turmoil going on around it."
Former Philadelphia Orchestra Music Director Ricardo Muti, currently music director of the Chicago Symphony, has come out as a strong advocate for artistic standards in a recent article in the Chicago Tribune. "You cannot maintain a great orchestra at this level if the refrain is constantly 'we have to cut this and cut that," he said in an interview in Chicago.
As reported in The Buffalo News, the musicians of the Buffalo Philharmonic have reached an unprecedented new 6-year contract with management! The deal will increase musician compensation by 12.6% and improve working conditions.
News in the Indianapolis Star that musicians have reached a new three-year agreement with management, over a year before the expiration of their current contract! Congratulations to the organization for increasing salaries and adding musicians in Indianapolis, as the orchestra bounces back quickly from recession-era cutbacks!
Drew McManus has done a comparison of base salaries of orchestras in the "Big Eight", with Philadelphia at the bottom.
There is plenty of discussion going on now on social media and blogs about the unfair treatment the musicians of the Fort Worth Symphony are getting in the local paper there, the Fort Worth Star Telegram.
Check out this insightful and entertaining blog post by Emily Hogstad: Pneumonia At The Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra! She helps keep the work stoppage in perspective, especially in comparison to other organizational clashes in recent years in Atlanta and Minnesota. Orchestras there are currently thriving, by the way, despite doom and gloom predictions.
Interesting post in Drew McManus' Adaptistration blog post arguing that the Philadelphia Orchestra board and management seek to keep industry competitive salaries and benefits for management, while implying the same isn't necessary for the musicians. He also notes that "The Kaiser report is an expensive dust collector."