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.
As the musicians of the Philadelphia Orchestra negotiate a new trade agreement, we reflect both on its legendary history, and its present and future importance as cultural ambassador and economic engine for the city, the country, and the world.
Although the Philadelphia Orchestra performed its first concert in 1900, it truly emerged as an international cultural icon in 1912, when Leopold Stokowski became its music director. Under Stokowski, the Orchestra made musical history, with the American Premiere of Mahler's Symphony of a Thousand in 1916, the first electrical recording by a Symphony Orchestra in 1925, the American Premiere of Berg's opera Wozzeck in 1930, and the first long-playing recording in 1931, among other major accomplishments.
It was with the Orchestra's recording of the soundtrack for the Walt Disney movie Fantasia in 1939 that Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra truly became an indelible presence on the national and international arena.
When Stokowski shook hands with Mickey Mouse at the beginning of Fantasia, it was a signal that the Philadelphia Orchestra was an institution dedicated to bringing the best of orchestral music to the largest audience possible, utilizing whatever methods could convey its musical message outside the confines of the concert hall, all the time maintaining its identity as a major symphony orchestra with the highest artistic standards. This important part of its mission was exemplified by Eugene Ormandy, who, during his remarkable 44-year tenure as Music Director, made hundreds of recordings with the Philadelphia Orchestra, including The Glorious Sounds of Christmas and Handel's Messiah, both with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and both Gold Recordings, meaning that each sold over 100,000 copies. While the Philadelphia Orchestra under Ormandy brought great symphonic music to the world through recordings such as these, the Orchestra was also recording a vast repertoire, including such American composers as Aaron Copland, Vincent Persichetti, Roy Harris, and George Rochberg. The Philadelphia Orchestra was renowned for Beethoven Symphonies and Strauss Waltzes.
The Orchestra's worldwide reputation was further strengthened by its international touring. The Orchestra played all over the world – Europe, South America, and Japan, for example – but its importance as cultural ambassador for the entire country was confirmed in 1973, when it became the first American orchestra to perform in the People's Republic of China.
Although the Orchestra maintains a special relationship with China, it continues to tour all over the world, earning rave reviews wherever it performs. “Philadelphia Orchestra in Hong Kong – non-stop magic under Nézet-Séguin” exulted the South China Post on May 20, 2016. “Yannick Nézet-Séguin became music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra in 2012, and it’s proving a remarkable partnership if this thrilling concert – the orchestra’s first in London since his appointment – is anything to go by”, wrote The Guardian on June 9, 2015.
As these reviews attest, our current Music Director, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, is one of the most charismatic and sought-after conductors in the world today. He recently announced a commitment to remain with Philadelphia Orchestra through at least 2025, while simultaneously becoming the newest Music Director of the Metropolitan Opera. Performing with Yannick gives us an opportunity to build on our long tradition of artistic excellence, achieving new heights of performance under his leadership.
It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of the Philadelphia Orchestra to the city, the country, and the world. Former Mayor Michael A. Nutter, at a reception in London prior to the Orchestra's 2015 European Tour, said, “The Philadelphia Orchestra is not just one of the most artistically-acclaimed Orchestras in the world, but it is also a vital Cultural Ambassador for the city, and one that brings tremendous economic development to the city by making the case for doing business in Philadelphia.” The Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance highlights on its website the importance of culture as an economic driving force: “The Cultural Alliance leads, strengthens, and gives voice to more than 400 member organizations who generate over $3.3 billion in economic impact for the region.” Surely, the Philadelphia Orchestra is one of the most important cultural institutions in the City.
This chart shows the decline in the Philadelphia Orchestra members' position relative to musicians in other major American Orchestras.
As recently as 2009, the Philadelphia Orchestra base salary was 2% above that of the New York Philharmonic. By last season, Philadelphia Orchestra musicians were earning 12% less.
As a result of wage cuts, wage freezes, and concessions made during the bankrupty of 2011, we have fallen significantly behind other major American orchestras.
The musicians of the Philadelphia Orchestra deserve a contract which will restore us to our proper place among the world's great orchestras.
The internationally renowned arts consultant, Michael Kaiser, has issued a report on the Philadelphia Orchestra. Although we have signed a confidentiality agreement regarding his report, Peter Dobrin of the Philadelphia Inquirer has written about its contents.
Holly Blake, Philadelphia Orchestra Contrabassonist and member of the Orchestra Negotiating Committee, discusses Mr. Dobrin's article.
The Philadelphia Orchestra has historically enjoyed its elite reputation among the top five US orchestras. Now, according to a recent June 24, 2016 article by Norman Lebrecht in his Slipped Disc blog titled ‘The New Big Five”, the Philadelphia Orchestra has slid to the 7th slot, as determined by current budget rankings, among their peer orchestras. With their current contract set to expire on September 11, 2016, the musicians are concerned about how this will impact their ability to attract and retain the most talented musicians.
A report by Michael Kaiser on the potential for the Philadelphia Orchestra Association to achieve a financial turnaround has recently been completed. This report by the highly respected arts consultant and author was requested by the Philadelphia Orchestra Musicians in a compromise one year contract settlement, according to a July 4, 2016 philly.com article by music critic Peter Dobrin, “in order 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’s article references Kaiser's positive and common sense findings which the musicians feel could potentially support their case for greater earned and contributed revenue of the Philadelphia Orchestra Association, and ultimately a contract and a ranking more in line with their peer orchestras.
According to Mr Dobrin, Mr. Kaiser’s report includes recommendations of improving “inadequate marketing and education programs that, if grown, would lure more donations and listeners in both the short and long terms.” In addition, Mr. Dobrin writes that the report includes inspiring and diversifying the board, increasing the orchestra’s relevance in the city, cultivating national and international donors and “bringing on donors at differing wealth levels…including people who better represent the city’s industry, demographics, and artistic and intellectual sectors,” as well as organizing special projects which would attract younger patrons. “Donors are motivated by excitement, not crisis,” says Kaiser, according to Dobrin.
Dobrin also includes the following quote from Michael Kaiser. “I am at heart deeply optimistic about the future of this orchestra. It is one of the great performing ensembles in the world. It has an important place in Philadelphia but even also in other countries, and there is a true opportunity for this organization to be not just stable but also thriving. I am hopeful that if some version of this plan is implemented that this is an organization that will be able to perform at the very top of its game for years to come.”
Below are the links to the cited articles by Peter Dobrin “Report: Orchestra must grow audience, donor base, communication skills” and Norman Lebrecht “The New Big Five”
Suggested Reading- Michael M. Kaiser’s “The Art of the Turnaround: Creating and Maintaining Healthy Arts Organizations”
Be sure to save the date -- on October 4, 2016, we will be presenting our second annual Audience Appreciation Concerts -- free music throughout the community!
As we end our season with the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, we look forward to the successful conclusion of our contract negotiations, and a wonderful season starting in September. We look forward to seeing you!
For October 5, 2015:
Join the Philadelphia Orchestra Musicians in our Day of Free Music on Monday, October 5, when orchestra musicians will infuse the Philadelphia region with free performances for our community. From The Porch @ 30th St Station to schools, from local libraries to the Philadelphia International Airport, musicians of the world-renowned Philadelphia Orchestra will animate this culturally-rich city as a gift to our community.
The musicians of the Philadelphia Orchestra are musical messengers for you, our community, and we believe in the power of music to transform lives. This Day of Free Music is our way of showing gratitude to our community for understanding that music lies in all of us, and our greatest wish is to share that with you, our neighbors, our communities, our city, and our world. Thank you for sharing the day with us, and we look forward to greeting you in person at one of our events.
PHILADELPHIA ORCHESTRA MUSICIANS:
DAY OF FREE MUSIC: OCTOBER 5, 2015
All locations are open to the public except as noted.
9:30am: Philadelphia City Hall
10am: Philadelphia International Airport
Stage between Terminals B and C
10am and 10:30am: Philadelphia Performing Arts Charter School (private)
2600 S. Broad Street, Philadelphia
11am: University of the Arts
Dorrance Hamilton Hall, lobby
320 S. Broad Street, Philadelphia (Broad and Pine Streets)
11:30am: St. John’s Hospice (private)
1221 Race Street, Philadelphia
12pm: The Porch @ 30th Street Station
Market Street at 30th Street Station, Philadelphia
Brass and Percussion Ensembles
12pm: Reading Terminal Market
12th and Filbert Streets, Philadelphia
12:45pm: St. Mark’s Church
1625 Locust Street, Philadelphia
1pm: Neumann Senior Housing (private)
1601 E. Palmer Street, Philadelphia
1pm: Free Library, Rittenhouse Square Branch
1905 Locust Street, Philadelphia
2pm: Free Library, Rittenhouse Square Branch
1905 Locust Street, Philadelphia
2pm: St. Dorothy School (private)
1225 Burmont Road, Drexel Hill, PA
2:30pm Inglis House (private)
2600 Belmont Avenue, Philadelphia
3pm: Free Library, Rittenhouse Square Branch
1905 Locust Street, Philadelphia
3pm: Perkins Center for the Arts
30 Irvins Avenue, Collingswood, NJ
3:30pm: Temple University
Boyer/Tyler Atrium at 13th and Norris Streets, Philadelphia
5pm: University of Pennsylvania
3417 Spruce Street, Houston Hall
5pm: Haddon Township Library
15 MacArthur Boulevard, Westmont, NJ
5pm: Elkins Central
7876 Spring Avenue, Elkins Park, PA
6pm: Triangle Plaza
23rd and South Streets, Philadelphia
6:30pm: Arcadia University
Arcadia University, The Castle
450 S. Easton Road, Glenside, PA