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."