— by Hannah Lee
Dear Ms. Vulgamore,
I write as a concerned music patron. The recent decision to apply for Chapter 11 financial re-organization sets a troubling precedence in the music world and I wonder how Philadelphia would fare in the end? Since that decision, I have been having weekly conversations with a source within the organization and I was moved to write by our latest chat yesterday.
Yes, we can be proud that the Philadelphia Orchestra is one of the top five in the nation (along with New York, Boston, Chicago and Cleveland), but I was amazed to learn that our orchestra also pays the highest salary of all these as well as the highest starting salary for the musicians (at $70,000, an unheard-of amount in the fine arts)! Equally amazing facts to me are: the Orchestra does not perform or rehearse on Sundays; the 12-week vacations that some musicians enjoy; and the contracts that stipulate a full orchestra for each performance, necessitating substitute players and a huge substitute salary payroll.
More after the jump.
Yes, it does seem prudent to re-think these financial agreements, but what does it mean to throw all the previous years of labor negotiations out the window? Could every other cultural organization take this “easy” way out of financial difficulties? What obligations to your employees (and your paying patrons) remain? But what about the unwieldy 60-member administrative staff? And why are you still interviewing candidates for the following positions (as listed on your website): Director, Foundations and Government Relations; Institutional Giving Coordinator; Group and Corporate Sales Coordinator; Operations Coordinator; and Education and Community Partnerships Coordinator? I do note that the part-time position as receptionist is non-paying.
How could you think of retiring Peter Nero, the energetic, two-time Grammy-award-winning pianist and director of the Philly Pops– under the same management as the Philadelphia Orchestra- for 30 years? His much younger colleague, James Levine, has been suffering from debilitating back troubles, but he has been allowed the liberty and respect to choose when to withdraw from his multiple duties as conductor and music director of the Metropolitan Opera and the Boston Symphony.
I read in Sunday’s Inquirer that the Orchestra will have an abbreviated season at the Mann this summer, because of its previously planned European tour. Add this fact to the uncertainty over whether there will be a fall season and you leave your patrons puzzled and frustrated. Do remember that Philadelphia lies within an easy commute to New York and even Washington, so some of your music-loving patrons could choose to leave the city for their listening pleasure.
While I have your ear, could I also add that the Orchestra’s move to the Kimmel Center has about doubled the ticket prices beyond the affordability of the average family with children? No wonder that your concerts as seen from the stage are often a sea of senior faces with glasses. What are your obligations to your patrons? To nurturing a music audience for the future?
If yours were a Jewish organization, I would say shanda for shame. You are a world-class cultural institution, so conduct yourself with world class.