A Top Orchestra Files for Bankruptcy

April 19, 2011 at 03:44 AM ·

A humbled Philadelphia Orchestra drew a prolonged ovation on Saturday evening after the final strains of Mahler’s Symphony No. 4, one of his sunniest works. Just hours earlier, its board of directors had voted to send the orchestra to bankruptcy court, declaring the move the only way to survive financial disaster.



Replies (37)

April 19, 2011 at 04:11 AM ·

Wow. Such terrible news!

April 19, 2011 at 07:54 AM ·

Wow.  --Just--...wow.

April 19, 2011 at 08:49 AM ·

The future is paycuts except for the Dictator er conductor and, of course, "management".

April 19, 2011 at 12:15 PM ·

You know this has really got me wondering....are the orchestras in trouble because of poor management - poor advertising - poor public relations? 

I work in a government building, open to the public, and it is very, very crowded here on a daily basis.  I bring my instruments to work and practice early in the morning, before the start of business.  Many people see my violin or viola tucked in the back of the room during the day.

If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me *do you know of any really cheap or free orchestras I could go see....* I could retire tomorrow.  Is the recession also a factor? 

.---Ann Marie

April 19, 2011 at 12:57 PM ·

They are cash-rich but income poor.


April 19, 2011 at 02:50 PM ·

I think all of the above, Ann -- not all in every case, but you see plenty of it.

Maybe it's nosy, but I'd be curious to know what sort of people are asking you this question.  On one hand, yes, I like for people to be exposed to music as much as possible.  On the other hand, would they consider rendering their own services in their jobs (assuming they have them) for free under most circumstances these days?  Unless you're barely scraping by -- and I realize many people are, and it is not necessarily easy to tell -- it's a matter of priorities.  Not everybody prioritizes cultural experiences regardless of whether they have money.  We either have to find a way to get them to reconsider, or find a way to live with a select audience.

April 19, 2011 at 04:25 PM ·

I'd be curious to know what sort of people are asking you this question.

Well, it's your typical government building.  The influx from the public is heavy.  This building caters to licenses, land records, criminal and civil records, court rooms, notaries. etc.  I see attorneys and mostly what I'd refer to as the average working Joe.  I think that's why I'm wondering how much of a role the recession has had in this.

---Ann Marie

April 19, 2011 at 05:59 PM ·

 This raises an interesting point.  Maybe orchestras should do more free concerts, in order to expose more people who would not normally go due to the cost.  Once you have them "hooked" .....


Also, management should all take pay cuts, but don't hold your breath. This is America after all, where the disparity between bosses & workers is higher than anywhere else in the world.  

- And that's how God wants it, you know!   

(If the CEO's take pay cuts, the terrorists win.)

April 19, 2011 at 06:38 PM ·

I think there may be two things (or more) going on.

Some are probably people that like the music, but don't have much budget.

Some are people that are used to the convenience that technology brings; one thing I notice is there are so many free things around, including browsers, music, etc. that it becomes a mindset that if you find the right link, some things can be free. You are that possible link.
Couple this with the reduced expectation that effort is needed to achieve things; with the internet, there are so many options, you can try something, and if it requires much work, you can easily find some other distraction to keep you occupied. There is less need to put forth effort or something of value to achieve happiness.

The second one, in my opinion, is one of the biggest reason people do not support classical music as much as in the past.

I also think that sponsorship is something that requires a level of concept that many don't achieve these days; too many small distractions, it is too easy to not think too deeply but still be successful in some endeavors.

April 19, 2011 at 11:03 PM ·

Philadelphia Orchestra people, I know a few of you, so my heart bleeds. I also know a few in the Cleveland Orchestra, and many more in the Detroit Symphony, so it's been a hard time for me, with these three major orchestras going through hard times. These are some fabulous musicians and players (I recently attended a Philly concert, and also heard a couple of their players on stage in the empty auditorium).

It's rough to see extraordinary talent and skill confronting financial uncertainty. If I owned Microsoft, guess where most of the discretionary "charity" money would be going?

April 20, 2011 at 02:56 AM ·

The good thing is that the United States is, financially speaking, a rather forgiving society. The whole economy is pretty much bankrupt, yet it keeps running and standards of living here remain higher than in the rest of the world. I'm guessing that the board of directors is probably right and the bankruptcy filing won't be the end of the world.

April 20, 2011 at 03:26 AM ·

It doesn't have to be: Chapter 11 bankruptcy isn't liquidation.  It is a way of delaying or reducing debt obligations.  Which doesn't make it good.  One of the obligations that might be up for discussion is the musicians' pension plan.  And even if the musicians aren't the stakeholders hurt the hardest, it's a pretty bad signal to send to your financial supporters.

April 20, 2011 at 06:47 PM ·

When I started playing in orchestras about two centuries ago there were about 70 players and a support staff of about 7. Now orchestras seem to have about 80-90 players and often more, BUT the support staff are about 40!!

Something has gone wrong.

April 20, 2011 at 07:31 PM ·

Some years ago I was invited to join a newish amateur orchestra in my city.  I raised my eyebrows when I started to run out of fingers and toes in counting the cellos and had no hesitation in declining the invitation when I was told the orchestra membership was 100 (and rising).

I am quite happy with my string chamber orchestra numbering 26 players, but wouldn't necessarily say no to a classical orchestra of about double that number.

April 20, 2011 at 07:44 PM ·

Orchestras like the Philadelphia have a long and honored tradition and are simply too important to lose. It's like saying, "Well, I can no longer afford the monthly insurance premium I have to pay to insure the Van Gogh that is the centerpiece of my art collection, so I might as well throw it out." Unfortunately, there are a lot of Van Goghs that are being thrown out in our present economy. I wish I had a good answer to what to do about it.

April 21, 2011 at 01:37 AM ·

Trevor said: "I am quite happy with my string chamber orchestra numbering 26 players, but wouldn't necessarily say no to a classical orchestra of about double that number."

I checked this evening at the Web site of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra -- 30 players on the roster.  I am still in awe of the big symphonic sound this compact group can generate.  Having no conductor -- let alone a star-status one -- undoubtedly saves big time on costs.

The Philly ensemble is, indeed, a remarkable group of players and a venerable institution.  But the market has changed.  I wouldn't be surprised if the future brings us fewer Philly-size orchestras and more Orpheus types.

As I've said before, classical music hasn't died -- not as long as skilled players are willing to go where audiences are in order to share it.  But just as home theater technology has forced traditional film showplaces and cineplexes to give up market share -- likewise, CD, radio, satellite, and You Tube have forced traditional concert halls and recital rooms to move over.  Even dirt-cheap tickets and zero deficits wouldn't reverse this trend.

If performing arts organizations continue to worship at the altar of dying -- or even dead -- traditions, not to mention the altar of stuffy snobbery, it shouldn't surprise us if these institutions, as we've known them, stagnate and die.

Speaking of Orpheus, I've cited this clip before of Josh Bell with the ensemble, playing the Beethoven VC -- a good example of a big sound with a small group.

April 21, 2011 at 06:09 AM ·

 I wonder if these bankruptcy moves by so many professional orchestras are mostly about busting the musicians' union and getting out of all the promises made, over many years. It's disheartening, but disempowering unions seems to be all the rage these days.

April 21, 2011 at 01:20 PM ·

 Yes, but it's more complicated than that. Here is the latest from Peter Dobrin.


April 21, 2011 at 03:40 PM ·

I still have contacts with colleagues in my former career in public school music, and the word is that interest in string instruments has never been higher. There is a music college in my little city that is experiencing record applications over the last five or six years for its string programs with degrees in education and performance. The quality and numbers coming out of the world's professional conservatories has never been higher. The violin and orchestras are becoming hugely popular in China and other Asian countries. The variety and excellence of orchestras at almost any level you care to examine improves annually. The recent YouTube concert in Sydney was seen and heard by more people than any other concert in history.

This morning on this site, I read a post that yet another orchestra has folded. And from reports I've read, not only are orchestra patrons getting fewer, they are getting older. One has to ask, what is going on here? Somewhere in the middle of all these encouraging signs there seems to be something like a black hole that is sucking the life out of the arts.

David B.'s comment made me think about who is actually supporting organizations like symphony orchestras. My suspicion is that many corporate donors support the arts only because it confers tax advantages on them and gains them good will, not because the entire board of directors loves classical music. That could be a big problem. If you look at the younger entrepreneurs and enormously wealthy individuals of the modern technological age, you will find no lack of philanthropy or ingenuity, but look at where these guys are putting their money. They are developing electric cars, futuristic aircraft, space shuttles, new batteries, and similar activities. They are not supporting the arts, it seems. Bill Gates, who has done admirable work combating disease all over the world, perhaps typifies this group by his comment "I am not interested in giving money to opera houses."

More signs than ever that the old model is breaking?

April 21, 2011 at 03:54 PM ·

The Arts are seen merely as entertainment. That is an attitude shift.

April 21, 2011 at 09:11 PM ·

Well, the arts were seen as entertainment long ago. In the early days of opera, the typical opera audience would have resembeled what you would see today at a football or basketball game, snack vendors included. Then we had an attitude shift and eventually we ended up at the other extreme, with Beethoven considering himself an aristocrat because of his artistic gift. Now, as you suggest, maybe the attitude is shifting again. Maybe it will be cyclical...

April 21, 2011 at 10:25 PM ·

 Leopold Mozart used to complain about having to wear livery and eat with the servants. Now we're in a strange position of having elevated musical artists to celebrity status, and yet we are simultaneously (as a culture, I don't mean individually) unwilling to pay for their services.



April 22, 2011 at 08:59 PM ·

 When classical music was most popular there were also not nearly as many electric guitars.



April 22, 2011 at 09:12 PM ·

My observations/opinions...I'm age 51, Last time I went to see the chicago symphony (~4 years ago - pre recession), I felt quite young. Nothing but grey hair as far as the eye could see. For lack of a better term, I think we have a dying audience. The music doesn't appeal to the masses, and new interest isn't being generated.

 In contrast (surprisingly) when I went to see the Chicago Lyric opera company, I'd say average age was ~40. Not what I would expect, and I can't explain what I saw.

Also in chicago we are down to one classical station.

If symphony orchestras are going to survive, the tools they have to work with are:

Find ways to increase sales  by intermix some popular music/broadway music/Movie music and/or expose more people to classical music via free concerts in public domains, advertising, maybe even getting some playing time at "popular concerts", or in the schools. Somehow the general public has to see that there is more to music than the "black eyed peas". As an example....... The high school in our area has 3 orchestras. The kids play alot of classical music, but once in a while they play a movie theme, etc. If you ask them, they like that the best and it shows in their playing .

Cut costs. No one likes to hear about that, but I've lived with it for 10 years now. Any business (and the arts are a business) has to deal with it. I've lost US staff to "low cost center" staff, and have been continuously challenged to figure out how to be more efficient. I don't like it, but it is what it is. What unfortunately this means for an orchestra is less staff. Less administration, less performers, less elaborate "surroundings". Do unions help? I can't see how. It may keep people their jobs for a while, but eventually bad things happen.

Nothing is easy, pleasant, and requires sacrifices, but its all better than walking up to symphony hall ready to go to work, or a concert, and finding the door locked.

April 23, 2011 at 12:10 AM ·

"When classical music was most popular…."

This phrase has so far come up twice in this thread.

Can anyone identify a time when classical music, or Western fine art music, was at its most popular?  I can't.  From the research I've done on the subject, classical audiences have always been a minority.  But, as Don points out, "... there were not nearly as many media supported alternatives" to classical music -- i.e., in decades gone by -- and "not as much media."

Arnie's point: "The music doesn't appeal to the masses, and new interest isn't being generated."

The first part of this, that it doesn't appeal to the masses, echoes my point above -- about classical audiences being a minority.

But the second part -- about new interest not being generated -- I wonder: Could it be that the new interest is actually there but that more of the younger listeners are doing what I do -- and I'm far from alone -- namely, skipping the concert hall and, instead, exploring more of this music via CD, radio, satellite, and You Tube?

And the increased enrollment in string programs all the way through university level definitely tells us something -- although, violin being highly versatile, players' interests are far from exclusively fine arts oriented.

BTW, Arnie, I agree with your points about musical program intermixing, free concerts, playing at schools, cost-cutting, less-elaborate surroundings, less staff, less administration -- and unions.  I am not the union-buster type, but I was never especially union-friendly, either, even during the two union jobs I held early in my career.  Sigh.  "Quarrels never could last long, if on one side only lay the wrong."

April 23, 2011 at 03:55 AM ·

Some of the answers as to why the Philadelphia Orchestra and others are in the dire economic conditions they are in can be found in Norman Lebrecht's "Who Killed Classical Music".  Those of you who have read the book know what I mean. As to what can be done now to ensure a long-term revival of classical music in America, an important area would be education of the young starting in the elementary schools.  There may be cynical reactions among you to this suggestion but it's better to light one candle than to curse the darkness. Sure, school budgets have been cut and programs dropped.  But in the years that I was an ESL teacher in the USA and abroad, I used classical music as an integral part of many lessons I taught.  My efforts were especially effective in the primary grades in elementary schools.  I've shared my methods with other teachers who have used and found them effective too.  Here in the Phoenix area the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra can do a better job in reaching out to the youth here than they are now doing.  This orchestra is also fighting for its life in these economic times but it should use some of its energies to do more in establishing the long-term health of the orchestra and classical music for the future through a collaboration with public education..  




April 23, 2011 at 05:33 AM ·

"People in general do not like classical music. … I do not find classical music all that memorable and I think I have a lot of company."

Don, from what I've read, you are in the majority; and yet I don't think that most people have a natural, inborn dislike for this music.  I'm quite sure it's the result of conditioning.  A child can take to this music quite easily -- if not conditioned against it.

My experience bears this out.  My parents regularly played classical music at home via recordings and radio before I began preschool.  To me, hearing it felt as normal as walking and breathing.  I loved it -- without any music appreciation courses.  All I needed was to hear the music.  I sought out the books on the subject myself when I was ready.

In Josh Bell's mock-busking experiment, the kids at the Metro wanted to stop and listen.  My own experience of playing for kids corroborates this -- see Buri's input in the thread regarding children's love of Bach's music.

Spero, thank you for mentioning the Lebrecht book.  I haven't read it yet but would like very much to do so; you've definitely piqued my interest.

"… in the years that I was an ESL teacher … I used classical music as an integral part of many lessons I taught.  My efforts were especially effective in the primary grades in elementary schools."

This further backs up what I'm saying.  I was fortunate enough to have heard this music at home before I started school; but for pupils who aren't so fortunate, there are creative ways -- like yours, for instance -- to disseminate the music -- despite all the budget-cutting.

April 23, 2011 at 01:29 PM ·


Some thoughts on the matter... I have been reflecting for a while, and observing things quietly, so... Someone raised the question: You know this has really got me wondering....are the orchestras in trouble because of poor management - poor advertising - poor public relations?

I think that there is some of all of it.  The first and foremost is how people entertain themselves.  With so many things one can do at home in this day and age, people just don't go out as much as they used to.  Secondly, poor management is certainly the case in some places where the management is too large and too cost heavy.  The market crash of 2008 pulverized endowments in a quick span of time, some of which took lifetimes to build.  Since most institutes for the arts relied on these, then without revenue from this, maintaining things is hard.  Cost of instruments (which are working tools), and too many scandals have also taken their toll.

Also, and many people won't like me for saying this, I think that the musicians are to blame as well.  With squabbles among musicians (some very public and in the media...), unsmiling faces on stage, do people really think that such a destructive attitude is likely to attract an audience and maintain it?

I think that it is not just any one factor.  But, if you were to ask me how it can be changed, I would say this.  Get rid of/stop anything that causes destructive feelings first: in some orchestras, misguided conductors (administrations should not protect such individuals...), useless squabbling, orchestra bitching (unless there is a real problem), and obsessive perfectionism.  Rather, excellence (not perfection) should be the goal at all times, from all sides.  People need to work together on stage because it is their passion.  People in the audience and the musicians need to feel that they are all mutually happy to be there to share an experience together at all times.  Dealers can help us in making our working tools affordable (I am not talking here of most contemporary makers, just to be clear who are doing us a great service - I could go endlessly on this).  By the same token, musicians attitudes regarding the true worth of instruments: in the end all that matters is sound since that is our job.  And most importantly, we are there to communicate the music to our audience always.

If this does not change, then believe it or not, I think that people are unfortunately collecting the karma that they have sown and will continue to do so until it changes.  It is a collective effort and everyone has to work together.  The question is really: what do people want to communicate as a message?  Because in the end, no matter what you do, that is what comes across.

My own two cents on the matter...

April 23, 2011 at 02:55 PM ·


I'm not a performing musician, I'm an audience member, so I can't speak to backstage events at all. However I fully agree that the "karma" issue is big. As an audience member you obviously want to hear what you personally consider good music, however you want to be entertained, and a huge part of that is watching the performers enjoy themselves. You want to see smiles on their faces, you want to head amusing anecdotes from the conductor. Christopher Hogwood was great at this. Before each piece, he'd describe how the composer stole the music from so and so, who stole it from someone else. Another example is Watching Yo Yo Ma perform. Obviously the musician-ship is first rate, additionally he always has a smile on his face. He clearly enjoys what he's doing.

April 24, 2011 at 02:20 AM ·

I certainly agree with Jim Hastings in that being exposed to classical music in one's formative years and it being presented by parents in a positive way means all the difference in the world. It's the modeling behavior done by parents and teachers that is the key. In my childhood home this was not the case as classical music was not known by my Greek parents. But my mother exposed me to her love of music by sometimes singing the Greek Orthodox “troparia” that she learned as a child in her native Greece. She knew them all by heart showing a marvelous musical memory and I later realized I had inherited this ability in musical memory too.

Listening to the radio at home was the principal form of entertainment for me in my youth and I was introduced to classical music on radio stations while listening late in the evening with my earphones on using my Hallicrafters S-53A receiver connected to a simple outdoor wire antenna. I vividly remember one special night tuned to WMAQ's 50,000 watts radio station when they played Lili Boulanger's haunting Pie Jesu from the Everest LP record containing this and other works by her. This work and other works heard on late-night radio contributed greatly toward my feeling for classical music.

I also agree with Christian on the various factors that have contributed to the decline of interest in classical music and the poor attendance at concerts. I agree with him when he said “People need to work together on stage because it is their passion.  People in the audience and the musicians need to feel that they are all mutually happy to be there to share an experience together at all times.”

There is one place where I know that this passion for music is felt by the audience, the members of the orchestra and the conductor. That place is in Los Angeles where the Philharmonic there is led by the dynamic Gustavo Dudamel who exhibits the infectious enthusiasm and passion for music that flows into the audience and greater Los Angeles. The imaginative programming that's evident there certainly helps too. The current outreach into the community is no doubt a strong element in the Philharmonic's success. Dudamel's success in the Venezuelan music program and its youth orchestra certainly was a major factor in his being brought to the Philhamonic. The management behind the Philharmonic is obviously making the right moves too. I felt this passion while attending concerts in Europe, especially the one I attended a few years ago in Amsterdam at a Concertegbouw concert.

Arnie spoke positively about Christopher Hogwood and agreed that “karma” is a big factor. Certainly Dudamel has it in spades, Leonard Bernstein had it and so do a handful of other conductors. It seems that this kind of charismatic conductor is needed to breathe economic hope into failing orchestras. Certainly Fritz Reiner, Karl Bohm and a long list of old-time traditional types of conductors were excellent but it's evident to me that the current economic situation demands different leadership. But as I spoke in a previous posting, the combined efforts of outreaching community orchestras and public education is the key to the long-term revival of classical music  I for one would be willing to pass on to others my experience using classical music in an elementary school setting.  Perhaps some national project could be formed into which I and other teachers could contribute their successful ideas.  Does anyone know of such a project?

April 24, 2011 at 03:43 AM ·

If you google around, there is a fair bit of info on Venezuela's "El Sistema" that is a comprehensive blend between music and elementary education.   New England Conservatory trains fellows to bring this to schools (a 1-year program), and among others, the Conservatory Lab Charter School in Boston has taken a few graduating fellows on.

April 26, 2011 at 04:24 AM ·

The Philadelphia Orchestra is so well recorded and their records are sold worldwide, I doubt financial trouble is simply a US public problem.  

Philadelphia has always been a model of orchestral sound, I hope they recover without lasting repercussions.  

I don't think it's as simple as saying classical music is dying.  The sale of recorded music (of all genres?) is falling worldwide (as used CDs become more easily accessable through the internet?). 

As for how memorable classical music is, who has heard Beethovens 5th, 9th, 3rd, etc. and not remembered it for the rest of their lives?  Mozart symphony no. 39, Bach's Tocatta and Fugue, Schubert's Ave Maria, Brahms Symphony no. 2, Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker, Wagner's Flight of the Valkyries, Mendelssohn's Wedding March, etc. are all ingrained in the public ear.  

Not to mention the romantic movie soundtracks like Schindler's List, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, etc.


Something we should all find fun.  

April 26, 2011 at 01:02 PM ·

 time to get money from big outfits to underwrite the operation.

Facebook Philadelphia Orchestra.  

April 26, 2011 at 10:41 PM ·

time to get money from big outfits to underwrite the operation.

Facebook Philadelphia Orchestra

You want a worthless outfit like Facebook to support something of worth like an Orchestra?

And what about all that so-called money they have:: 


Its too bad that the orchestra oldtimers that the financialization types want to run out the door didn't ditch their worthless fiat dollars for a real currency: 


April 27, 2011 at 01:57 AM ·

"Its too bad that the orchestra oldtimers that the financialization types want to run out the door didn't ditch their worthless fiat dollars for a real currency: "

And it's too bad that no financial adviser I'm familiar with has a crystal ball. The silver market too has had its ups and downs.

April 27, 2011 at 04:03 AM ·

...ups and downs

Past 10 year trend is DOWN in the DXY

Past 10 year trend is UP in Silver

You're absolutely right, David. 

April 29, 2011 at 01:04 AM ·

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