Orchestra Musicians Vow to Keep on Playing

By Tamara deMent
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 7 | Posted Apr. 27, 2011

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While the Philadelphia Orchestra’s bankruptcy proceedings have caused much grief and consternation among Orchestra members and fans, senior players in the Orchestra have thicker skin than the headlines lead on. Some retiring members, who fear hefty cuts to their pensions—should Judge Eric L. Frank rule in favor of bankruptcy—are resolute to rescind on their retirement agreements and play on.

“They’re not keeping their promise, why should I keep mine?” says trumpet player Roger Blackburn, a 37-year member of the Orchestra. “They don’t care about the people making the music, they only care about the bottom line.”

Last Saturday, the Orchestra’s board of directors voted to file for Chapter 11, despite opposition on the part of the musicians. It is the first major Orchestra to do so.

“It’s disappointing,” Blackburn says. “I never thought this would ever happen.”

Blackburn, who fears his pension will be decreased by 30 percent if the court rules in favor of bankruptcy, may revoke his retirement, which was scheduled for September.

During the first court hearing last Wednesday, the organization’s attorney, Lawrence McMichael, cited the Orchestra’s “enormous” pension obligations as one of the factors in the organization’s fiscal woes. But longtime Orchestra members like 91-year-old violinist Jerome Wigler say the Orchestra’s board is to blame.

The reason the Orchestra is in financial trouble is the board haven’t done their job, which is to raise funds, he says. “We’re the employees of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Our job is to play, and we do a great job.”

Wigler, one of several musicians who were asked to retire early in exchange for a sum of money—in his case, $80,000—is also thinking of rescinding on his retirement contract.

The bankruptcy claim is a ploy, he says, it “has to do with getting rid of pensions.”

The Orchestra also stated that declining ticket sales as one of the leading causes behind the Orchestra’s financial strife. Wigler disagrees with this assessment.

“The Orchestra is a charitable organization,” he says. “It doesn’t really make money on concerts. It makes money by funding. They’re supposed to raise funds.”

Furthermore, Wigler says, “the Orchestra is not bankrupt. They have money.” But the board has “misused the funds. So a great famous orchestra [is] just literally run into the ground.”

Former concertmaster Norman Carol agrees and recalls a statement made by the famous Italian conductor Riccardo Muti while he was the musical director of the Philadelphia Orchestra from 1980 to 1992.

“He was the first one to say that the musicians do not work for the administration,” he says. “The board and the administration work for the musicians.”

Though this is the first time the Orchestra has filed for Chapter 11, older members of the Orchestra say this certainly doesn’t mark the first time that the musicians have been in opposition with the board.

As a person who has spent a lifetime playing for the Orchestra, Wigler—who has played in the orchestra for 60 years—is no stranger to friction with the board of directors.

“We’ve had many strikes. This is nothing new with us,” he says, recalling a strike the Orchestra had in 1962, which resulted in its first 52-week season. “We’ve always had conflicts … with the board.”

Wigler was part of the original committee that formed the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians, which “changed the lives of musicians everywhere.”

Before 1962, he explained, the Orchestra’s season only lasted a half a year, “and then you’d have to go out and find jobs.”

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Comments 1 - 7 of 7
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1. pete said... on Apr 27, 2011 at 02:49PM

“High European culture is not appreciated
anymore, so why should anyone be surprised
that the orchestra is not bringing in listeners?

It's not about money, it's about a culture which
is passing away.

Let the orchestra go, and put on your head
phones. Listen to a decent version of any
one of the great symphonies in private, over
and over again.

Philly's orchestra is a treasure, but there will
be no one left who really appreciates the
greatness of classical European culture.
Most of those people will be dead in the
next 20 years.

Interesting as well that the Curtis Institute
is building a new wing and in a few decades
there will be no orchestras or ensembles
which will hire graduates.

Junk culture has consumed old Europe like
it consumed painting, sculpture, and film.

Let it go and move on.”

Report Violation

2. Susan said... on Apr 27, 2011 at 10:13PM

“Nothing can ever beat the sound of a live orchestra playing. No matter how good a recording is it can never recreate the same sound and emotion that a live orchestra can. I have been taking my children to the Philadelphia orchestra's children's concerts and I am certain that they will grow up expecting there to be an orchestra around for them to listen to and enjoy.”

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3. JAKE said... on Apr 28, 2011 at 10:03AM

“the legal, public relations and accounting costs will be higher than the 25 million they have to put into the pension fund. and these are the bightest and most prominent philadelphians?”

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4. NYMike said... on Apr 28, 2011 at 11:44AM

“"Let it go and move on.”
In that case, let's close all museums (with many old European paintings), libraries (Shakespeare,etc.) and all other institutions, as the USA descends into a cultural abyss. What an idiotic attitude!

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5. Anonymous said... on Apr 28, 2011 at 12:31PM

“Most board members are just that: bored members who know or care little about classical music and still less about the musicians who make it.

What they do love is the honor and recognition of having their names associated with a high-level cultural institution.

None of the musicians is fooled.”

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6. SF Herb said... on Apr 28, 2011 at 02:01PM

“A crying shame that the communicative art of music should be rendered lifeless in the blind quest of the bottom line. A world class orchestra suffers at the collective hands of low class administration.
Can a new dark ages be far behind?”

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7. pete said... on Apr 29, 2011 at 06:28PM

“Once again my excessive negativity
has caused me to comment in a way
that I regret.

I just can't help it.

Hatred has taken over my life.

I pray that God will give me some
sunshine in my heart someday”


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