Philly in Trouble Again

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Modernistfan
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Philly in Trouble Again

Post by Modernistfan » Mon Nov 23, 2015 4:14 pm

A recent piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer indicates that the Philadelphia Orchestra is sliding back into serious financial trouble. This is all despite the supposed "buzz" around the music director, Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Attendance has been falling sharply, donations have also fallen off considerably, and the orchestra is building up a major deficit again with no clear plans to get out of it. Nézet-Séguin is being paid over $500,000 a year, and some commentators are saying that that is not enough. The totally useless and incompetent CEO, Ms. Allison Vulgamore, is making over $600,000 per year.

As usual, the same remedies are being touted, especially pushing the orchestra away from performing major classical repertoire, including music of our time, toward pops and having the orchestra back popular artists.

This story will be repeated in city after city unless serious steps are taken to cut costs, including administrative costs (bye-bye, Ms. Vulgamore; you will not be missed), revitalize the repertoire, get younger people motivated to attend concerts, and tie the orchestra much more closely to the intellectual life of the community.

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Re: Philly in Trouble Again

Post by Agnes Selby » Mon Nov 23, 2015 4:25 pm

Modernistfan wrote:A recent piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer indicates that the Philadelphia Orchestra is sliding back into serious financial trouble. This is all despite the supposed "buzz" around the music director, Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Attendance has been falling sharply, donations have also fallen off considerably, and the orchestra is building up a major deficit again with no clear plans to get out of it. Nézet-Séguin is being paid over $500,000 a year, and some commentators are saying that that is not enough. The totally useless and incompetent CEO, Ms. Allison Vulgamore, is making over $600,000 per year.

As usual, the same remedies are being touted, especially pushing the orchestra away from performing major classical repertoire, including music of our time, toward pops and having the orchestra back popular artists.

This story will be repeated in city after city unless serious steps are taken to cut costs, including administrative costs (bye-bye, Ms. Vulgamore; you will not be missed), revitalize the repertoire, get younger people motivated to attend concerts, and tie the orchestra much more closely to the intellectual life of the community.
-----------------

Oh, this really hurts. Not again!!! For 10 years of our stay in Philadelphia, the orchestra
was one of the highlights of our life in America!

Regards,
Agnes,

Modernistfan
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Re: Philly in Trouble Again

Post by Modernistfan » Mon Nov 23, 2015 4:30 pm

Yes, again.

I repeat my prediction that, unless changes of this sort are made, within 20 years, there will be no more than five full-time professional symphony orchestras on the current model left in the United States. Public subsidy is not forthcoming and will not save these orchestras.

John F
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Re: Philly in Trouble Again

Post by John F » Mon Nov 23, 2015 5:32 pm

Modernistfan wrote:Nézet-Séguin is being paid over $500,000 a year
That's dirt cheap for the music director of one of America's finest and most famous orchestras. Luring him away at the end of his contract, or even before, may be easy, especially if the orchestra threatens to go broke again.
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Re: Philly in Trouble Again

Post by Modernistfan » Mon Nov 23, 2015 6:09 pm

Well, most of the American orchestras for whom, according to the prevailing wage scales, such a salary would be considered "dirt cheap" are likely to be going under with Philly. The blunt fact is that, for all of the so-called buzz, and for all of the (mostly) good reviews, Nézet-Séguin, like Osmo Vänskä in Minnesota, has shown himself completely incapable of reversing the long-term audience decline for these orchestras. Throw in the fact that Nézet-Séguin has shown markedly little interest in contemporary music (and I am not talking about crossover or pops). These conductors cannot relate to their communities or assist their orchestras in contributing to the intellectual life of their communities. It would make little or no difference if he were replaced by local talent at one-half or one-third of his salary.

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Re: Philly in Trouble Again

Post by John F » Mon Nov 23, 2015 7:39 pm

How would you reverse the decline in audiences by programming more contemporary music, but avoiding crossover or pops? Each of these seems to me more likely to accelerate the decline.
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Re: Philly in Trouble Again

Post by Modernistfan » Mon Nov 23, 2015 10:02 pm

It can be done. James Levine did it when he was in Boston (unfortunately, all too briefly) and Michael Tilson Thomas has done it in San Francisco. When Levine was in Boston, the students, who had all but stopped attending during the somnolent final years of the Ozawa regime, returned in force, yes, to hear Wuorinen, Carter and Babbitt. Go to the universities, of which Philadelphia has quite a few, and make contact with the faculty and the students (especially in the sciences and medicine; many people involved in those disciplines have a great affinity for classical music, especially contemporary). If the snobs feel aggrieved at some 22-year-old in jeans sitting next to them and having paid less for his or her ticket, let them scuttle back to their restricted country clubs.

Risky? Yes. But staying stubbornly in the middle of the road means a slow death. It's like a football team trailing 42-6 early in the third quarter. You can't make up the deficit by running off-tackle plays for four yards. You have to go for it.

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Re: Philly in Trouble Again

Post by jbuck919 » Tue Nov 24, 2015 12:09 am

John F wrote:
Modernistfan wrote:Nézet-Séguin is being paid over $500,000 a year
That's dirt cheap for the music director of one of America's finest and most famous orchestras. Luring him away at the end of his contract, or even before, may be easy, especially if the orchestra threatens to go broke again.
Yes, but mod-fan's point is that an administrator is making much more. I don't know the situation in Philadelphia, but I do know that the corporate model is corrupting just about everything in the US, starting with higher education. Also, as has been brought out in at least one other thread, even conductors/music directors are now buying into that model to fatten their wallets.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: Philly in Trouble Again

Post by John F » Tue Nov 24, 2015 3:48 am

Modernistfan wrote:It can be done. James Levine did it when he was in Boston
To the contrary, according to friends in Boston: Levine's programming of Schoenberg, Wuorinen and Babbitt resulted in empty seats, a rarity in Symphony Hall. Maybe some music students went, if they could get cheap tickets (which doesn't help the bottom line), but my own experience as an undergraduate in that neck of the woods, including what I myself did and didn't do at a time when classical music had more of an American following than it does now, make me doubt that there was any broader appeal to the young. I would need to know the orchestra's box office statistics show before I'd accept that claim.
Modernistfan wrote:Michael Tilson Thomas has done it in San Francisco.
With what repertoire and what accountable results in attendance and revenue? I've no contacts out there to tell me what's what. But I see in the orchestra's calendar that after conducting the opening week, MTT has gone until March, when he will return to conduct a grand total of nine programs. He can hardly exercise his vauted charisma when he's not there, and guest conductors are conducting programs of their choice, not his. Again, box office statistics, please.
Modernistfan wrote:Go to the universities, of which Philadelphia has quite a few, and make contact with the faculty and the students (especially in the sciences and medicine; many people involved in those disciplines have a great affinity for classical music, especially contemporary).
I know, or knew, Philadelphia pretty well, having gone to school there a couple of years - it was my father's home town during the Stokowski years - and again, I wonder whether you're speaking from verifiable personal experience or just thinking wishfully. Frankly I don't believe it.
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Re: Philly in Trouble Again

Post by Ricordanza » Tue Nov 24, 2015 6:53 am

As a 15+ year subscriber to the Philadelphia Orchestra, I read with great interest the article in question in the Inquirer. The writer, Peter Dobrin, has had several articles along the same lines; so this was, essentially, an update. What's the answer? Dobrin has offered some ideas in an earlier article (if I can find it, I'll provide a link here). I don't think there's a single answer, but a combination of strategies. But while I certainly favor boosting attendance, the fact of the matter is that ticket sales alone will never be enough to support the Philadelphians or any other American orchestra.

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Re: Philly in Trouble Again

Post by maestrob » Tue Nov 24, 2015 1:39 pm

Actually, ticket sales rarely account for more than 1/3 of revenue for a particular concert: a model that leads to disaster when contributions are down, as is the case in Philadelphia. Nezet-Seguin is a magnificent conductor: the fact that he's working for $500,000 is amazing to me. He's worth twice that.

The Philadelphia is a great orchestra: if attendance is down, it's not Nezet-Seguin's fault, but the fault is in our culture, which no longer reveres classical music.

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Re: Philly in Trouble Again

Post by Ricordanza » Tue Nov 24, 2015 8:53 pm

Ricordanza wrote: What's the answer? Peter Dobrin has offered some ideas in an earlier article (if I can find it, I'll provide a link here).
Here's the earlier article. I think that some of Dobrin's ideas make sense:

http://www.philly.com/philly/entertainm ... uture.html

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Re: Philly in Trouble Again

Post by maestrob » Wed Nov 25, 2015 12:23 pm

Good article. Thank you. As a former Philadelphian who grew up on Ormandy/Stokowski, $200 million should be more than manageable: here in NY, David Geffen just contributed $100 million to rename Avery Fisher Hall. Why couldn't Philadelphia do the same?

Given the right director (and I firmly support Nezet-Seguin), the orchestra is still great, and in its new hall, no wonder the sound has changed (I'm sure that the famous Philadelphia Sound was simply an adaptation to the dry acoustics of the Academy of Music).

Attendance is another matter. Back in High School, our music department at Radnor gave out free balcony tickets to interested students (myself included): this kind of program is vital to a future subscriber base, does it continue?

The Philadelphia is a great orchestra. Long may it continue.

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Re: Philly in Trouble Again

Post by jbuck919 » Wed Nov 25, 2015 5:10 pm

maestrob wrote:Attendance is another matter. Back in High School, our music department at Radnor gave out free balcony tickets to interested students (myself included): this kind of program is vital to a future subscriber base, does it continue?
I also attended my first New York Philharmonic performance as a teenager because of their free ticket program. This was a very ordinary public school at the outer reaches of reasonable transportation to New York. Even nerds and geeks born to this appreciation (such as I was) will not become future patrons without the offer of opportunities.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: Philly in Trouble Again

Post by Ricordanza » Thu Nov 26, 2015 8:06 am

maestrob wrote:Good article. Thank you. As a former Philadelphian who grew up on Ormandy/Stokowski, $200 million should be more than manageable: here in NY, David Geffen just contributed $100 million to rename Avery Fisher Hall. Why couldn't Philadelphia do the same?
I keep buying Megamillions and Powerball tickets. When I hit the big one, the Philadelphians will have their benefactor. But I don't want naming rights...not my style. :wink:
Attendance is another matter. Back in High School, our music department at Radnor gave out free balcony tickets to interested students (myself included): this kind of program is vital to a future subscriber base, does it continue?
There's a similar program for college students today. There may be nominal cost for the tickets, but they are available that evening only. The way it works is that after the regular ticket holders find their seats, a parade of college students enters Verizon Hall and the ushers direct them to empty seats. Will this lead at least some of those students to attend concerts in the future as regular ticket buyers? That's one of many questions about the future of this orchestra.

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Re: Philly in Trouble Again

Post by John F » Thu Nov 26, 2015 11:06 am

The New York Philharmonic sells same-day rush seats, usually in the orchestra, to students and senior citizens. Used to be $15, now I believe it's $17. Not available when the hall sells out at the regular price, but that seldom happens - which of course is a problem.
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Re: Philly in Trouble Again

Post by Modernistfan » Thu Sep 08, 2016 3:09 pm

Negotiations are now at an impasse. The musicians' union is whining that salaries have not kept up with Boston and that management's proposal would force them to play too many Sunday concerts. Waaaah!! It doesn't look good. When the coroner finally gives his report on what killed the American symphony orchestra, the American Federation of Musicians will definitely be in there (not alone, of course, certainly along with "administrators" such as Ms. Vulgamore).

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Re: Philly in Trouble Again

Post by John F » Thu Sep 08, 2016 3:25 pm

They certainly haven't learned their lesson, have they? By the way, the cost of living in Boston is 4th highest in American cities; Philadelphia is 9th.
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Re: Philly in Trouble Again

Post by mikealdren » Sat Sep 10, 2016 4:01 am

Are conductors really worth $500k+? If the orchestras are dying who will pay them that in the future, especially if they don't attract the audiences.

The highest paid stars that attract the big fees do so by filling halls (Lang Lang, YoYo Ma, Fleming, Netrebko, DiDonato, Kaufmann, Bartoli etc). As far as I can see, few conductors really achieve this on a regular basis.

Rules of the free market will apply here.

Mike

Modernistfan
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Re: Philly in Trouble Again

Post by Modernistfan » Sat Sep 10, 2016 11:12 am

My point exactly. These orchestras will have to find a more sustainable economic model or die. I also don't believe that the "superstars" of the ilk of Itzchak Perlman or Yo-Yo Ma mailing in performances of warhorses they have played 500 times either economically justify their very high fees as soloists or do anything to build a future audience. (And PLEEEZE do not get me started on Lang Lang--I would rather hear the panda Ling Ling play the piano.)

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Re: Philly in Trouble Again

Post by maestrob » Sat Sep 10, 2016 11:56 am

mikealdren wrote:Are conductors really worth $500k+? If the orchestras are dying who will pay them that in the future, especially if they don't attract the audiences.

The highest paid stars that attract the big fees do so by filling halls (Lang Lang, YoYo Ma, Fleming, Netrebko, DiDonato, Kaufmann, Bartoli etc). As far as I can see, few conductors really achieve this on a regular basis.

Rules of the free market will apply here.

Mike
Hi, Mike.

Unfortunately, the rules of the free market do not apply here, or anywhere else in the classical music concert world. Ticket sales only account for 1/3 of the revenue of any particular concert. The balance is made up from donors' pockets. If those donors are dropping away, as the article implies, and the flow of donations pulls the rug out from under, no amount of audience support will save the orchestra. The unions know this and are acting accordingly. Donors rule the roost here, and have for some time.

Nezet-Seguin is easily worth $1 million on the open market now that he has held the Philly position, and I'm sure the MET will compensate him accordingly.

Just for the record, the highest paid maestro in America is Eschenbach, who leads the National Symphony Orchestra.

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Re: Philly in Trouble Again

Post by John F » Sat Sep 10, 2016 2:05 pm

It's pointless to ask whether an artist is "worth" what people are willing to pay him or her. How would you calculate the cash value of his work? Was Van Gogh's life work only worth what he received for the single painting he was able to sell, or was it worth what the same painting would fetch at auction today? The "free market" has valued "Portrait of Dr. Gachet" from worthless in 1890 to $150 million in 1990. That's what happens when you try to set a price on something that is literally priceless.

The most one can say is that the orchestra believes its music director is worth no less than what they have contractually agreed to pay him (or, rarely, her) and what he/she has agreed to accept in exchange for his/her services and his/her name. The New York Philharmonic pays Alan Gilbert, hardly a celebrity conductor, more than all but three other American orchestras pay theirs - more than the Los Angeles Philharmonic pays Gustavo Dudamel or the Cleveland Orchestra pays Franz Welser-Moest. This makes sense to the Philharmonic or they wouldn't do it. Whether it makes sense to thee or me simply doesn't count.
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Re: Philly in Trouble Again

Post by mikealdren » Sat Sep 10, 2016 3:59 pm

My point is that I don't believe that the current situation is sustainable and sooner or later the bubble will burst, there isn't enough money in the system to pay these exorbitant fees, publicists and managers have managed to maintain the levels for far to long, it can't last.

It would be interesting to see what would happen in Philly if the money men say no more for the conductor - would a top class conductor take on the good orchestra for a lower rate and accept the challenge of building up the audiences? Literally performance related pay.

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Re: Philly in Trouble Again

Post by Modernistfan » Sat Sep 10, 2016 6:00 pm

It cannot last, especially in the United States where there is no public support for classical music as there is in much of Europe, the educational system, in thrall to science and to specious multiculturalism, ignores it (despite the fact that there is absolutely no conflict between the sciences and the arts and many well-known scientists and medical professionals are classical music enthusiasts--think of Albert Einstein) and the culture has become incredibly hostile to anything deemed "elitist" (and in American parlance, "elitism" now refers to subject matter deemed too difficult or intellectual, rather than its former connotations of money, social privilege, and exclusivity, often on the basis of religion or ethnicity).

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Re: Philly in Trouble Again

Post by John F » Sat Sep 10, 2016 6:41 pm

mikealdren wrote:It would be interesting to see what would happen in Philly if the money men say no more for the conductor - would a top class conductor take on the good orchestra for a lower rate and accept the challenge of building up the audiences? Literally performance related pay.
No way. Why should he compromise his career for the sake of an organization whose key artistic decisions have been made or constrained by "money men"? Many orchestras, not just in America but all over the world, would willingly pay him on the same scale as they do other conductors. You'd only get conductors who are not experienced or good enough for a major post.

Occasionally a top conductor will create a new orchestra, as Daniel Barenboim has with the West-East Divan Orchestra, whose raison d'etre is political as much as or more than artistic, but only as a sideline for a couple of months a year - his main job is as music director of the Berlin State Opera and the State Orchestra. Likewise, Claudio Abbado founded the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, but his main job was music director of the Berlin Philharmonic. Pierre Boulez founded the Ensemble InterContemporain, but his big paycheck still came from the New York Philharmonic.

The music director's salary doesn't make or break the finances of an orchestra with a budget in the tens of millions. And there's probably no one choice that the managers of an orchestra can make that will affect its fortunes for better or worse than its music director, both in attracting audiences and at least as important, attracting financial supporters - not to mention his impact on the orchestra's artistic direction and quality. That's how musical organizations differ from other non-profits like hospitals and libraries. Where art is concerned, artists are the main draw.
Modernistfan wrote:in the United States where there is no public support for classical music
If by "public support" you mean government subsidy, there is indeed very little here, though it isn't zero. But if "public support" means support by the public, that's simply not true. Just one such organization, the Metropolitan Opera, was supported by its public to the tune of $150 million in donations in the 2014-5 season alone. We can only guess at the total of such support for American orchestras, opera companies, and other classical music organizations, venues, and presenters; my guess is that it could easily exceed $1 billion a year. And this is in a country which in many ways is philistine; hence the elimination of arts education in many of its public schools. Fortunately America is populous and rich enough so that the voluntary philanthropy of a relative few can make up for the involuntary tax dollars of the many.
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Re: Philly in Trouble Again

Post by Chalkperson » Sun Sep 11, 2016 1:31 am

i completely agree with john f, sorry mike, its supply and demand, plus gross mismanagement by the money men.
Sent via Twitter by @chalkperson

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Re: Philly in Trouble Again

Post by John F » Sun Sep 11, 2016 3:40 am

Hi Chalky - it's good to see you joining in.

There are always doomsayers about any institution or practice you can think of, classical music included. Cf. Norman Lebrecht. But the doomsayers are almost never right. In America, marginal professional orchestras and opera companies come and go, but the major ones are still here after more than a century of cultural and economic ups and downs. People give money not just because they love the art, but because they are proud to be seen as philanthropists associated with a classy organization - and even in America, few things are as classy as a major art museum or symphony orchestra. No doubt civic pride also comes into play - cities that lack arts organizations are perceived as being of a lower class than those which possess them. For that matter, corporations don't base their HQ in an arts-free zone.

Even when a local symphony orchestra goes out of business, it is often replaced by a new one. When I was traveling for W.W. Norton, I attended concerts by the Denver Symphony Orchestra, the Phoenix Symphony, and the Oklahoma City Symphony. Hey, I had to take whatever classical music I could get. :) It's easy to look down your nose at someting called the Oklahoma City Symphony Orchestra, but the concert I attended featured Jacqueline Du Pre playing the Dvorak concerto. Two of those orchestras no longer exist, but Denver and Oklahoma City weren't long without their own orchestras: Denver now has the Colorado Symphony; Oklahoma City has the OK City Philharmonic. Both play seasons of about the same length and level of artistic ambition as their predecessors.

There are exceptions, most conspicuously New York City Opera, killed by appalling mismanagement, which is surely gone forever. Its brand name survives but the opera company behind the name amounts to a resurrected DiCapo Opera. Amato Opera's 61-year run ended with the retirement of its founder and guiding spirit Tony Amato. But these are special cases. By and large, when a professional orchestra or opera company of any size and reputation gets into financial shallow water, it doesn't go under for good. This couldn't possibly be so if, as the prophets of doom proclaim, classical music in America is on its last legs.
John Francis

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