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Monday, April 18, 2011

Once Fabulous, Now Bankrupt

The Philadelphia Orchestra Board Files Chapter 11

Poster art for the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Image © Milton Glaser.
The big (if awful) news in music this weekend was the announcement that the Philadelphia Orchestra's board has elected to file Chapter 11 and begin bankruptcy proceedings. This decision follows a week of concerts where musicians lobbied against the decision, even staging a "play-in" impromptu concert in protest.

Philadelphia is one of the premium American orchestras, a member of the elite cadre known informally as the "Big Five." (The others are the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic.) It rose to fame thanks to a series of great music directors (including Eugene Ormandy and Riccardo Muti) and a distinct "Philadelphia Sound", a rounded, warm tone that permeates their performances.

This announcement comes hard on the heels of the decision by the Pew Charitable Trusts to not participate in the band's fiscal reorganization. Pew has long been a major fiscal contributor to the orchestra.

The orchestra is the first major American orchestra to engage in such a filing. The board's decision comes despite the band having a $140 million endowment. Orchestra personnel are worried that the filing may negate their pensions, and cause the best players in the ensemble to seek positions with other orchestras. Also, the board has announced a new fundraising effort in addition to the restructuring process.

The economic collapse of 2008 and the end of steady recording contracts with the classical music industry have combined to make this a difficult time for classical music. Unlike their European counterparts, American orchestras are almost entirely dependent on donations and subscriptions for their continued survival.

The decision does not affect the orchestra's imminent concert schedule, which includes a May 3 appearance at Carnegie Hall.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.