Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Classical music links: Detroit reaches out and Philadelphia risks $50 million

Has Philly risked $50m by filing for bankruptcy? Appears so.
By Barry Johnson

We have made our bed, and now we must sleep in it. I'm cliche-ing about the ongoing situations of two major American symphony orchestra, the Detroit Symphony and the Philadelphia Orchestra, about which we've written at length in the past. Their situations are different -- Detroit is coming back to life after a toxic strike and Philadelphia recently filed for bankruptcy, an action that is still open to interpretation and one that may have repercussions the board hasn't considered.

The Detroit Symphony goes suburban: Although the story doesn't say so, Detroit's striking musicians played a few concerts outside Detroit's city limits -- where the vast majority of Detroit metro population can be found. Continuing to connect to the existing classical music fan base in the suburbs and proselytizing among the uncommitted extends that idea. Another story talks about music director Leonard Slatkin's programming for the 2011-2012 season, which may or may not have an impact on attendance and fundraising (the story assumes it does, I have my doubts), and a few other changes the symphony has in store, lowering some ticket prices 50 percent, for example.

Was the Philadelphia Orchestra bankruptcy a $50 million mistake?: That's the provocative question that Peter Dobrin, the Philadelphia Inquirer's fine music critic asks. It has to do with a $50 million endowment gift in 2003 to the orchestra by the Annenberg Foundation. That gift had a little stipulation: If the orchestra went into bankruptcy, then the foundation could ask for the money back. Complicating matters: Since the death of Leonore Annenberg, The Annenberg Foundation now rarely funds Philadelphia non-profits -- most of its giving occurs in California.  In another story, Dobrin suggests that the orchestra's current financial situation is worse than it seems.

A few more related links: One of the key questions -- and maybe it's not even a question -- is whether the Philadelphia Orchestra board is using bankruptcy as a negotiating tactic to get out from under its contracts with its musicians, the pops orchestra and the concert hall in which it plays. The symphony in Louisville attempted to do something similar but the bankruptcy judge ruled it. Drew McManus's Adaptistration blog gets into the issue via a post from conductor Bill Eddins on the blog he keeps, Sticks and Drones.

The Detroit Symphony has lost several musicians during the strike and its aftermath, most recently its concertmaster, Emmanuelle Boisvert, who has played with the orchestra since 1988.


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