Friday, April 22, 2011

The Philadelphia Orchestra's bankruptcy filing and the state of classical music today

I was as dismayed as everyone else in the classical music community when I read that the Philadelphia Orchestra had declared bankruptcy.  It's a tough time for American orchestras.  The Detroit Symphony Orchestra's musicians' months-long strike ended just a few weeks ago.  The New Mexico Symphony Orchestra folded, as have a few others recently.  But Philadelphia is one of the most renowned American orchestras, on a level with the New York Philharmonic, the Cleveland Orchestra, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.  It's difficult to see an orchestra with that kind of history in financial straits.  However, bankruptcy is not the end of a business.  It's a chance to reorganize, get clear of debt and continue operating.  It's a bad thing for an organization's credit, but it's better than shutting down completely.  The Philadelphia Orchestra isn't going anywhere. 

But as this commenter on the New York Times pointed out, modern orchestras are not lean, mean musical machines.  They're bloated, with far more musicians on the regular payroll than are required by most classical works.  They have a limited repertoire.  They play the same concert three to five times a week.  And let's not even get into the aging audience for this music. 

On the other hand, I like this quote from Arts Beat's Daniel Wakin:
Some have argued too that there is nothing wrong with orchestras serving — in part — the function of museums, keeping the classics on view.
That's an argument for the status quo.  Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart aren't writing any new music, and there's a good reason orchestras keep programming Beethoven's Fifth Symphony: people will pay to hear it.  No one complains when Bruce Springsteen sings "Born To Run" in concert for the 10,000th time. And regardless of whether you listen to classical music, it's a link to our shared musical past.  It's important to keep this art form around, just as we wouldn't throw out a Picasso painting or a Giacometti sculpture.

I do hope the Philadelphia Orchestra finds a way through its current financial problems and comes out the other side stronger than ever.  But I think it will take some serious re-evaluation of the presentation and performance of classical music to get there.  Other orchestras should keep a close watch on developments in Philadelphia before their organizations reach the same state.


Dianna Williams said...

"Modern orchestras are not lean, mean musical machines." Exactly. The competition in the music industry is stiff and they probably aren't raking up big bucks since the demand for orchestras aren't really that high.
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Anonymous said...

Several industries need to be resourceful in their operations. This allows them to thrive in crisis.

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Madeth said...

You can clearly see the effect of the global economic meltdown even on American orchestras. I hope they have talked to a bankruptcy lawyer Las Vegas.

Martin Rolloff said...

I could not believe when I first heard this news. I'm a huge fan of classical music and hearing that they filed bankruptcy if really sad. It's really a tough time for American orchestras.

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Unknown said...

It is always sad when you hear about a great company filing bankruptcy. We need all styles of music to keep peace within ourselves. I hope they get everything together and strive in the end.