Two big thoughts for today. First, that the Philadelphia Orchestra bankruptcy opens a new era of classical music distress. And second, that we should treat this as a time of opportunity, a time to foster the rebirth of classical music. Which means that we should devote ourselves to classical music with more passion than ever.
The Philadelphia Orchestra bankruptcy is a huge, huge event. I told my Juilliard students yesterday that it’s the biggest thing that’s happened, related to the future of classical music, since I began teaching my course on that subject in 1997. I’ve been talking for years (as have others) about gathering clouds, signs of trouble, signs that the classical music mainstream can’t survive too much longer, without big changes.
But when a major player in a huge and supposedly well-funded industry drops below some basic financial baseline, that means the industry is in trouble. And this is the case here. I was amused — or is it grimly amused — to read a statement from a musicians’ union representative, saying that other orchestras hadn’t gone bankrupt, because they (in contrast to Philly) had good management, and weren’t in financial trouble. (You’ll have to follow the link to the second page of the Philadelphia news story to find the statement.)
But that’s not true. The outlook for major orchestras isn’t good at all, and behind the scenes, many people are seriously worried. Philly is just the beginning. Along with Detroit (which almost died), Baltimore (which a few years ago spent one-third of endowment to get out of debt), Syracuse (which may have died), Honolulu (which died), and, as announced yesterday, the New Mexico Symphony (which dissolved itself).
(Note that the link takes you to a Google search for the New Mexico news story. The Albuquerque Journal, where the story appeared, hides behind a paywall. But you can get through it, as you can with the paywall at the New York Times, by linking to the story from a Google search.)
The tide is rolling out. This doesn’t mean that orchestras can’t save themselves. But they’re going to have to shrink, or change — and change a lot.
RelatedComing: what the problems are.