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Would you respond to this appeal?

I’ve received a letter from the Philadelphia Orchestra, urging me to offer financial support in these difficult times. Although couched in the smarmiest PR-speak and promising a wonderful future, everything about the letter is wrong. It announces that the company has sought bankruptcy protection and is therefore in deep trouble. It announces no change of management or policy or anything. It is therefore asking me to throw good money after bad.

If the letter had gone out ahead of the insolvency threat, and if it had been accompanied by solid testimony of how the orchestra plans to pull itself up by the boot-strings, I am sure many would have responded. This, though, is just wallpaper, window-dressing, a declaration of institutional confusion.
Read below:
Oh, and it’s Leopold Stokowski’s birthday today. He’d have been devastated at these events.

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Comments

  1. I believe the correct British term for the Philadelphia Orchestra’s efforts to seek bankruptcy protection is “dodgy.” There are several orchestras in America (in Detroit, for example) that would love to be as “bankrupt” as the Philadelphia Orchestra is.

  2. Rob Weir says:

    Dear Mr. Lebrecht.
    I lived in Philadelphia in the late 70′s while going to school at the Curtis Institute of Music. The Philadelphia Orchestra came to represent everything I wanted in a career as an orchestral musician and I grew to love it. I attended concerts almost every week and could only dream about someday playing in a similar musical environment. Well, it appears that I never will and I am most grateful for this. I should explain.
    While I was in Philadelphia, the baton was handed from Ormandy to Muti, two men I had the privilege of working with while at Curtis. One represented the venerable past and the other a fresh look to the future. While the musicians appeared ready to embrace this and move forward, alas, the community and the leadership of the orchestra did not. Or maybe it could not? I have to wonder. Did their orchestra managers and board believe that continued success would be found in simply “re-selling” the same Philadelphia Orchestra? Did they not see that the orchestras that were moving forward were the ones that, while drawing from and nurturing their past successes, were quite wisely also looking ahead to audience development through innovative marketing strategies, and adopting a clear vision of where and who our audiences were and what it would take to get them into the concert hall? It appears the answer is no. Sure, they moved into a shiny new home down the street but the move didn’t bring with it anything more than an eventual further dwindling of the subscriber base and with it a malaise of non-support and disinterest in the community. Conductors came and went and still nothing substantive was done to address the real problems. The Philadelphia Orchestra was hit squarely between the eyes by the worst thing that could ever happen to an arts organization. They became yesterdays news, irrelevant in peoples lives and, perhaps worst of all, simply taken for granted. At a time when the management and board should have been concentrating resources and energies on innovation and ways to promote their stellar musicians they chose, instead, to adopt an attitude of retraction, vapid and outmoded management style, and punitive contract measures which threatened the very people on whom they most depended – the musicians. They tried to fix a problem of their own making by deferring responsibility. (see the problems in Brazil, Argentina, Detroit, etc, etc and etc) They dropped the ball.
    So, while I am deeply supportive of my friends and colleagues who are the Philadelphia Orchestra, I, too, am very skeptical of jumping forward in support of a management team and board of governors that has earned no stripes, as far as I can see, for good judgement, innovation, creativity, or any kind of true and solid leadership over the past 20 or so years.
    And so I am lucky to have ended up, for the past 30 years, in the “new frontier” of classical orchestral music, where to shy away from newness and the challenges of the present and the future are almost unthinkable. Where a Music Director can have a vision that embraces the traditions of our past while exploring with us and our audiences the wonder of things here now and those to come. I don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow but whatever it is it’ll damn well be exciting and I think our audience believes the same. We are on a journey with them and this relationship is key. The time for real connection and support isn’t accomplished after the house has burned to the ground while no one was looking and suddenly help is sought. It’s done while being a good and valued neighbor; a relevant and active member of the community that is deserving of attention and help in tough times.
    As my orchestra approaches her 100th Anniversary Season, she’s looking younger and more vigorous than ever. I wish for the people of Philadelphia a similar direction and feeling of engagement and for my fellow musicians in the orchestra the kind of leadership you richly deserve and, I am sure, crave. Good luck to you all!
    Rob Weir
    bassoonist
    The San Francisco Symphony Orchestra

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