Wednesday, October 19, 2016

A lot of GOOD THINGS are happening in the arts world.

Scott Chamberlain in his blog, The Mask of the Flower Prince, pointed out a list supplied by ISCOM Chair Bruce Ridge enumerating the good news from member orchestras.

  • The Atlanta Symphony announced that it ended the season with a surplus, and raised $13 million 
  • The Arizona Opera exceeded its fundraising goals
  • The Buffalo Philharmonic saw record season ticket sales and subscription revenues for the third consecutive year
  • The Charlotte Symphony received a $2 million gift
  • The Cincinnati Symphony raised over $26 million and signed a new contract that adds 15 new musicians over the next five years
Packing the seats in Cincinnati
  • The Dallas Symphony achieved a balanced budget and received a $5 million gift
  • The Detroit Symphony raised $1.4 million in one evening
  • The Houston Grand Opera exceeded its fundraising goal, raising almost $173 million
  • The Houston Symphony received a $5 million donation, the largest gift in nearly a decade
  • The Indianapolis Symphony saw ticket sales increase 15%, and subscriptions rose 24%.
  • The Memphis Symphony received a $1 million gift for education programs
  • The Minnesota Orchestra received $6 million in special gifts and embarked on a historic tour to Cuba

  • The Nashville Symphony set fundraising and ticket sales records
  • The Omaha Symphony saw record attendance
  • The Oregon Symphony set records for ticket sales and contributions, and its gala raised a record $700,000
  • The Pacific Symphony’s gala raised a record $1.6 million
  • The Richmond Symphony received a $1 million gift for outdoor concerts
  • The Rochester Philharmonic reported a 19% increase in single ticket sales
  • The St. Louis Symphony received a $10 million gift
  • The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra saw its highest attendance in 20 years
In addition, I've previously reported substantive raises given by the Kansas City Symphony on a five-year contract settled a year early!

The Detroit Symphony is revamping its recital hall, thanks to a $3.5 million gift. Detroit? Yes, that Detroit.

"The Cube" Detroit Symphony Orchestra Hall
The Dallas Symphony, right next door to striking Fort Worth, has balanced its budget and is reaping a bounty of dollars in both its annual fund and long-term commitments.

Scott knows what he's talking about as he is a longtime resident of the Twin Cities, which went through its own well-publicized nightmare. There, an entrenched Board of Directors, aided and abetted by local media, allowed an inept CEO to hold the organization hostage. That the Minnesota Orchestra has so quickly rebounded, artistically and financially, is a testament to the spirit of its people and especially the vision of Osmo Vanska.

The story sounds all too familiar because that's what's happening in Fort Worth and Pittsburgh. The respective Boards just continue to cancel programs and refuse to negotiate at all. It's all in the "last, best, and final offer" mentality. There are certainly more and better solutions, but all sides have to at least sit and talk. No one really wants the music to stop for, if it's gone long enough, some might forget it was ever there.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016


Can anyone find a flashlight? Or even a ray of sunshine to fall on this strike, now extended into its second week?

Can someone help light the way?
PSO president and CEO Melia Tourangeau hasn't yet found a reasonable solution to this impasse. As in so many contractual disagreements, the sticking point is a financial one. Management's solution? A 15% cut in base pay. Oh, but future years would offer two and three percent givebacks in years two and three of the agreement!

The orchestra is projecting shortfalls of up to $4.5 million in upcoming years. This summons the question: Why the heck did the orchestra undertake a lengthy European tour this past spring? Surely management knew that the financials were dire at that time, but everyone flew off to Europe as if nothing was wrong. Short-sighted? Blind, even?

What this really necessary--especially with regard to cost?
The Post-Gazette reports“Let’s be clear: If they want us to come together and figure this out, they’ve got to come back to the table and work with us on this,” Ms. Tourangeau said of union members. But that isn't going to happen while management remains entrenched. Micah Howard, a bassist who chairs the orchestra committee, said musicians would resume contract discussions if management will reconsider its most recent offer. That plan includes the 15 percent pay cut, among other changes.

But, but, but......

Earned revenue for the fiscal year, posted on the PSO website, showed that ticket sales increased by 4 percent — the first increase in over 10 years. And according to the PSO site, this season’s subscriptions are beating last year’s. The case is the same with regard to fundraising, which was record-breaking, as demonstrated by a 25 percent increase of the PSO’s annual fund (from the Pitt News).

So, the musicians continue to offer free concerts wherever they can, and picket lines continue outside Heinz Hall. Other tenants of the Hall have offered solidarity by refusing to cross the line, but none of that brings either side closer to just sitting down and talking! And the reputation of the PSO, as well as its city, will decline.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016


As a conductor and teaching musician in Iowa, I am sure that many readers must wonder exactly why I should even care about labor strife in places like Texas and Pennsylvania. I don't really consider myself a mouthpiece for musicians around the country. Call me an idealist (yes, sometimes I wished that I lived in Europe, where many of the arts are state-subsidized) if you will. In an increasingly contentious world--economically and politically--I refuse to fall into the trap of expediency but will continue to fight what I feel is the good fight for the art that I love and for the people who make it.


At only two days, this was nearly the shortest strike on record. That "honor" probably goes to the Chicago Symphony, which settled a 2015 stalemate in little over 24 hours. One has to wonder whether or not the timing of the strike--immediately preceding the orchestra's gala concert--had an impact on the alacrity of the agreement. Could it be that the audience at that performance--the well-heeled donors to the organization--demanded that the strike is settled quickly and fairly?

My own "connection" to this wonderful orchestra goes back to my youth. The "Fabulous Philadelphians" and longtime conductor Eugene Ormandy had one of the most lucrative recording contracts in the business. My collection is still filled with a large number of LPs from their vast library. Philadelphia was the go-to ensemble for just about everything, but my Philly experience goes deeper still.

Ormandy and Cliburn, 1967
The first time I ever heard a Mahler Symphony (no. 1) was, in fact, a live performance given by the Philadelphia Orchestra in May 1976 at the old Auditorium at Michigan State University. Quite frankly, I didn't care what they were going to play. This was the Philadelphia Orchestra(!) and Ormandy was conducting! Now I can remember little of the first half of the show but the second--my initial immersion into the sound world of Gustav Mahler--was a cathartic moment for me. Soon after, I decided--like so many before me--to abandon thoughts of pursuing a law degree and entered music school. It's been a sometimes bumpy ride but here I am.

Old Auditorium, Michigan State University
Yes, the Fabulous Philadelphians played here in 1976.
One more thought about the state of this fine ensemble: it amazes me that, in newsprint and otherwise, a group of orchestras--New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Chicago--are still referred to as the "Big Five." In 2013 Jame Oestreich reported in the New York Times that In fact, the criteria of membership in the Big Five, never firmly established, began with quantities. They included size of budget, number of recordings, amount of touring (especially stops in New York), presence on radio and television, and number of year-round musicians. This old matrix no longer holds true.

Drew McManus in his Adaptistration blog, assembles a wealth of information each year gleaned from the IRS 990 forms. While these are available on-line, it's much easier if someone else does the work. The current "Big Five" (in terms of total expenditures) is now:

1. Los Angeles Philharmonic ($118 M)
2. Boston Symphony ($88.5 M)
3. Chicago Symphony ($80 M)
4. San Francisco Symphony ($74.5 M)
5. New York Philharmonic ($73 M)

Cleveland comes in at #6 ($51M); Philadelphia has "fallen" to #7 ($45 M). Of course, big budgets are not a harbinger of quality. The Minnesota Orchestra, arguably in the "artistic big five", spends less than $25 M. A more telling picture comes out when comparing CEO compensation, but that's for another day.

* * * * * * * * * *

Pittsburgh Symphony management has taken an excessive and possibly unprecedented hard line relative to its current strike. Excerpts from a recent letter from Pittsburgh COO Christian Schörnich to union musicians (dated yesterday, October 4): You must realize that the PSI has an obligation to keep Heinz Hall open and operating to serve our patrons and others as they expect and as may be required. In order to do so, it may require us to hire replacement workers, either on a temporary or permanent basis, as will be determined by the business necessity that we face. (Boldface in the original.)

Yes, the PSI just stated that they intend on hiring scabs to fill the seats of their world-class orchestra. Good luck with that.

The view outside Heinz Hall
In the meantime, the musicians held a previously scheduled free day of music across the city. Read all about it here.

And a final note: Where's Manfred Honeck?

Monday, October 3, 2016


A fairly large audience in 2500-seat Verizon Hall
Only 1000 showed up for the gala...

Just about as quickly as it began, albeit with less drama, the Philadelphia Orchestra strike has ended. Friday, September 30 was a black day throughout Pennsylvania as Pittsburgh hit the pickets in the morning and Philly walked out shortly before the gala concert, a program filled with the well-heeled. In fact, patrons were left sitting in a silent Verizon Hall for nearly 15 minutes after the starting time before CEO Allison Vulgamore came on stage to announce the concert's cancellation. Apparently, talks were still on-going right up to the appointed hour.

A last-minute backstage negotiating session ensued, but failed. The gala concert was scrapped; two other concerts, on Saturday and Sunday, were canceled. (Peter Dobin, arts reporter, Philly.Com) The entire article is found here.

Allison Vulgamore: Who, me?
The whole contract "negotiation" was merely an extension of the highly-charged and contentious Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings of 2011, only two years following Vulgamore's arrival in Philly. It's apparent that the whole mess was intended to eliminate the orchestra's obligation to its heavily underfunded pension. Meanwhile, Vulgamore herself was somehow able to negotiate a substantial contract extension, with benefits almost unheard of in the non-profit business sector. Mr. Dobrin reported on that development in March 2012:

The pact is similar to the one that is expiring. Vulgamore will be paid an annual base salary of $450,000 - but with a list of extras that sweeten the deal considerably:

A "performance-based compensation" cash bonus of between $50,000 and $150,000 per year, though the chair of the orchestra board has the discretion to increase the maximum bonus to $175,000 if warranted by Vulgamore's performance and a "significant" improvement in the orchestra's financial condition.
(One has to wonder if she had to give this back.)

A retirement contribution of $125,000 per year, less applicable withholdings.

Up to $15,000 per year for supplemental disability insurance.

"Executive health benefits" of up to $10,000 per year for costs not covered under the group plan.

A car allowance of $5,000, free parking at the Kimmel Center, four weeks' vacation, and $2,000 a year to pay a financial planner.

In addition to compensation under the new contract, she will receive $50,000 by June 2012 as part of an earlier bonus program for which she had not yet received payment.

Vulgamore's next contract upped her ante to $733,242, significantly more than the music director (!) and near the upper end of orchestra CEOs, many of whom also manage the facilities in which their ensembles perform. The Philadelphia Orchestra doesn't even manage a facility it does own! (the Academy of Music)

And although the strike was a scant 48-hours, musicians are still feeling the pain of slashed salaries and benefits from the past. Two percent annual raises don't go far (especially when compared to the CEO).

"It's been a very emotional couple of days, but we're relieved that we're going to move forward and play our instruments again," principal harpist Elizabeth Hainen said.

Simon Rattle arrives this week to lead the orchestra in Mahler's Sixth Symphony.