What On Earth Is Going On At Philadelphia?

On Tuesday, July 13th, a big blue banner link on the home page at the Philadelphia Orchestra entitled “Securing The Future, Negotiations Update” appeared.  This was quite a surprise to see since it’s customary for both sides involved in a contract negotiation to have a press blackout.

According to a representative from the AFM Symphonic Services division, there’s nothing legally preventing the management from posting something like this on the web site.  Technically, they own it so they get to decide what goes up.

Once I took the time to read through all seven pages, I was absolutely astounded at the decision by POA (Philadelphia Orchestra Association) board chairman, Richard Smoot, to put such an insidious series of pages directly on the Philadelphia Orchestra’s homepage.

Although it’s not uncommon for both musicians and management to run their own web pages that feature their position during master agreement negotiations, I’ve never seen one appear on the official orchestra web site before (you can find an especially tasteful site representing the Honolulu Symphony Musicians here).

Although I would love nothing more than to take the time to go over each of Richard Smoot’s points item by item, I’ll only take the time to cover the highlights.

Point 1: On the “Background” page it says: “In order to achieve financial stability and balance the budget, POA has submitted to the American Federation of Musicians a proposal with myriad suggestions that would reduce musician salary and benefit costs by 10%. The proposed changes cover such things as revenue generation/schedule flexibility, artistic initiatives, expense reduction, and total compensation and employment. POA intends to make these changes without compromising the international reputation or artistic integrity of the organization.”

Analysis: But just this week I had a discussion with the POA President Joe Kluger (I even published an article about it yesterday) where he said that it was necessary for the board to authorize 3-4% raises for their senior managers (including himself) in order to attract and retain qualified individuals.  So the board has shown that they believe in offering ever increasing “competitive” salaries in order to retain good managers.  So why doesn’t that also apply to the musicians and to maintain artistic integrity?
Point 2: On the main page is says: “Now it is our musicians’ turn to share responsibility with us to find a solution. We need to create more flexibility and productivity in the way we work with them. Our current trade agreement is a roadmap to extinction.”

Analysis: Extinction? So what are they trying to frighten the public into believing; that if the musicians don’t agree to their terms the Philadelphia Orchestra is going to go out of business forever?  That sounds more like a threat to me.

That also sounds like the board is trying to paint a picture of a crisis doesn’t it?  But according to the American Symphony Orchestra League, there is no “crisis”, everything is rosy.  On their web page they even flaunt the following statistics: ”

“Total [orchestra] revenue was up 1% in 2002-03 over 2001-02 Endowment income increased by more than 12%. Contributed income from private sources increased about 1% with the greatest increases in Individual and Corporate contributions.  America’s orchestras recorded revenue of $1.357 billion – the highest level in history and a one percent increase over 2001-02.”

So why the need for so many cuts in artistic expenses in Philadelphia?  Are they mismanaged compared to other American orchestras?

I’m extremely disappointed in Mr. Smoot and his decision to put this overt attack against the musicians on the orchestra’s web site a web site which should be promoting the musicians to the community.

Instead, Mr. Smoot is using their own web site to humiliate, bully, and threaten the same people he is obliged to support, encourage, and promote.

I’m equally disappointed in the POA’s President, Joe Kluger.  I sent Joe an email asking if he approves of Mr. Smoot’s decision to put this on the web site.  Unfortunately, I didn’t receive any response.

Any executive leader worth their $285,000 annual salary would be morally and philosophically opposed to this and they wouldn’t hesitate to make that opposition known.  It isn’t a matter of doing what your boss tells you, it’s a matter of doing what’s right over what’s wrong.  Pretending it’s out of your control is a hollow excuse.

If either side feels that it is necessary to launch an online public relations campaign against the other, then it should be done though a location that has no connection to the Philadelphia Orchestra’s web site.

It’s almost as though Mr. Smoot wants to force the musicians to go on strike.  And when that happens, no one wins.  Yes, changes need to occur, but this is the absolutely worst possible way to draw them out.

It’s Time For Richard & Joe To Go!

This is a clear sign that the Philadelphia community and the classical music community at large should call for the resignation of Richard Smoot as Chairman of the Board and Joe Kluger as President.

So take the time to send an email to the orchestra and tell them how you feel.  It will only take a second of your time but it’s crucial for both sides in the conflict to know where their community stands.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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