Doing A Good Thing For The Right Reasons in Philly

Hot on the heels of being accused by the Philadelphia Orchestra Association (POA) “that their collective efforts at revenue generation have not had a material impact on the budget”  the Philadelphia Orchestra musicians are donating even more of their time, money, and energy to help improve their orchestra’s finances.

On Sunday, February 13, 2005 former Philadelphia Orchestra Music Director, Riccardo Muti will lead the full orchestra in a performance at Philadelphia Kimmel center’s Verizon Hall.

The musicians have all agreed to donate their services and Riccardo Muti has graciously declined an appearance fee.

Surprisingly, the POA is looking to find some way to discredit this generous offer by the Philadelphia musicians and Muti.  When asked about the benefit concert the POA spokesperson, Steve Albertini, was quoted in the Philadelphia Inquirer as saying,

“Look, we give the union credit; it’s a great idea, but it’s a great one-time idea.  The Academy Ball is two weeks before, and we don’t want this to have an impact on that. We’re not going to work out this contract with quick fixes. We’re looking for structural changes, and the musicians just aren’t there yet.”

But according to John Koen, a cellist in the orchestra, the AFM had nothing to do with their request to Muti that he lead the benefit concert.  In an email message John wrote,

“[The] request was personally done by a small group of musicians, then a petition signed by the whole group.

I contacted Mr. Albertini by telephone about his statement to ask him if was aware that the offer came from the musicians and did not originate from the AFM.

“Yes, at the time I made the statement to the [Philadelphia Inquirer] I was aware that the offer came from the musicians and not the union.”

So why then is the POA attempting to both discredit the musician’s attempts at stabling the organization’s finances and prompt donations as well as attempting to portray the benefit concert as nothing more than a negotiating tactic?

Mr. Albertini did not have the time to answer that question.

I asked John Koen if the effort to organize the benefit concert was a negotiation tactic, and he replied with,

“The Maestro was contacted by the orchestra musicians, and when he heard of some of the proposed cuts to the orchestra, he immediately offered his services to help maintain our orchestra’s pre-eminence.”

So although it seems that the contract negotiations have prompted the idea for the benefit concert, they do so in the respect that Riccardo Muti doesn’t appear to want the orchestra reduced in size because it’s something he believes in as a core artistic issue related to the success of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

The POA can’t have everything their way. They can’t accuse the musicians of being ineffective with regard to fundraising while at the same time slap down their efforts as trivial and being in the way of their fundraising ideas. 

And for the POA to offer a statement with regard to the Muti offer being nothing more than a “union idea” when they at the same time they knew the offer came from the players and not the union is unwarrantable; shame on the POA.

By arranging this benefit concert the musicians have managed to accomplish what the POA hasn’t done since Muti left his position at the orchestra; lead the orchestra as a guest conductor in their new concert venue, Verizon Hall.

So to me, it looks like the bruised egos of POA management and board chair Dick Smoot is more at the source of their complaints than any other tangible concerns.  This benefit concert certainly won’t harm any of the POA’s fundraising efforts at The Academy Ball. 

Instead, the benefit concert featuring Muti will draw in a completely new level of support, interest, and positive attention to the Philadelphia Orchestra.  This isn’t a negotiation tactic; it’s simply doing a good thing for the right reasons.

Details about the performance are still to be determined (i.e. repertoire, ticket prices, etc.). The Philadelphia Orchestra Musician’s website will have updates in the near future.

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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