What A Week

It’s been an eventful week and much of the news covers everything from dark to light. So let’s see about getting caught up by starting on the east coast and work our way out west.


After months of bad blood negotiating and under the shadow of bankruptcy hearings, the Philadelphia Orchestra Association (POA) and its musicians ratified a concessionary agreement on Thursday, 10/13/2011. According to early reports, the musicians’ negotiation committee crafted an agreement with management which cuts pay by fifteen percent, reduces the number of full time musicians by ten percent, kills off the existing defined benefit pension plan, and sells out substitute musicians by paying them fifteen percent less than full members.

The 10/13/2011 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer published an article by Peter Dobrin which includes some chest thumping from John Koen, chairman of the players’ negotiating committee, which attempts to project an image that the musicians had little choice but to accept the offer.

“It is the self-admitted failures of management and the board that have led us to this point, and we challenge them to make the changes needed to raise the funds necessary to operate and promote the orchestra with the same passion with which we create music.

Regardless of how much pointed language they use, it may be difficult for some to look at the outcome without feeling like the tough talk is diverting attention from the point of view that the musicians folded.

It’s reminiscent of a line from the major motion picture Get Shorty. If you’re a fan, you’ll know [sws_css_tooltip position=”left” colorscheme=”rosewood” width=”450″ url=”http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0113161/quotes?qt=qt0233129″ trigger=”which one” fontSize=”12″]Chili Palmer: Harry, look at me. You’re trying to tell me you fucked up without sounding stupid, and that’s hard to do. [/sws_css_tooltip].

But the negotiating committee won’t have to worry very long because the impending flash from the thermonuclear explosion that will be court battle between the POA and the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) and Employers Pension Fund will almost certainly serve as a more than ample distraction.

New York

A comparative footnote to the Philly news but still worth noting is the musicians of the New York Philharmonic voted to authorize their negotiating committee to call a strike if needed. Dan Wakin reported the news in a 10/7/2011 New York Times blog post and since both sides in the negotiation remain tight lipped, details are thin.


House cleaning seems to be in style in Denver. Following the exodus of two-thirds of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra’s (CSO) board, one of the first public statements from the newly elected co-chairs was to announce that CEO Jim Palermo had been replaced, effective immediately.

It’s worth noting that the new co-chairs were previously members of the CSO the board a decade prior when then now interim CEO, Jim Copenhaver, was serving as the orchestra’s CEO. There’s no word yet on exactly what the new leadership team has in store to address the current situation other than what the 10/13/2011 edition of the Denver Post reports as a “need to adjust the way it does business to meet lower income expectations.”

San Antonio

Let’s end things on a bright note; or at the very least, as bright of a note as we’re going to get this week. There may have never been a time in this field when a “play & talk” arrangement looked so…well…good.

Such is the case with the San Antonio Symphony (SAS) where the board and its musicians came to a mutual agreement to start their season under the terms of now expired collective bargaining agreement. In fact, statements from a joint press release include language from representatives on both sides that might be described as downright chummy.

“I’m excited that the musicians, board and management are moving forward in unity,” said Craig Sorgi, Chair of the Orchestra Negotiating Committee. Board Chair Denny Ware said, “The Board, Orchestra and Staff are committed to pulling together to improve the quality of life of our community. We have a phenomenal orchestra that provides our community with world-class performances and extensive music education activities that are extraordinary. We hope everyone in the community steps ups and supports our efforts to make San Antonio a great place to live.”

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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0 thoughts on “What A Week”

  1. and let’s not forget the Metropolitan Opera in the good news department- note the last sentence-

    from the NY Times-

    In the warren of Met administrative offices, the people who run one of the
    world’s busiest opera houses had something else to applaud: a record amount
    of contributions for the fiscal year that ended in July. According to
    preliminary figures released for the first time, the Met hauled in $182
    million, an astonishing amount in a tough economic climate and 50 percent
    more than it raised just the year before.

    And there was other good news. For the first time in seven years, the Met
    had balanced its budget, thanks partly to $11 million in profits last year
    from its HD movie theater transmissions, which had been operating for only
    five years.

    The results have the air of vindication for the free-spending — and risky —
    strategy of Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager. He took over six seasons
    ago with a mandate to revitalize the company, stem a box office decline and
    make the Met more relevant in an era of aging opera audiences. He decided
    that the Met had to spend money to make money.

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