Can bankruptcy fix orchestra? No: It damages its reputation.

Posted: May 18, 2011

By John Koen

For more than a century, the Philadelphia Orchestra has been recognized as one of the world's premier cultural organizations. We've toured the globe, bringing the renowned "Philadelphia sound" to five continents and dozens of countries. The musicians believe it's our responsibility not just to perform world-class music, but to uphold the legacy and reputation the orchestra has built since it was founded in 1900.

That's why the orchestra board and management's decision to push us into bankruptcy is as frustrating as it was unnecessary. The orchestra is not insolvent - its assets well exceed its liabilities, as even the board has admitted in court filings - and the filing damages the very institution they have promised to protect.

It's important to understand how we got to this point. The musicians are responsible for performing at the highest level, while the board and management are responsible for providing the resources necessary to support a great orchestra. And given the orchestra's excellent reviews in recent years, it's clear the musicians are meeting our obligations. Unfortunately, though, the management and board have not always performed at the same high level.

It's not the musicians' responsibility to raise funds, although we have regularly assisted those efforts and will continue to do so. Nor were we responsible for the board's decision to start a major fund-raising campaign after filing for bankruptcy.

We are not responsible for marketing, although we have helped consistently and remain ready to expand those efforts. Nor are we responsible for allowing crucial marketing and development positions to remain vacant for months.

We did not sign the leases the Orchestra Association says it can't afford, and from which it's seeking to withdraw through bankruptcy. And we did not force it to sign contracts with us that it no longer wants to honor, though we have offered significant concessions that saved the association millions.

At every step of this process, we have demonstrated a willingness to work with the association that makes this destructive bankruptcy filing unnecessary.

We believe the management chose bankruptcy to escape provisions of our contract that it doesn't like, and that it did so heedless of the cost to the orchestra's reputation. The board and management are seeking to renege on their obligations, including pension obligations. This could reduce the pensions of musicians who have already retired - an unfair and unacceptable outcome. And their push to reduce the size of the orchestra and the compensation musicians receive will undoubtedly hurt our ability to attract and retain the world's finest musicians.

The board's decision to file for bankruptcy is especially troubling given the significant costs involved. While seeking to reduce our compensation to levels well below those of other great orchestras, the association is paying its bankruptcy attorneys up to $750 an hour, according to court filings. In fact, the process is costing the association enough money to bridge the gap between the two sides' contract proposals.

The association's lead bankruptcy attorney has been quoted as saying that bankruptcy provides the management with "hammers" to accomplish its goals. What does this statement say about the management's true intentions? To us, the idea of taking a hammer to our beloved orchestra is repugnant.

The orchestra's bankruptcy filing was greeted with shock around the globe. According to The Inquirer, reports of it were published as far away as Vietnam, Slovakia, and Italy. There has been an outpouring of concern on the musicians' Facebook page, on websites, and in letters to the editor of a variety of publications.

Bankruptcy threatens not only our future, but the city's reputation as a place where world-class arts and culture thrive. As Peter Dobrin wrote in this newspaper, Philadelphia doesn't just need "an orchestra"; it needs this Philadelphia Orchestra. The board and management must provide the resources to sustain and preserve it.


John Koen is a Philadelphia Orchestra cellist and the chairman of the Members' Committee. He can be reached at johnfkoen@me.com.

|
|
|
|
|