Philadelphia Orchestra moves its season-opening concert

Ari Solotoff, the Philadelphia Orchestra's executive vice president.
Ari Solotoff, the Philadelphia Orchestra's executive vice president.
Posted: October 08, 2011

Despite the scheduled resumption of negotiations between the Kimmel Center and striking Local 8 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, uncertainty over the outcome has prompted the Philadelphia Orchestra to move its opening night.

"It was imperative that we find a way to ensure that the music is played," the Philadelphia Orchestra's executive vice president, Ari Solotoff, said Friday. The Thursday opening will be held at the Irvine Auditorium at the University of Pennsylvania. The post-concert gala will be held at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology.

In a statement released Friday afternoon, the Kimmel's president and chief executive, Anne Ewers, called the move "a prudent decision" but cautioned that it should not be taken as an indication that resolution was near.

The union, which includes stagehands, ushers, box-office personnel, and others, went on strike briefly last weekend but agreed to a weeklong cooling-off period that ends Sunday afternoon.

On Thursday, the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia canceled its Oct. 16 and 17 concerts at the Perelman Theater in the Kimmel Center. Several other programs also have been scratched, including last Saturday's Audra McDonald concert, rescheduled for November.

Negotiations are scheduled to resume on Tuesday. Bargaining issues include pay, benefits, working conditions, and elimination of the nine-month probationary period to assure job security, said Mike Barnes, the union's international vice president.

"We're very confident that everything we're bringing to the table, as the results to our week's work, will move us quickly to resolution," said Thor Steingraber, vice president of institutional strategy and planning for the Kimmel.

"I intend to get a contract, not to disrupt the entertainment world of Philadelphia," he said. "Hopefully, we'll go in there with meaningful dialogue and will bargain in good faith."

But without good faith, Barnes warned, "the picket lines will go back up immediately."

Much is at stake. Besides the Philadelphia Orchestra's opening night, concerts are still scheduled for next weekend at Kimmel.

Cancellations have taken into account the health of the organization, as well as the portability of musicians and audience. The chamber orchestra, which has been financially precarious in recent seasons, stood to lose $30,000 to $40,000 if the orchestra players, guest conductor Mischa Santora, and pianist Rustem Hayroudinoff were paid but not permitted to perform and the orchestra had to pay for the concerts and refund tickets.

Peter Gistelinck, the chamber orchestra's executive director, considered alternative sites, including the Temple University Center for the Performing Arts, where the orchestra also performs. He said he doubted his Center City audience would migrate to North Broad Street. "I made the decision with the board leadership based on all the information that we have," he said.

The Opera Company of Philadelphia is more hopeful. Its Carmen run has a sold-out performance on Sunday that is assured to go on, but the Oct. 14 closing date is in danger. "We have every . . . hope and expectation that last show will happen," executive director David Devan said. "We've made a commitment to pay all of our artists no matter what happens . . . [and] to refund tickets.

"I think all parties understand the quantum of all of this. The Opera Company has worked really hard to be in a stable position . . . a big financial hit could destabilize that strength."

The IATSE union has a history of accommodating the company. During the Philadelphia Orchestra's 1996 strike, IATSE facilitated Opera Company performances at the Academy of Music.

In its current run of Carmen, Devan said, "We can't reschedule and we can't find an alternative venue. The IATSE crew that works on our stuff are highly skilled labor. We need them to run the show as much as we need singers."

Contact music critic David Patrick Stearns at


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