The Lost Accord
IT WAS LIKE no other labor dispute Philadelphia had ever seen. World-renowned cellists and harpists with placards picketing in front of the Philadelphia Orchestra Association headquarters on 15th Street. Flamboyant Leopold Stokowski conducting a triumphal strike fund concert at Convention Hall. Hordes of Chestnut Hill matrons flooding the City government and newspapers with angry letters. Big shots pulling strings behind the scenes to keep the pot boiling or to cool it, depending on their allegiance. Angels offering to bankroll the orchestra if it should break with its management.
There should never have been a dispute in the first place between intelligent artists and public-spirited business leaders. The Philadelphia Orchestra Association is non-profit. What could management gain by exploiting the men of the Philadelphia Orchestra? But the musicians struck on September 15th and remained locked in a bitter and passionate battle with the Board of the Association all through October and into November. By the time it was over on November 15th, it had begun to look more like a revolution than a labor dispute. The quarrel started long ago and will continue even now the strike is settled. It really isn’t labor fighting management. What the men of the Philadelphia Orchestra were fighting is the concept of a symphony orchestra as a plaything for a few well-heeled men who are increasingly unable to support it, but don’t want anyone else to; who have lost interest in the musical meaning of their toy, but don’t want anyone more dedicated to control its destinies.
The orchestra had pitted itself against two men who personify the enemy: C. Wanton Balis Jr., socialite, head of a reinsurance firm and president of the Orchestra Association, and Eugene Ormandy, celebrated conductor and music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra.
For its own part, this management had been struggling to maintain the status quo, to keep things the way they’ve always been. They assumed they were dealing with an ordinary labor situation. A lawyer close to the scene says, "Balis runs the show as if it’s his own business and these are his employees. They won’t take it." This is part of the reason for the breakdown of communications between the two sides.
The men and women of the orchestra said, "We’re not like 18th century musicians who came in the back door of the nobleman’s house." They don’t think of themselves as "labor." They’re artists in every sense of the word — emotional, sensitive, at times, illogical. Each is a strong personality who wants to pull his own way. During the strike they acted more in concert than they ever had before, but were split by conflicting ideas and goals. Their friends say, "They’re children." "They’re temperamental." "They don’t know from business." But even if they’re the worst businessmen around, they are the best musicians, undisputably at the top of their profession. The Philadelphia Orchestra is one of the foremost in the world, and when the men sit down to make music, they forget all their differences and play as if they believe they’re the best.