Band on the Run

New players. New hall. New problems. Old audience. And as the Philadelphia Orchestra reaches for solutions, will it lose all that’s made it great?

The oft-posed rhetorical question "Can any orchestra survive?" doesn’t really apply to Philadelphia. Ours will. In 1980, the beginning of the Muti era, the orchestra had 25,000 subscribers. In 1990, two years before he left, Muti had boosted that number to 35,000. Four years and a mean recession later, the number is 32,000. "But even 25,000 is a number we can more than just survive on," Kluger says. "It’s not a question of economic viability." It is instead a question of good versus great.


WHETHER OR NOT developments in visual discography and cable TV will affect the orchestra’s artistic aim or repertoire, it is possible, says Brad Buckley, chairman of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians, which works with musicians’ unions, that with our orchestra generating global recognition from home, Philadelphians would finally get to know their cultural ambassador.

But when? Dreamers claim the new hall could be completed sometime in 1997; don’t believe it. Philadelphians, even the Main Line high-culture buffs with the kind of giving money people refer to as "gifts," are bottom-line, rough-and-tumble types when it comes to their pocketbooks. The old orchestra management (which in 1988, before Kluger took charge, was subject to an unprecedented resolution of "no confidence" by the musicians) made the mistake in 1986 of thinking that Philadelphians are sociologically the same as folks in Dallas.

The Philly managers "went public" from the get-go in their new-hall campaign, hiring consultants, commissioning a design and then buying land without first lining up a principal benefactor. They forgot that Dallas is a city full of new money that wants to be seen and will come when called — and that Philadelphia is full of old money that moves about judiciously, with Quaker-like dignity. Philadelphia patrons were offended that nobody asked them what they thought; the stupefying delays in fund-raising have been the price.

The orchestra has further erred by setting its sights only on high-end donors. The long, arduous courtship of Sidney Kimmel did lead to a $12 million payoff. But the orchestra has seen few returns after flying board members to Dallas to inspect the new orchestra digs. "The orchestra has gotten better at selling itself, but it still has a ways to go," says Fred Dedrick, director of economic development for Greater Philadelphia First, which uses orchestra tours as opportunities to introduce foreign executives to Philadelphia. "They need to court the community of Philadelphia to give people the opportunity to send in ten, 20 dollars and feel involved with their orchestra. Atlanta had a foot race with 5,000 people to stimulate interest when they were trying to get the Olympics. And when they got it, everybody felt they’d done something." The sight of Ed Rendell conducting the Fabulous Philadelphians in a home-plate rendition of the National Anthem before Game 4 of last year’s World Series was a good start — but only a start.