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?

Even if the Convention Center has worn the argument thin, one of the best reasons for Philadelphians to invest in their orchestra is pure economics. "The orchestra is the city’s best business calling card," says Arnold Wright, executive director of the CIGNA Foundation. "If you’re trying to gain entree into a country where you’re not well known, the best association you can have is one with the Philadelphia Orchestra." CIGNA International president Ed Hanway, along for this summer’s Latin American tour, was able to secure an appointment with Argentina’s finance minister only after calling several days before the Buenos Aires dates with an offer of tickets and the opportunity to share a few drinks beforehand. CIGNA’s latest pension fund has since hit the ground running in the Argentine capital. "We look at the orchestra as a pure business investment," Wright says. "It’s shareholder money, after all."


IN THE MEANTIME, THE orchestra tries to shed its antiquated image with the likes of its ClassiX Live package. As silly as some of the musicians find these promotional gimmicks (“they should market themselves only on quality,” says one player. "And get rid of this ‘Mozart was a rock ‘n’ roll star in his time’ crap"), it does represent a return to a certain spirit of action and movement that most observers say has been missing for some time. And when Joe Kluger mentions how the orchestra must compete in ways it hasn’t historically for the "recreational dollar," he doesn’t go on to qualify the orchestra experience as something more than "recreation." The omission is important. "The orchestra is not there for a select few," he explains. Instead, it is one of many pieces in the mass-media recreation pie, along with pay-per-view wrestling and Steven Seagal; it is a commodity, a lifestyle accoutrement. Kluger’s omission cuts the conventional wisdom that the mission of an orchestra — especially one as fine as Philadelphia’s — is nothing less than artistic. Music must be entertaining, by all means, says the CW — but by way of being uplifting, profound, beautiful.

"Audiences are like bystanders," Muti kvetched bitterly not long before he left for good. "People want you to do [their] job for them. They say ‘Entertain me!’" Says one current player, "This is an art form, damn it, not just some event. I’m sorry, but I don’t consider a Bruckner symphony to be ‘entertainment. ‘ You gotta listen real hard, know what I mean?"

Yet Kluger’s focus-group approach is in keeping with the better business argument Ed Rendell will presumably make with greater emphasis to convince the city to back the new hall. There are some who believe there are intangible, long-term reasons why Rendell should stick to the "high art" and "cultural treasure" arguments. The belief neglects the fact that Kluger deals with image; Maestro Sawallisch, with substance. In the final analysis, the music is the music. It is unlikely to devolve because those marketing it define it as a kick-ass Saturday night rather than as high art. "What is one to do?" Kluger asks. "It is tyrannical to tell ticket-buyers how they should enjoy the music. And it’s pretentious and just plain stupid to claim that the survival of the orchestra depends on everyone getting together and agreeing that the music is ‘important.’”