The Arts: The Fractious Philadelphians

A year after the Orchestra went on strike, even psychotherapy hasn’t made the bitterness go away. Can’t they all just get along?

Kluger, a bespectacled man of 42 with thinned hair and a fondness for French cuffs, toys with a Slinky on his desk and listens to the criticisms: He’s the board’s "mouthpiece"; is "in over his head"; has "no people skills"; "believes in not telling the truth as a normal way of operation"; is "the least-respected person within the organization." Kluger has heard it all before, but to hear it all at once makes him laugh uncomfortably, A few times, he rolls his eyes or makes a sound of exasperation, as if he’s aching to tell the real story but feels constrained by his position, or personality.

He is an old hand at dealing with orchestral mutiny, having first encountered it when he was with the New York Philharmonic. At Trinity College, in Hartford, Connecticut, he had expected to become a music professor at a small New
England school, but he wound up getting a masters in arts administration at N.Y.U. and, his first job out, ordering portable toilets for the Philharmonic’s park concerts. In his seven years with the Philharmonic, he rose to orchestra manager, the number-two job.

During a tour in his sixth year there, he came close to quitting after the musicians, finding cockroaches in their New Delhi hotel rooms, went berserk in the lobby just as an international press conference was letting out. The story made the wires, and Kluger’s boss at the time, while apologizing for the accommodations (which were swiftly changed), told the musicians they had embarrassed their Indian government hosts and that in the future they needed to respond to such inevitable glitches more rationally. This only inflamed the players, who began screaming at members of management. Kluger broke into tears, went into Zubin Mehta’s dressing room, and said he couldn’t take it anymore. One year later, in 1985, he accepted an offer to move laterally to Philadelphia, which appealed to the new parents he and his wife had become. (It bears mentioning that Kluger’s wife, Susan Lewis, writes for Philadelphia, and that Kluger has a regular basketball game with some staff members.)

The day Kluger arrived here, Steve Sell, his boss, was going into the hospital to have a malignant spot removed from his lung. Four years later Sell was dead, and Kluger had his job. Bernard Jacobson, who wrote the Orchestra’s program notes and served as musicologist until 1992, speculates that Kluger’s ascension was premature, and that with a few more years of Sell’s tutelage, Kluger might "have been better suited to the job than he has turned out to be."

Kluger has some thoughts of his own as to why he has been targeted: He is the head of an organization who is "committed to radical change"; labor strife is the stock-in-trade of American symphony orchestras; and he made the mistake, during the strike, of being Orchestra spokesman at the same time he was chief negotiator. In so doing, he says, "I became the symbol of change."