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?

For all the bitterness with which some musicians and former members of management speak of Kluger, most of the stories they tell point more to a social awkwardness or communication deficit than to incompetence or dissembling. And Kluger is marked for the concert hall, yet it is Larry Grika, the musicians’ own co-chief labor negotiator, who insists, wrongly, that it "came from our endowment." During the strike, a musician asked Benoliel, who earns not a cent for the 25 to 30 hours he devotes to the Orchestra each week, if he was giving up his salary. "Some naively thought I was being paid," Benoliel recalls. "Here’s a supreme irony. I knew those misconceptions were there when I came on the board [in September 1995]. We asked the musicians to be on standing committees. They specifically declined to come on the finance committee. They said: ‘This is the year of negotiations; we don’t think we should be on that.’”

A reflexive inflexibility also keeps the musicians from giving serious consideration to the adaptive lead taken by some other U.S. orchestras in recent years. So entrenched is its rivalry with its peers in the Big Five that to suggest the Philadelphia increase its workload or do anything like what the Seattle Symphony Orchestra did — namely, become a non-union shop — is virtual heresy. Why, the musicians respond, would a great international orchestra behave like some regional small-fry?

"They are living in a cloud of unreality, a state of shock and embarrassment," says Lebrecht, whose recent tome Who Killed Classical Music? is the talk of the industry. "The Philadelphia musicians are being paid $81,000 for a 20-hour week. That, in terms of a declining market, declining audience, declining social relevance, is unsustainable. They need a new strategy for what they will be doing in ten years, because with their present strategy, they have no future."

 

ABOUT A WEEK before the meeting under The Mann, 60 musicians, trustees, staff members and volunteers converged in Radnor for a retreat at the Sun Corporate Center. It was the first time in memory that all the constituents had gathered together, and each was represented about equally. The point of the gathering was to review the planning document-in-progress, which offers hope to musicians who are convinced Kluger lacks vision and to an orchestra whose fiscal future Pew lost faith in. Even some of the angrier musicians left the meeting cautiously optimistic. “The meeting was a positive,” Larry Grika said afterward. “But again, talk has to be put into action.”

In fact, some things are looking up. With fundraising responsibility for a new concert hall transferred to the Regional Performing Arts Center, at Broad and Spruce, it seems the Orchestra may finally get its acoustically sophisticated venue to perform In, where live recording and broadcasting will be viable. Joe Kluger, who had spent more than half of his time for the past eight years working on the new concert-hall project, will now be free to devote all of his time to the Orchestra’s operations. The shift should also allow the Orchestra to focus its fund-raising efforts, which have been hampered by the necessity of rattling not one cup but four: one each for the concert hall, the endowment, operations and the renovation of the Academy of Music. The Academy drive will soon come to a close, leaving the Orchestra to raise money for just the endowment and operations.