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?

The departure of Sawallisch within the next few years also bodes well for the Orchestra. Though Sawallisch is extremely well-regarded artistically, hiring a more dynamic maestro will give the Orchestra a chance to secure someone who will also bring with him, or be able to attract, a recording deal. (The shortlist includes Sir Simon Rattle, of the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Riccardo Chailly of Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebouwe Orchestra, the Ausrrian conductor Franz Welzer-Moest, and Esa-Pekka Salonen of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.) In the meantime, though the plan to form its own recording company joint-venture with the musicians has yet to come to fruition, the Orchestra is back on the radio, if only locally on WFLN, and it looks like it will have 13 weeks of national broadcasting next year. In the last year, the Orchestra became the first of the Big Five to broadcast a performance live over the Internet.

The Millennium Task Force, formed after the end of the strike to examine such matters as the Orchestra’s finances and management, has yet to issue its findings. The determinations will not be binding, but coming from a group that combines hard-liners from both sides with three independent mayoral appointees, the task force’s report, expected in November at the earliest, will at least have to be taken seriously by all sides.

Hazier is the question of how the Orchestra will surmount its less tangible challenges. The musicians no doubt mean it when they say recording and broadcasting deals — not warm, empathic grips — are what they need to be happy, but until they recognize the unity of mission they share with management, the Philadelphia Orchestra will likely remain a torn, inefficient body slouching clumsily on into an uncertain future. It may be more important now than ever for the Orchestra to act on the plan, to get professional help. As the analyst of another neurotic patient, Philip Roth’s Portnoy, said: “Now vee may perhaps to begin. Yes?