Philadelphia Orchestra has their say on bankruptcy

April 14, 2011 8:44:28 PM PDT
Inside the Kimmel Center tonight, the first applause came well before the first note ever sounded.

And what began as a slow but steady show of support, grew into a loud, sustained standing ovation for several minutes.

The audience was reacting to an unprecedented move by an orchestra of Philadelphia's stature; every musician left the stage just before the show to hand out leaflets.

The papers detailed their opposition to a bankruptcy vote set for Saturday.

The Orchestra's board, most of which supports filing Chapter 11, is expected to vote in favor of bankruptcy as a way to dig out of what it refers to as unsustainable deficits.

According to a statement, "The Orchestra has more than $46-million in costs but revenues are only a little more than $31-million."

John Koen, the musicians' negotiator, says bankruptcy would do far more harm than good forcing these famed artists to look elsewhere for more stable work.

"We're really at risk and danger of losing the great musicians we have. We have principal players who have been called by other orchestras trying to recruit them, to take auditions and go there," Koen said.

With days to go before the vote, management says the two sides can close the gap, but musicians seem not to think so.

After $25-million in salary freezes and reductions, they say they can give no more, nor should they be asked to. What's more, if their contract is broken they say, we could see some sort of work stoppage, which neither side is yet prepared to accept.

Audience members, eager not to see the music interrupted, just want this sad song over.

"And we just want to have this thing resolved and for the orchestra to keep playing," Nicholas Roosevelt of Center City said.

That this long simmering financial fight is now playing out on a public stage means only that the argument has intensified. What was a question of how this orchestra could avoid bankruptcy may have now become a question of if it can survive after bankruptcy.