The Philly Pops Will Live On

The Inquirer‘s music critic, Peter Dobrin, reports in Sunday’s paper that the Philadelphia Orchestra’s newly unveiled strategic plan offers a lot of wiggle room for future invitations to visiting artists and different kinds of music repertoire and concert formats.  What neither Dobrin nor Orchestra president, Allison Vulgamore mention is that the Philly Pops is being cut off from the organization and, possibly, permanently demoored.

However, the long-time music director of the Pops, Peter Nero, has vowed to “not go down without a fight.”  So, for his recent birthday celebration, he and a few of his longest-serving musicians had a strategic session of their own.  The Orchestra had not scheduled anything for the Pops for the fall/winter season, so they were in administrative limbo.  They decided to plan, market, and perform on their own.

What kind of  a venue do they need?  Amplification and a stage that can accommodate 61 musicians, including Nero’s grand piano.

The breaking news is that Nero has already secured funds and the space for its first concert without the Orchestra.  It will be on Sunday, July 3rd, at 7 pm at Independence Hall.  It’s being underwritten, so it’s free to the public.  You’re the first to know.


Open Letter

Dear Ms. Vulgamore,

I write as a concerned music patron.  The recent decision to apply for Chapter 11 financial re-organization sets a troubling precedence in the music world and I wonder how Philadelphia would fare in the end?  Since that decision, I have been having weekly conversations with a source within the organization and I was moved to write by our latest chat yesterday.

Yes, we can be proud that the Philadelphia Orchestra is one of the top five in the nation (along with New York, Boston, Chicago and Cleveland), but I was amazed to learn that our orchestra also pays the highest salary of all these as well as the highest starting salary for the musicians (at $70,000, an unheard-of amount in the fine arts)!  Equally amazing facts to me are: the Orchestra does not perform or rehearse on Sundays; the 12-week vacations that some musicians enjoy; and the contracts that stipulate a full orchestra for each performance, necessitating substitute players and a huge substitute salary payroll.

Yes, it does seem prudent to re-think these financial agreements, but what does it mean to throw all the previous years of labor negotiations out the window?  Could every other cultural organization take this “easy” way out of financial difficulties?  What obligations to your employees (and your paying patrons) remain?  But what about the unwieldy 60-member administrative staff?  And why are you still interviewing candidates for the following positions (as listed on your website): Director, Foundations and Government Relations; Institutional Giving Coordinator; Group and Corporate Sales Coordinator; Operations Coordinator; and Education and Community Partnerships Coordinator?  I do note that the part-time position as receptionist is non-paying.

How could you think of retiring Peter Nero, the energetic, two-time Grammy-award-winning pianist and director of the Philly Pops– under the same management as the Philadelphia Orchestra- for 30 years?  His much younger colleague, James Levine, has been suffering from debilitating back troubles, but he has been allowed the liberty and respect to choose when to withdraw from his multiple duties as conductor and music director of the Metropolitan Opera and the Boston Symphony.

I read in Sunday’s Inquirer that the Orchestra will have an abbreviated season at the Mann this summer, because of its previously planned European tour.  Add this fact to the uncertainty over whether there will be a fall season and you leave your patrons puzzled and frustrated.  Do remember that Philadelphia lies within an easy commute to New York and even Washington, so some of your music-loving patrons could choose to leave the city for their listening pleasure.

While I have your ear, could I also add that the Orchestra’s move to the Kimmel Center has about doubled the ticket prices beyond the affordability of the average family with children?  No wonder that your concerts as seen from the stage are often a sea of senior faces with glasses.  What are your obligations to your patrons?  To nurturing a music audience for the future?

If yours were a Jewish organization, I would say shanda for shame.  You are a world-class cultural institution, so conduct yourself with world class.

Hannah Lee