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The former fabulous Philadelphians: The city's symphony orchestra has run out of funding (Pete Checchia) 

Like a condemned man on a guillotine that jams in mid-fall, the symphony orchestra appears to survive on a whim and a prayer. The past year has been a testing one, the most parlous in memory, and few orchestras go into the summer festival whirl feeling entirely secure about what lies beyond.

Take a look at the 2011 toll so far. An incoming Dutch government pledged eight months ago to abolish all radio orchestras. They are still talking about it and a vote is due in parliament some time soon, but a country that once discussed culture with sombre reverence is now resorting to the rhetoric of Sarah Palin and the Governor of Kansas, who recently eliminated all state funding for the arts. Culture is no longer a sacred cow. Climate change in the political arena has heated up a tide of public resentment towards arts subsidy.

Elsewhere, Spain and Portugal, growth markets for symphonic music, have frozen over with economic fear. The orchestra in Seville has taken a 40 per cent funding cut, par for the course, and has called on the state to stop funding Daniel Barenboim's showcase East-West Divan. It's dog-eat-dog in Iberia.

In South America, the orchestras of the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires are locked out by their bosses and have not been paid for months. In Rio, the business-backed Brazil ian Symphony Orchestra has sacked half its musicians and is being boycotted as a result by the country's top soloists, Nelson Freire and Cristina Ortiz.

The United States sustains half the world's 500 or so professional orchestras. After decades of conservatism, the floodgates finally broke last winter. Symphony orchestras in Honolulu, Syracuse (NY) and Bellevue (WA) went into liquidation. Detroit toughed out a six-month strike before musicians finally accepted a 22 per cent pay cut; some of the best players have since left town. Louisville went into bankruptcy protection with a view to cutting the orchestra to chamber size; Columbus, Ohio, has halved its band.

And then came the bombshell. In March, Philadelphia, the first US orchestra to earn world fame in the 1920s when Leopold Stokowski conducted and Rachmaninov gave premieres, went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy to fend off its creditors. Philadelphia is — with Boston, Chicago, Cleveland and New York — one of America's big five orchestras, so designated for the power of their playing and the depth of their financial endowment, built over a century. The Philadelphia sound was once held to be the acme of musical perfection, a symbol of what musicians could achieve in a free society. The conductor Klaus Tennstedt wept at his first rehearsal, telling the musicians how he and his father would crawl under the bedclothes in Nazi Germany to hear their contraband message. Philadelphia was the pride of American orchestras.

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eddie s
December 5th, 2011
10:12 PM
Most Orchestra's are boring egotists and basically over paid Government Welfare receiptents who believe they should be adored and admired just for being them..They are not common people as in friendly; darling how drab to see those commoners in the last row.

clare robinson
July 28th, 2011
10:07 AM
(First violin, Netherlands symphony Orchestra, Orkest van het Oosten). I absolutely agree with everything John Borstlap has to say, particularly the last paragraph.

July 19th, 2011
2:07 AM
Kato. You must be joking. The bill that's coming due is most recently 8 years of theft camouflaged by 8 years of frivolous war. On another note: What makes you think orchestra members work 20 hours? Are you kidding? Do you even have a clue what goes into that work and how many real hours are involved in a concert season?

Ted Schrey Montreal
July 19th, 2011
12:07 AM
`The (many) reasons given for Lebrecht's "irreversible conclusion that the symphony orchestra will always survive..." remind me of the reasons why one can say churches will always survive. Some may survive. Most won't--is my "irreversible" conclusion.

July 4th, 2011
1:07 PM
So private citizen Sarah Palin "recently" cut off arts funding, huh? And precisely which orchestras were affected? Frankly, I have never heard anything about them, although I am familiar with several of the Dutch radio orchestras. My point is that it is specious to compare Anchorage and Juneau with New York and Philadelphia. The bill for fifty years of big-government liberalism, with its chronic overspending and gross misallocation of resources is finally coming due, and the arts are only one aspect of society that is going to feel the consequences. There are dire times ahead, moreso in Europe than in the U.S. In cities like Detroit, Cleveland, and Philadelphia, the majority of the younger generations is uneducated or miseducated, and is completely unfamiliar with every single name in this article. For every one of them who may someday become a benefactor of an orchestra there are 100 who have become acclimated to receiving handouts. Talk about orchestra members making $100K for 20 hours work, the stagehands in places like New York make double and triple that amount, and their union bosses may make up to $500K per year. Is the taxpayer supposed to blindly continue to pay for this union theft in the face of multibillion-dollar deficits?

John Borstlap
July 3rd, 2011
11:07 AM
ORCHESTRAS ARE IN THE FRONT LINE In a society which gradually looses its understanding of its own high culture, finding justifications for the existence of orchestras through 'community work' and the like, will only contribute to the erosion of music life: reducing an orchestra to a community tool will lead to less and less understanding of what an orchestra is. Making music has many different forms, and orchestras are at the top of the art form and should be left to their own job which is in itself already time- and energy-consuming enough. The community outreach programmes should be the job of other musicians - pop, cross-over, world music and the like - NOT classical music orchestras. It is crazy to ask from orchestras like the Berlin Phil to try to help solve integration problems in immigrant quarters. It is only a sign of erosion, not a possible way into the future of orchestral practice. It seems to be more practical to solve the problems of 'the orchestra in the XXIst century' through 2 ways of reducing its museum culture: 1) education, by making music education a must on every level of the educational system; 2) new composition related to the fundaments of orchestral practice, i.e. new music rooted in tradition, which will inject new life into the repertoire. Classical music for the orchestra is complex but often sensational. It has a stimulating influence upon brain development (as proven by neuroscience), so it is an excellent tool for educational purposes. It orders emotional experience and has an identity-strengthening effect upon the psyche. It reinforces the universalism of the best of civilization. It is a spiritual product at the end of thousands of years of human evolution, embodying civilizational values. Recordings are always just a substitute of the real thing: live performances. Live performances by orchestras should thus be accessible to everyone, and thus it should be normal that the state (the tax payer, who also pays for roads, bridges, health insurance etc.) support orchestras, as a counterbalance to the eroding influences of modern life and the media culture, which threaten to create a new type of human being: glued to the material exterior of things and incapable of thinking, feeling, judging, acting. It is in the state's interest that its citizens develop as much as possible to independent, civilized beings capable of mature conduct: high art, in which classical music and its orchestras occupy a central place, should be central to the state's concern, as it should be to the educational system. To see orchestras as marginal to society, is a signal of a much broader war on civilization: it begins with dissolving orchestras but it ends with barbarism. Look what is happening now in the Netherlands: a rightwing populism government wants to reduce the country's art institutions to insignificant, marginal private entertainment for a rich elite. A wave of hostility by the uneducated masses towards all art, old and new, is now getting power and will soon turn Holland into a cultural waste land.

July 3rd, 2011
8:07 AM
martyspence: I find your comment totally incoherent. I suspect, however, that you're a jazz or rock fan with no understanding of the orchestral genre who believes that orchestral musicians can create a performance by mechanically reproducing the instructions in the score which can be interpreted like computer code. Heard it before - not even close. To equate orchestral musicians with people who paint by numbers is just plain silly.

Zhay Dhee
July 2nd, 2011
7:07 PM
To sit in a music hall and listen to your favorite symphony live, real time, among other listeners who expect you to listen in silence or leave (no pausing the cd or drifting out of the room to the fridge while the music plays), to Hear the phrases and movements with Dimension and Luscious Timbre is an experience one cannot have from the couch and it is for this that we are happy to buy a ticket. There is no doubt, though, that the repertoire has become stale. Who Really enJOYS Schoenberg and Shostakovitch? It seems to me, though, young musicians are finding ways to make the classical music training more Relevant: a young woman on youtube who plays Poker Face in the style of a Beethoven Sonata, a violinist who plays the Super Mario theme on his fiddle - something will come of this experimentation. Musicians grounded in composition who take this path are the future. The composers music was of their time - Bach rewrote the instrumentation of some of Vivaldi's Concertos for his own purposes, Beethoven and Brahms included folk songs as themes in their works - why shouldn't this generation include Lady Gaga's tunes? Perhaps only a few orchestras will survive in their current form and size and in only the biggest or wealthiest of cities. But it's not difficult to imagine an exciting collaboration between young composers and out-of-work classical musicians, a collaboration which could be the genesis for the future Canon.

July 2nd, 2011
6:07 PM
If Bach were there to hear it, it might not have been okay for him. I would worry.

July 2nd, 2011
2:07 AM
I am unable to agree that orchestras ~must~ be funded, for the same reason I wouldn't advocate my city's funding of a tea-ceremony troupe, no matter how refined or excellent. The trick is how to attract and retain public attendance: I wonder what success stories exist out there? Here in my city (Hobart) we have an excellent and refined orchestra which it is my joy to attend and thus my responsibility to support.

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