The Philadelphia Orchestra’s first performance of the season didn’t go exactly as planned.
Last Friday, a crowd of a thousand gathered in Philadelphia’s Verizon Hall, eagerly awaiting the entrance of the 96 musicians for their opening night, but the stage never filled. Unbeknownst to the audience, which included dozens of donors to the institution, the members of the orchestra had recently decided to go on strike. Half an hour after the concert was supposed to begin, it was announced that there wouldn’t be one.
As the audience left the venue, they were greeted outside by light rain and by musicians carrying picket signs, seeking a new labor agreement with the Philadelphia Orchestra Association after recent financial trouble caused cuts. While some audience members applauded for the musicians, the philanthropists among them shouted and booed, upset that their donations went unappreciated.
The last time the Philadelphia Orchestra went on strike was in 1996, lasting for 64 days. This strike, however, ended after less than 48 hours when new deals were made that (somewhat) satisfied everybody. The agreement includes a higher base pay for musicians along with yearly 2 percent raises. The musicians are likely still malcontent with their salary, though, as it’s far less than other top orchestras in the United States. As the group recovers from the recession, these problems may fade.
As a musician myself, I wholeheartedly support the conservation of the fine arts, but I’m not sure that cancelling a concert was a very intuitive way to accomplish that. Many donors to the orchestra said that they wished the group had chosen another night to strike, and I agree that it was in poor taste. It was effective, though. Attention was drawn and deals were made as a result of the opening night protest. Now that the strike has ended and an agreement has been reached, the orchestra is set to have a great season. Maybe its audience will even grow because of this ordeal.
In the end, the members of the Philadelphia Orchestra worked together and did what they felt they had to do: earn the pay they deserve as one of the country’s top orchestras. Orchestral musicians deserve just as much respect as professionals in other fields. It’s their job to captivate and inspire us with sounds that they make from hollow metal and wood, and that’s incredible.
“This orchestra deserves to be saved,” said Philadelphia cellist Gloria de Pasquale. And it does.