If you divined during the Philadelphia Orchestra's 2011 bankruptcy that the orchestra might emerge unable to raise the money required to fund its traditional size and stature, the new musicians' contract gives form to your fears.
In the deal musicians approved Oct. 12, players did not reach the base pay of $131,000 that they had been scheduled to receive several years ago but that was canceled as part of a bankruptcy-era contract. Rather, the new base pay comes to $127,750, or about 3 percent higher than it was. And management agreed only to restore the ensemble's membership a hair, to 96 members from 95, which would leave nine vacancies and, by necessity, the continued use of many substitute players.
With the orchestra falling a notch in relation to base pay at some other top orchestras, the musicians' committee has warned some players will leave. Will they? Probably. Conservatories pump out superlative players by the dozens each year; management appears to have made a supply-vs.-demand calculation that everyone is replaceable.
I'd have a little more sympathy for the players' desire to preserve the Philadelphia Sound, and high quality in general, were the Philadelphia Sound anything more than a marketing idea today. But the players' and their union have never found it important to move along players who should retire, putting a crack in their stance as guardians of quality.
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