Many friends have used the word "sad" to describe the news that the Philadelphia Orchestra's board of directors voted to file a Chapter 11 petition in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Philadelphia. I can agree that there is some sadness attending this event, but I would point out that Chapter 11 is about hope, about optimism. It would be truly sad, indeed tragic, if the board's reaction to the orchestra's financial situation were to file a petition to dissolve the orchestra and liquidate its assets to satisfy creditors. (The Honolulu Symphony's board recently took that route.) That would mean that they could see no way out to being able to continue running a first-class symphony orchestra in the city of Philadelphia. But the board's reaction in authorizing a Chapter 11 means that they strongly believe that there is a way to do this, if given the chance to start fresh.
That's what Chapter 11 is about: making a fresh start. Putting the cash flow crisis on hold with some breathing space to engage all concerned parties – musicians, administrators, creditors, donors and other potential supporters – in a creative conversation about how to have an economically viable first-class symphony orchestra in Philadelphia. I understand that the musicians' representatives strongly opposed the bankruptcy filing. That is understandable, perhaps, but short-sighted. The orchestra management reported that their cash flow situation was so desparate they could only meet payroll a short while longer. The musicians need to be a major part of the solution to this problem, and I don't think that this would necessarily be to their long-term financial disadvantage. An appropriately creative financial restructuring to put the orchestra on a sound basis can only benefit them in the long run, even if it requires some short-term sacrifice. That they are in the midst of collective bargaining over a new contract is actually fortuitous in this sense; the timing is obviously right for serious talks about how to make it work financially.
I have no personal knowledge of the Philadelphia Orchestra's financial situation. But I go back a long way with this orchestra. When I was first becoming aware of classical music as a young child, I "learned" Shostakovich's 5th Symphony and Sibelius's 1st Symphony from 78 rpm recordings in my father's collection by the Philadelphia Orchestra (with Stokowski and Sibelius). I thrilled to the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2 with the composer and the Philadelphia Orchestra, also on 78s. And there was that great old recording of Sibelius's Lemminkainen Suite, one of the handful of mono LPs in my dad's small collection – a recording that unfortunately has never resurfaced on CD. (Their later stereo remake with Ormandy for EMI is excellent, but I'd love to get to hear the older recording again.) When I started buying classical recordings as a teenager, there were some great Philadelphia Orchestra recordings among the earliest in my collection – Stern & Ormandy in the Prokofiev Violin Concerti, Entremont & Ormandy with Saint-Saens Piano Concerti, a marvelous collection of orchestral marches, Virgil Fox and Ormandy in the Saint-Saens Organ Symphony — all among the early favorites in my collection. When I moved to NYC in 1977, I began to hear occasional concerts by the Philadelphia Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, led by Ormandy, Muti, Sawallisch and Eschenbach over the course of more than 30 years now. Although I've never heard them perform live in their home hall, I feel like I know this orchestra, and I love it very much and admire it as one of the finest.
My impression is that major American symphony orchestras today have generated excessive overhead through too much staffing up on the non-musical end, and that economies can be achieved in the administrative end. I would imagine that it may be possible to renegotiate arrangements with various creditors to stretch out payments, and work out a more liveable rental deal with Kimmel Hall. It may be possible to work out more flexible arrangements with the musicians' union. I would hope that an orchestra of this magnificence could figure out ways to generate more revenue from recording and live broadcasting of their concerts, and that Philadelphia individuals and corporations might be persuaded to step up to a greater level of philanthropic support. (I, for one, have been disappointed with the programming of their recordings in their contract with the Finnish label, Ondine, and haven't bought many of them.)
Surely, if everybody has the goal of sustaining the orchestra over the long run, Chapter 11 should be what it is intended to be: a fresh start to make it possible for an important organization to maintain its viability. Now it's largely a question of attitude on the part of all concerned.