Philadelphia Orchestra declares bankruptcy
April 25, 2011, 2:33 am · Updated April 25, 2011, 12:00 am·
The Philadelphia Orchestra was the first to broadcast on radio and TV, and, as of last week, was also the first major U.S. orchestra to go bankrupt.
After the orchestra’s April 20 appearance in court, fans of classical music are looking to salvage the venerable 111-year old symphony, one of the nation’s “Big Five” orchestras.
The orchestra’s board cited rent space at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, employees’ health insurance and expenses for subscriptions among other reasons for its debt.
“We need a fresh start,” board chairman Richard Worley said in an April 16 article of the New York Times. “We need to escape contractual entanglements that we cannot possibly afford.”
In April performances, Philadelphia Orchestra musicians have protested the bankruptcy by briefly leaving the stage before their concert and passing out leaflets to rally audience members for support.
Cello player John Koen told the New York Times the bankruptcy would make it hard to attract “the best new players” and also hurt the orchestra’s ability to raise money.
If the hollowing-out of one of America’s premier orchestras has jolted the classical world, the effect has struck fewer chords at Penn.
College sophomore Michael Levenstein, a Philadelphia Orchestra season ticket holder, said the cultural mainstay’s woes speak to a younger generation’s “loss of interest” and “coarsening of taste.”
“It’s an unfortunate trend,” Levenstein said. “People in my age group are no longer interested in classical music. My friends and I often remark we lower the mean age of the audience members by several decades when we go to performances.”
According to Levenstein, the classical base at Penn has been eclipsed by newer, more popular forms of music.
“Part of the problem is that it’s difficult to engage college students since tickets are so expensive, and that it attracts a different demographic — mostly an elderly crowd,” said College senior Christopher Shook, a fan of the orchestra.
Shook added that his interest in classical music grew after a Penn professor brought him to New York Philharmonic performances. “With tickets so expensive, often students need someone to take them there.”