There was a time in the classical music community, and even outside of it, that most people associated the word “orchestra” with the city of Philadelphia. The city’s unique “Philadelphia sound” was the thing that legends were made of and, during the peak of its popularity in the city and internationally, the orchestra was prone to going on world tours. The Philadelphia Orchestra, under the direction of Eugene Ormandy, recorded best-selling classical music albums that were a hit throughout the United States and the world.
Then, the early part of the present decade, something nearly unthinkable happened: The Philadelphia Orchestra announced that it could no longer ignore the weight of its financial obligations and its debts, and it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the United States. Of course, legendary conductor Eugene Ormandy had long departed by that time, and the world of orchestras internationally was changing amid transitioning tastes and tighter arts budgets.
A Dilemma Resolved: How the Orchestra Plans to Emerge in 2013
As one of the world’s greatest orchestras sought to overcome its debt burden and return to profitability, it undertook a number of changes that took the local Philadelphia community by surprise. First and foremost, it ended its strong partnership with the Philly POPS, with which it had long shared revenues and a performance space in the form of Philadelphia’s Verizon Hall. The POPS had long been accused of dragging down the overall finances of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and this was viewed as an abrupt but necessary step toward a brighter future.
The orchestra next pursued a slight raise in ticket prices while freezing compensation levels for its performance staff and others within the organization. Perhaps best of all, the organization began seeking new ways of entertaining guests with an approach that combined the traditional orchestra experience with 21st century visuals.
The Audio-Video Orchestra and the Philadelphia Comeback
Over the course of 2012, bankruptcy proceedings proceeded in court as the Philadelphia Orchestra pursued a packed and popular schedule. The bankruptcy filing itself rallied both local and national forces around the organization, and its new approach to concerts brought in new fans of all ages. The orchestra began mixing its unique “Philadelphia sound” with visual displays on large LCD screens that served to reinvigorate the orchestra’s appeal.
By the end of 2012, the Philadelphia Orchestra’s annual New Years Eve concert and celebration was a sold out affair, with a packed house. Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who led the program, spoke of a bright future ahead for the orchestra as it regains fiscal solvency and pursues a new, engaging format that may well see the Philadelphia Orchestra regain its status as an international sensation and must-have orchestra experience as it moves forward.