Live Blog: A Behind-the-Scenes Conversation with The Philadelphia Orchestra

What follows is a live blog of our behind-the-scenes conversation with leaders from The Philadelphia Orchestra on Saturday, June 9 at 3:00pm Pacific.

Participants include:

  • Allison Vulgamore, President and CEO, Philadelphia Orchestra Association
  • Jeremy Rothman, Vice President, Artistic Planning
  • Joseph Conyers, Assistant Principal Bass
  • Stanford Thompson, CEO, Play on Philly

The conversation was moderated by Steven Winn.

4:32pm Vulgamore: It’s about offering a palette of experiences to give people access to these great musicians.

4:28pm Thompson: I like to think of giving the audience something to hope for season after season – what will this look like, where are we headed. You have to get excited about the musicians and how they knock it out of the park every night.

4:24pm Vulgamore: When you’ve lost 40% of your audience – it’s critical that you focus on audience first. Philadelphia Orchestra is going to show the way through generational change and what new financial models for American orchestras will be.

4:21pm Question: Is cutting musicians’ salaries one way to put more towards education and marketing – if that’s what is needed to be successful? Conyers: How to put this… there’s a reason kids want to be a basketball star at the top of their field – they get compensated substantially. Cutting classical musicians’ salaries is going backwards. It doesn’t serve the art. No doubt, it’s a sensitive subject. Rothman: Investing in musicians and education and new experiences is how art stays vibrant. But at the core of it, you have to have a great orchestra.

4:12pm In recent musicians contract – Philadelphia Orchestra chose not to say X part of your time is about doing something besides concerts. But, for example, they did include an “experimental week” – the contract doesn’t dictate number of events, amount of time, etc., it just has to be agreed upon. That’s how some of the events in China happened. Allows for more trial and error. It’s also about – what do the musicians want to do?

4:00pm Music has been exterminated from the schools. It’s more important than ever for musicians to step into that role and say “we will teach you. We will help you make those connections and fall in love.”

3:57pm Conyers: Programs like Play on Philly solve all sorts of problems for orchestras. They address basically every “problem” cited in classical music today: whether it’s engaging the community, bringing in new ideas to foster creativity, finding new audiences, encouraging diversity… it’s a huge win.

3:45pm: Thompson: There are a lot of families and kids facing tough financial realities in Philadelphia. Society will spend a lot of money trying to keep these kids together “body and soul” as they grow up. Investing in these kids at an early age – through music education, through involvement with an orchestra – is a better way to reach them, better for the kids and better for society financially. Play on Philly is building an “eight-lane-highway” between these kids and The Philadelphia Orchestra. And when you reach a kid, you reach his/her family and the community.

3:42pm: Vulgamore: Philadelphia Orchestra never cancelled a concert during the bankruptcy – also initiated tours in Europe and the ongoing residency in China. There’s much to be bullish on at the Philadelphia Orchestra.

3:37pm Vulgamore: We are pushing our own buttons right now. If we say media is about branding and access – and maybe not about revenue – that’s a new mentality.

3:37pm Something we just learned. Stokowski once over-ruled a people’s choice winner at a people’s choice concert and played his own favorite piece!

3:34pm Rothman: There is a sense that in Philadelphia there are people who are interested in contemporary music, modern dance, etc. who are not coming to the Philadelphia Orchestra. For example – they do not see the spiked hair and skinny jeans at Philadelphia Orchestra concerts so much.

3:27pm Rothman on the Stokowski legacy: innovation was key. Upcoming Stokowski festival is about creating new ways to hear music and experience concerts – and for people to perceive the orchestra in a new way.

3:25pm Rothman: Experience in China will inform their relationships in all the markets they play in – Saratoga, New York, etc.

3:22pm Is this work in China about the “survival” of the Philadelphia Orchestra? Vulgamore: [responding to a quote from a recent NPR story] We are not depending on China to sustain the Philadelphia Orchestra. The Orchestra does have to be net positive (financially) in all locations they perform.

3:20pm The notion of brand is very big in China. Sponsors expand their reach through the Philadelphia Orchestra events.

3:13pm China: So many concert halls and so little content.

3:12pm: Vulgamore: Great performances are always part of the equation – but how the Orchestra takes advantage of the unique skills and talents of members of the orchestra and shares that is key. On this trip, the Orchestra did a multitude of pop-up concerts and master classes. The trick in China is to be consistently there. Contracts are important, relationships are more important. Question is – can China afford a brand as big as Philadelphia Orchestra?

3:12pm: Conyers: I appreciate any opportunity to share my art, anywhere in the world.

3:10pm: Especially in China – this is pushing the Orchestra to open up its sense of what community relationships can be. It’s not one size fits all – different communities need/want different things.

3:05pm: First question: how does the recent China tour fit into the broader Philadelphia Orchestra agenda? Vulgamore: The Orchestra has been 7 times to China. Ongoing exchange is built on people-to-people relationships. It was a “play and stay” project, not “play and go.” It was about meeting people.

2:50pm: Our panelists are gathering in the Green Room at Davies Symphony Hall.


3 Comments

  1. Key Susan says:

    I am curious about how Philadelphia orchestra musicians are involved with play on Philly.

    • Hi Susan – thanks for your question! I’ll pass along to Steven. :)

    • Stanford Thompson says:

      Hi Susan, I am Stanford Thompson, the CEO for Play On, Philly! and I thought I would chime in an answer this question for you. Throughout the season, we’ve had several Philadelphia Orchestra musicians to our pilot site at St. Francis de Sales School to give presentations and teach master classes (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dGD0iYqx6aI). We also have a couple of musicians who teach our students private lessons and have provided artistic advice to our curriculum.

      We collaborate on a big project with Sir Simon Rattle last April by bringing the POP Orchestra to a Philly Orchestra / Simon Rattle rehearsal and when they were finished, our kids took the stage under Simon Rattle (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4xRM8fWIDBE). We had Philly Orchestra musicians coach our kids during that rehearsal and a couple of days later, the POP Orchestra made its Kimmel Center debut with Rattle (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L_CNz9Vrtkw), big thanks to the Philly Orchestra.

      We are only 1 year old and we have accomplished many things in our relationship this season. We are both looking forward to a second season of collaborations that will go even deeper than this past year. The Philly Orchestra musicians are all heroes to our kids and it means a lot to the community we serve to have such a meaningful connection to the Philly Orchestra.

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