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Archive: March, 2009

POSTED: Sunday, March 29, 2009, 10:01 AM

"We smoked our pipes leaning over the wooden fence and looking down at the green shimmer of the Wissahickon, seeing how the pallor of sandy bottom shone up through the clear water." - Christopher Morley, Travels in Philadelphia (1920) (Photograph by Glenn Holsten, March 28, 2009)

POSTED: Friday, March 27, 2009, 5:12 PM

Riccardo Muti, considering an invitation to become music director of Opera di Roma, tells the Italian press:

"If I choose a theater, it's a commitment... I am grateful... I am considering the offer with enthusiasm... I've been doing this job for 40 years and I've always considered every offer at length... It happened with la Scala, with Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Philadelphia and Chicago, because those are life-changing choices."

He hasn't even taken the job and already this drama has a long history, which is artfully relayed by Opera Chic - our favorite opera tracker, and only partly because she alone seems able to capture photographs (such as this one) that reveal something truly important about their subjects.

POSTED: Friday, March 27, 2009, 4:40 PM

Krystian Zimerman has canceled his Kimmel Center recital April 1. The pianist is sick, according to the Kimmel, and has been given the no-travel advisory. The concert will not be rescheduled.

POSTED: Friday, March 27, 2009, 4:16 PM

The Curtis Institute of Music has hired a new dean.
John R. Mangan takes over the post June 15 after the retirement of Robert Fitzpatrick, who held the job for more than two decades.
Mangan, 43, comes to Curtis after seven years at Yale University, where he was most recently assistant dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and lecturer in the department of history.
As Curtis’ chief academic officer, he will oversee musical and liberal arts curriculum and the library, recruit and retain faculty, manage orchestra operations and weigh in on decisions regarding repertoire, and work with president Roberto Díaz as the school undergoes a facilities expansion.
“It’s a lot about problem-solving, and also about working hard to maintain the high standards of the institution,” said Mangan. “Also I’ll be deeply involved in the life of the students and supporting them.”
“We got over 200 applicants, and a lot of very interesting ones,” said Díaz. “He had just the right background. He had been a dean at Yale, he had a musical background…There were a lot of things in his resume that seemed to resonate with what we saw as necessary for the job.”
Mangan was a classical guitarist, and for several years a music critic for the daily New Haven Register. He earned a Ph.D. in history and education from Columbia University, a master’s from Yale, and a bachelor of music degree from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.
He is married to dancer/choreographer Bronwen MacArthur, artistic director of the MacArthur Dance Project, a young troupe based in New Haven.

POSTED: Friday, March 27, 2009, 3:07 PM

Philadelphia cut-out artist Joe Boruchow has captured the city's budget crisis in black and white.

POSTED: Wednesday, March 25, 2009, 2:09 PM

Neeme Järvi has no title with the Philadelphia Orchestra, and never has. But if anyone were deserving of an honorific, it’s this conductor. Something like Substitute In Chief would do.

Järvi, 71, is stepping in for an ailing Emmanuel Krivine at the orchestra this week. It is the fifth time Järvi has taken over at the orchestra’s podium while apparently feeling healthy and able when others were not.

In fact, Järvi has appeared here slight more as a substitute than as an originally scheduled conductor, five times to four respectively.

POSTED: Wednesday, March 18, 2009, 5:29 PM

At the Joseph Patelson Music House in New York Tuesday, members of the Philadelphia Orchestra wandered the aisles as they do when they visit Carnegie Hall. But rather than finding the usual feast of scores and sheet music, this time they were left wondering where the stock had gone.

The landmark store’s clerks were overheard speaking in anxious tones about reduced work shifts and fretting about depleted shelves.

It’s clear that Patelson’s — across 56th Street from Carnegie Hall’s backstage entrance and for decades the source of music for the likes of Isaac Stern and Beverly Sills, as well as Paul McCartney and Frank Sinatra — is struggling.

“All I can say is your eyes are not lying,” said a clerk. “We’re having hard times. Hopefully the economy will pick up, but at this point it’s very uncertain.”

Asked whether the store was planning to close, the clerk said it was possible.

“There’s no definite timetable. If I had to say, the end of the year.”

Marsha Patelson, owner of the New York institution and a cellist, did not return phone calls, and no one answered her home phone.

The economy has taken its toll on Patelson, and so has the availability of both hard scores and downloads on the internet.

“It’s not the way it was ten years ago when I first started here,” said the clerk. “Teachers would order $800 worth of this and $800 worth of that. People from Japan who would buy a ton of stuff. But it’s dried up.”

The Patelson store traces its roots to 1920 when Ernest Cook opened the Half-Price Music Shop on Cooper Square. The business moved to W. 59th Street, then 57th, and in 1929 Cook hired a student named Joseph Patelson. By 1939 Patelson had so firmly proven himself that when Cooke died he left the business to Patelson.

The business moved to 56th St. in 1940, next door to its present location, and when the 1879 carriage house went up for sale in 1942, Patelson bought it. World War II delayed renovations, but by 1947 work was completed, and the business moved to its current site.

The spot just across the street from Carnegie’s stage door made it an inevitable locus for musicians, and there, a few hours before visiting orchestras played Carnegie, musicians could be found foraging for a particular edition of a chamber work or happening upon a previously unknown sonata.

Patelson died in 1992, leaving the store to son Dan Patelson. Dan Patelson died in 2004, and the business passed to his widow, Marsha.

The store boasts having provided services to a wide swath of the music world: composers Copland, Barber and Rorem; conductors Erich Leinsdorf and James Levine; singers Placido Domingo and Eileen Farrell; pianists Jorge Bolet, Van Cliburn and Mitsuko Uchida.

Non-classical customers included Michael Jackson, Jaco Pastorius, Claudette Colbert and Lee Remick.

It’s that sense of discovery — both in terms of who you might run into, as well as what obscure work you could find — that would be hard to replicate if Patelson closed up shop.

And Philadelphia Orchestra members would have to find another place to loiter between rehearsals and concerts. 

POSTED: Wednesday, March 11, 2009, 3:02 PM

In what is only the first step in averting or minimizing a deficit this season, the Philadelphia Orchestra Association today shed 20 percent of its administrative staff and said other cost-cutting moves were on the way.

Twelve staffers were let go and six other positions will go unfilled, leaving the orchestra with 72 administrators.

“This is an exceedingly sad day for us,” said Frank P. Slattery Jr., acting executive director and CEO.

In addition, remaining staffers earning more than $50,000 annually will take a 10-percent pay cut for the portion of salary above $50,000, and vice presidents will take additional compensation reductions.

While the cuts, made across a range of departments, are a clear consequence of the economy, they add to an arguably self-inflicted institutional crisis greater than any since the 64-day strike of 1996.

Among the pressing struggles:

- A wounding slip — or at least for some a perceived one — from the top tier of orchestras. The Philadelphia Orchestra was alone among major American orchestras in being absent from a recent Gramophone magazine ranking of the world’s great orchestras.
- The continued deterioration of a national and international presence. The orchestra is at the end of its relationship with record label Ondine and has canceled a European tour this summer with chief conductor and artistic adviser Charles Dutoit that would have begun to move the orchestra’s image beyond its bumpy past with former music director Christoph Eschenbach.
- The juggling of three searches at once: a new board chairman, president and music director.
- An ongoing effort to improve the orchestra’s home in the Kimmel Center, both in terms of acoustics and urban liveliness.

The orchestra recently celebrated surpassing the goal of its $125 million endowment drive by $5 million, for a total raised of $130,078,771. The boost was to have ensured the fiscal health of the organization, but, in a cruel bit of timing, the goal was reached just as portfolio values were plunging.

The market value of the orchestra’s endowment was $117 million as of Jan. 31, down 30.73 percent from the same date a year earlier, “and it’s fair to infer that February was a down market,” he said.

That’s a far cry from the summer of 2007 when the orchestra, with $20 million to go in its endowment drive, was already looking at a nest-egg valued at $202 million. Leaders were confident that, between new gifts and market appreciation, the campaign could end with $250 million in the bank.

Adding to the stress on the budget are the first signs that the devastated economy is affecting buying and giving habits of orchestra supporters. Ticket revenue is 14 percent lower than same time last year. Corporate support is unchanged, but individual giving is down 15 percent.

Attendance has softened. Verizon Hall was filled an average of 79 percent of capacity this time last year, but that number has dropped to 73 percent.

Today's cuts will shave about $900,000 in spending, but only part of that savings will be realized this year, and the orchestra is facing a potential $2.2 million deficit.

“This will help the deficit, but in and of itself will not avert that,” said Slattery. The orchestra will likely end the fiscal year with red ink, but the extent of the shortfall is unclear at this point.

“Unless some generous soul does something I don’t know they’re going to do yet, I think there will be a deficit,” said Slattery.

Slattery is asking various corporations, board members and friends of the orchestra for support, but he suspects additional cuts are necessary to narrow the gap. The orchestra recently retained Thomas W. Morris, an orchestra-industry consultant who was executive director of the Cleveland Orchestra from 1987 to 2004, to perform an evaluation of orchestra operations.

His recommendations will be brought before the orchestra board later this season, Slattery said.

The cuts at the orchestra echo similar budget contractions that appeared to intensify this week at arts organizations across the country. The Pittsburgh Symphony, with its endowment down about 30 percent, announced the layoff of nine staff members. Dancers of the American Ballet Theater, threatened with layoffs, agreed Monday to the elimination of pension contributions and vacation pay for this year, according to the New York Times.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art, the other powerhouse arts group in town, last month eliminated 30 slots, or seven percent of its administration.

The staff of the Philadelphia Orchestra was already operating at a lean level in comparison to other orchestras its size, and the cuts leave it bare-bones, Slattery acknowledged.

“We have only a very, very simple mission now, and that is to put this orchestra on stage to play the music they’ve been playing and still be an international touring organization that is attempting to become the best orchestra in the U.S. Anything else that gets in the way of this is extraneous now,” he said.

The cuts are the first since 2004, when seven administrators, or about ten percent of the staff, was let go, paring it from 70 to 63 members.

These new layoffs throw down the gauntlet to musicians whose raises in the past decade and half have well exceeded inflation, and who are scheduled for another pay increase next season.

Musicians will receive a minimum-salary boost to $131,040 next season from this season’s $124,800 — a 5 percent increase — and some board members see potential savings in renegotiating the contract now.

After a long period of nettlesome labor relations, the orchestra board in 2006 hired a new president, James Undercofler, who is widely acknowledged to have brought civility to discussions. But Undercofler ended his leadership even before the end of his three-year contract, stepping down in January.

Then, in late January, board chairman Harold A. Sorgenti left his post nine months before he had been scheduled to do so.

With the ongoing search for a permanent music director to succeed Eschenbach, the departures leave the orchestra searching for three leaders at once.

Some orchestra members would like to see Dutoit named music director for a short, finite period period while the search for a new conductor continues, though others are arguing against it.

“The sooner we get these things taken care of the better off we’re going to be,” said Slattery. “They will determine who we are what we will do for a long time.” 

About this blog

Peter Dobrin is a classical music critic and culture writer for The Inquirer. Since 1989, he has written music reviews, features, news and commentary for the paper, covering such topics as the Philadelphia Museum of Art at the Venice Biennale, expansion of the Curtis Institute of Music, the Philadelphia Orchestra's bankruptcy declaration in 2011, Philadelphia's evolving performing arts center and the general health of arts and culture.

Dobrin was a French horn player. He earned an undergraduate degree in performance from the University of Miami, and received a master's degree in music criticism from the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University, where he studied with Elliott Galkin. He has no time to practice today.

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