Philadelphia Orchestra lands new national radio deal

SiriusXM broadcasts start Monday

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Music director Yannick Nezet-Seguin conducts the Philadelphia Orchestra at Saratoga Performing Arts Center Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2012 in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. This is Yannick Nezet-Seguin's first performance at SPAC. (Lori Van Buren / Albany Times Union)

The Philadelphia Orchestra is returning to national radio after a long absence – but this time on satellite rather than traditional radio.

Starting with a broadcast Monday night and continuing three times a week for at least the next year, concerts recorded in Verizon Hall will be carried on SiriusXM radio, a paid service with a monthly fee, to listeners across the U.S. and Canada.

Twenty-six programs will be repeated throughout the year-long term of the contract, after which the orchestra hopes the deal would be renewed.

Several American orchestras have been able to retain national broadcasts through an era of shifting demographics and stations flipping formats away from classical, but Philadelphia lost sponsorship of its nationally syndicated series in 1990 and has had only a sporadic national radio presence since.

“It’s exciting to be back on the national stage,” said Ryan Fleur, executive vice president for orchestra advancement.

Philadelphia will be the only American orchestra to be heard in regularly scheduled original programming on SiriusXM, a company spokesman said. The orchestra’s local broadcasts on WRTI-FM (90.1), Temple University’s station, will continue.

The deal was brought to the orchestra by one of its donors: David G. Marshall, chairman and CEO of Philadelphia-based Amerimar Realty Co., who sits on the board of the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation with SiriusXM president and chief content officer Scott Greenstein.

Marshall – whose wife, Sandra Marshall, is an orchestra board member and longtime volunteer – said he was wowed hearing enthusiastic reaction to the orchestra on a European tour from normally reserved audiences. The experience left him wanting to help it reach a wider audience, and so he approached Greenstein.

“We need the exposure, we need to build the organization, to build the audience, and to publicize the fact that they are really fantastic,” Marshall said. “I’m so proud of this orchestra," he said, adding that he started attending Philadelphia Orchestra concerts in college.

Marshall is underwriting the costs of these broadcasts and arranged to have them promoted on SiriusXM’s talk and news stations, along with a line saying they are being sponsored by a board member and the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation, which will boost the visibility of both the charity and the orchestra.

SiriusXM – which offers subscription packages starting at $10.99 per month and is available in cars as well as online – has several classical radio channels, including one for opera and another for pops. The Philadelphians will be heard on the SiriusXM’s Symphony Hall channel, which is channel 76. Each program will be heard Mondays at 7 p.m., Thursdays at 12 a.m., and Saturdays at 4 p.m. (all times Eastern).

Monday’s initial program features music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin with pianist Daniil Trifonov in the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 4, plus Ravel’s Une Barque sur l’océan and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherazade.

The first few programs to be broadcast are ones led by Nézet-Séguin. Other conductors will be included in programs going back to the 2012-13 season, Fleur said.

While the music will be the same as local listeners hear on WRTI-FM, on SiriusXM the broadcasts will feature Nézet-Séguin speaking about the music – “not so much about the musicology, but more about the music-making and what is going on in his mind selecting the pieces,"  Fleur says. "I would say the target is a little bit more mainstream than the music aficionados.”

The SiriusXM deal gives the orchestra a regular national radio presence for the first time in more than two and a half decades. The group lost its longtime national radio spot in March 1990 when Cigna Corp. ended sponsorship after six years. The musicians crafted a new 13-week national series in 1997, but it soon ended.

In 2006, the orchestra struck a deal with National Public Radio for national broadcasts, but unlike previous formats, which featured just the Philadelphia Orchestra, this one had the orchestra featured along with other ensembles on SymphonyCast and Performance Today.

The lack of national radio broadcasts, plus the decline of the classical recording business, has meant that classical listeners nationwide are not encountering the Philadelphia Orchestra unless they already know where to look. SiriusXM does not release information on the size of its audiences for specific channels or programs. But with 31.6 million subscribers in the U.S. and 2.7 million in Canada, the new broadcasts are being seen as a way for the orchestra to communicate with not only fans, but also potential new donors.

“I think an important part of our success is some of the work the orchestra is doing to brand itself outside of Philadelphia,” Fleur said. “We have a historic brand outside of Philadelphia, and the folks who really know us are getting older. Certainly when you talk to folks when the orchestra is traveling, they reference a period of time a generation ago. What we are interested in doing is making sure the world knows that we have one of the truly elite classical music institutions, that we have this wonderful product and art we are producing on a regular basis, and reinforcing that as we are looking to expand our international council [of donors] and support for the orchestra beyond the Philadelphia border.”