The board of the Philadelphia Orchestra voted two weeks ago to file for bankruptcy protection (Chapter 11). It is worth noting that the orchestra is considered one of the very best in the country, on par with those in New York, Chicago, Boston and Cleveland. One thing that drew my attention in the Philadelphia Inquirer article (which I link to above) is that "[m]anagement has weighed bankruptcy for more than a year after deciding it no longer wanted to participate in the musicians' current defined-benefit pension fund"; I haven't found mention of a defined-benefit pension fund in other articles covering the news but it surprised me that, in these days and times, an entity that does not belong to the public sector would still have a defined-benefit pension fund.
(It certainly seems advantageous for the musicians, as they know what they will receive when they retire, but I'd always thought that just about everyone beside government employees had made the switch to a defined-contribution pension fund a long time ago. I wonder whether other orchestras have defined-benefit pension funds too, which can increase their outstanding commitments quite drastically. Again, defined-benefit is "better", in the sense of less risky, for the fund's recipients, but I am not sure how a nonprofit can afford it.)
Other interesting facts about the bankruptcy are: (1) management hopes to renegotiate the orchestra's lease at the (gorgeous) Kimmel Center, and (2) "several bankruptcy and charity lawyers said they were puzzled by an organization entering bankruptcy court with assets ($140 million in endowment) more than triple liabilities," which raises the question of good faith. The article continues: "It is management's position that the $140 million in orchestra and Academy of Music endowment is donor-restricted, earmarked to remain forever in endowment, and is therefore untouchable." I'm not sure I understand the sentence correctly, as it suggests the money is never supposed to be spent; maybe it means there should always be $140 million in the endowment fund so that it is not depleted.
I have always been very impressed with the Philadelphia Orchestra concerts I have attended at the Kimmel Center; it is unthinkable for me that the orchestra could not survive, or would produce concerts of decreased quality. That is simply not what the Philadelphia Orchestra is about. As an easy idea to engage patrons more, I'd love to see an orchestra - in Philadelphia or elsewhere, but the bankruptcy proceedings call for a bold approach, so why not in Philadelphia first - organize a contest for patrons to design the program for a series of concerts the orchestra would play.
For instance, the orchestra could make a call for nominations, where patrons would suggest works they would like to hear, preferably works that are not performed very often (I am voting for Stanford's Second Piano Concerto. Do not even try to argue with me on that one.) Then, once all the nominations had been gathered, with possibly some filtering by the orchestra given rehearsal times and other constraints, patrons would vote for their favorites - let's say one short work, one concerto and one symphony, using their Patron ID number so that the system could not be taken advantage of by a few individuals voting thousands of times.
And we would thus have an original program decided by the people who have attended concerts before and presumably care about the orchestra, and should find some incentive in returning. Orchestra members could even perform the program multiple times, for instance once at a black-tie gala-type event raising money to get the orchestra out of bankruptcy and once at cheaper prices to incite people to attend classical music concerts; the variations are endless. In the meantime, I'll pop my Stanford recording into my CD player.