Orchestra decides to seek bankruptcy protection

The financially struggling Philadelphia Orchestra board has decided to seek bankruptcy protection in the federal courts.

The board voted overwhelmingly to file, with the only opposition from the five members who are on the player’s committee.

While Philadelphia Orchestra board mulled whether to seek bankruptcy protection, a string quartet played Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings in the lobby of Morgan Lewis and Bockius law offices on Market Street.

The musicians, of the Wister Quartet, played to show their opposition to the bankruptcy opposition, while the board met elsewhere in the building. Musicians say bankruptcy could seriously damage fund-raising.

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A shrinking endowment and looming raises prompted the board to seek Chapter 11 protection.

The musicians are overdue for a new contract; it’s been almost four years since their last negotiation. With bankruptcy protection, the orchestra may be able to avoid pension benefits.

Bankruptcy does not mean the orchestra will cease to perform. There are many options both legal and administrative before a shutdown would occur.

However, when the San Diego Symphony filed Chapter 11 in 1998, it didn’t sound a note for two years.

Mere hours after the decision to file for bankruptcy was announced, the players are scheduled to perform Mahler’s Symphony #4.

“The orchestra will go there in spite of feeling emotionally shocked or drained,” said John Koen, cellist and chair of the player’s committee. “We will perform at our higest level. We do it for our audience.”

A musician’s strike is possible, but not inevitable.

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