In the past ten years or so, the Philadelphia Orchestra has unfortunately been just as known for its myriad financial woes as it has for the delicate beauty of its music. Back in 2011, the orchestra filed for bankruptcy, which lead to a hiring freeze that knocked staff from 105 musicians (the traditional amount) to 95, or ten less. That number still hasn’t recovered. Complaints about pay contributed to a brief strike by musicians in 2016. Furthermore, the group has struggled to retain its acclaimed music director, Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
This week, all of that changed. A group of Silicon Valley donors, who wish to remain anonymous, gifted the Philadelphia Orchestra with $55 million, one of the largest donations in classical music history. It’s a move that will right the ship that is the orchestra, and point its compass towards a bright and assured future. Of the funds, the plan is to contribute $50 million towards the orchestra’s endowment, and put the remaining $5 million against operating expenses. With this plan, the orchestra’s endowment will swell to $212 million, which is slightly larger than that of the New York Philharmonic.
Nowadays, ticket costs contribute less and less towards the skyrocketing costs of putting on a concert. The investment income that orchestras receive from endowments is key to their survival, along with regular donations. The gift means that the orchestra will have more money to keep going on, as it were. The group draws a certain percentage from their endowment every year, and the generous donation will allow the orchestra to draw over $10 million this year, up from just under $8 million last year.
Overall, the gift gives the Philadelphia Orchestra security that many other major groups across the country are lacking right now. The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra decided last week to up and cancel its planned summer season, citing cost issues with how many weeks musicians came into work. The Lyric Opera of Chicago struck last fall over the amount of days of work required, and the renowned Chicago Symphony Orchestra went dark for a full 128 days as musicians argued with highers-up over their pensions.