Tough times for our city's great orchestra

You’ve probably heard the news.  In a comprehensive front page story published in Sunday’s Democrat and Chronicle, Stuart Low reported the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra may be facing an operating shortfall in excess of $700,000.  

But it could be much worse. 

Around the country, several major American orchestras are weathering financial crisis and debilitating labor disputes.

In the Midwest, contract talks between the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra management and musicians remain at a standstill.  Elsewhere, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, "The Minnesota Orchestra is on the brink of its first work stoppage since 1994.  Union musicians voted unanimously on Saturday evening to reject what management had described as its final contract offer." Last weekend, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra musicians DID go on strike after a dispute over pay and health benefits.  (The strike was short-lived; they ratified a new three-year contract on Tuesday.)  In Atlanta, after going without pay for a month, members of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra accepted a new collective bargaining agreement on Wednesday. 

Closer to home in Syracuse, there’s an effort under way to form a new orchestra after the collapse of the Syracuse Symphony in the spring of 2011.

Mercury Opera will offer no productions this year.  The Utica Symphony?  History.

Like I said, it could be much, much worse.

That’s not to say the situation at the RPO isn’t serious.  Administrators and musicians face difficult decisions. 

So what can we do?

We can cluck our tongues and disapprove of the disputes outlined in the paper. That’s understandable, but not terribly helpful.

We might, as one Rochester philanthropist is reported to have done, withdraw support for the orchestra. 

Frankly, I'm not sure how this will improve the current situation.

I suggest we all dig a little deeper and think about what’s really important.  Our city deserves a great orchestra. We have one, it’s generally healthy, and it needs our help. 

On Saturday, October 6th, I’ll be lacing up my sneakers and running a 5K to raise money for the RPO’s educational programs.  Some of your friends from WXXI, including inspiring music champions Julia Figueras, Mona Seghatoleslami, and Laura Garrison, have already made donations.  As of the time of this writing, friends and neighbors have raised $924 for Team RPO. (Mona is also running to raise support for music scholarships at the Hochstein School.)

What can you do? 

How about joining me in the race?  If running is not your thing, please click here and offer your support.

However you respond to the news, I hope you’ll find a way to sustain the musicians of the RPO that offer us great performances year in and year out, even when times are tough. 

Thank you.