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Philadelphia Orchestra Begins New Four-Year Contract

Musicians of the Philadelphia Orchestra began a new four-year contract agreement on September 16. Entering into negotiations earlier this year, musicians expected a difficult road; since The Philadelphia Orchestra’s bankruptcy in 2012, musicians have been attempting to recover losses, and the previous negotiations, in 2016, resulted in a brief strike.

This round of negotiations was difficult, but respectful and productive. The new contract includes a 10.5% salary increase over its four years, bringing base salary to $152,256, including Electronic Media Agreement wages, by the 2022-2023 season. In addition, in each year of the contract, musicians will receive a supplemental payment of either $750 or $1,500.

The Philadelphia Orchestra will also add two musicians over the life of the contract, increasing the complement from 97 musicians and two librarians, to 99 musicians and two librarians. The CBA restores a 10th week of vacation that had previously been lost.

Among audition rules and work rules, the music director may require an audition candidate to perform two trial weeks during which the music director is on the podium; guest conductors may not make personnel changes for a program; and fire and pyrotechnics are prohibited on stage.

The agreement was reached six months early, in March. Several months later, in June, the orchestra received a $55 million donation–the largest in its history.

Philadelphia Orchestra musicians are members of Local 77 (Philadelphia, PA).

Philadelphia Orchestra Receives $55 Million

The Philadelphia Orchestra has received an anonymous gift that is one of the largest in the history in the orchestra world. The anonymous gift of $55 million was announced by the orchestra at the beginning of June.

The Philadelphia Orchestra plans to use $5 million toward operating expenses, putting the vast majority, $50 million, toward its endowment. That will bring the endowment total to $212 million and will allow the organization to draw $10.8 million from the endowment next year, compared to its $7.9 million draw this year. 

The anonymous donor group stated that the gift was “an expression of confidence in the artistic and organizational leadership of the orchestra.” The Philadelphia Orchestra’s musicians are members of Local 77 (Philadelphia, PA).

Philadelphia Orchestra Settles New Contract Early

For the first time in its history, The Philadelphia Orchestra musicians and management agreed to a new contract ahead of the deadline, which was September 16. Negotiations for the new four-year contract, which runs through September 10, 2023, began in February.

The contract will reinstate two more orchestra positions that were lost during the orchestra’s 2011 bankruptcy. One will be added in the 2020-2021 season and one will be added in the 2022-2023 season, bringing the orchestra’s complement to 97 players and two librarians. The contract also restores a 10th week of paid vacation lost during bankruptcy.

With a current base salary of $137,800, Philadelphia Orchestra musicians—members of Local 77 (Philadelphia, PA)—will see raises of 2% in the first year of the contract, 2.5% in both the second and third years, and 3% in the final year. There is potential for additional pay, if the organization achieves certain surplus benchmarks. No changes were made to pension benefits or health care.

Changes in work rules will allow for additional Sunday afternoon concerts and an increased number of weeks with two double-rehearsal days, in order to accommodate Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s schedule with The Metropolitan Opera.

“This early agreement is the fruit of years of work invested in strengthening relationships between all of the stakeholders in our organization. Negotiations were conducted in a straightforward and respectful manner throughout. We thank Local 77 President Joseph Parente and Attorneys Melvin S. Schwarzwald and James G. Porcaro,” says Orchestra Committee Chair William Polk. The Philadelphia Orchestra anticipates that the amicable contract will inspire confidence from donors and brighten fundraising prospects.

Philadelphia Orchestra Plans New Tour to China

At the end of January, The Philadelphia Orchestra announced plans for its 12th tour to China, in celebration of 40 years of official diplomatic ties between the US and China. In May, the orchestra will travel to Beijing, Tianjin, Hangzhou, Nanjing, and Shanghai.

“It is always thrilling to return to China, especially during this special anniversary year,” says Philadelphia Orchestra Music Director Yannick Nezet-Seguin of Local 77 (Philadelphia, PA). “What makes our journeys truly unforgettable are the ways we immerse ourselves in cultural exchange with musicians, young people, and audiences. We look forward to forging ever more meaningful connections between our cultures and communities through the joy and excitement of music.”

Philadelphia Orchestra Adds Works by Female Composers

In response to criticism for announcing a 2018-2019 season devoid of a single work by a female composer, The Philadelphia Orchestra announced a revised season schedule to include two works by female composers, plus a few additional female guest artists. In November, the orchestra will give the US premiere of Perspectives by Canadian composer Stacey Brown and in June, it will perform Masquerade by English composer Anna Clyne.

The Philadelphia Orchestra to Tour Europe and Israel

This spring, May 24 through June 5, The Philadelphia Orchestra will tour Europe and Israel. The visit to Israel is part of a new partnership between the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and the orchestra, designed to engage new members of the Philadelphia community. It will include a special Israeli tour and mission. The only major symphony orchestra to travel to Israel during its 70th anniversary year, the Philadelphia Orchestra, which previously visited in 1992, is only the third to ever visit the country.

“To have this remarkable opportunity to travel to Israel with the extraordinary Philadelphia Orchestra is a dream come true,” says Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin, a member of Local 406 (Montreal, PQ). “It is incredibly fulfilling to represent our Philadelphia community abroad as cultural ambassadors.”

During the European leg of the tour, the Local 77 (Philadelphia, PA) musicians will tour Brussels, Belgium; Luxembourg City, Luxembourg; Paris, France; Düsseldorf, Germany;  Hamburg, Germany; and Vienna, Austria. They will then perform in the Israeli cities of Haifa, Tel Aviv, and Jerusalem.

Gift Expands Philadelphia’s Organ Repertoire

A $5 million gift from the Wyncote Foundation will allow The Philadelphia Orchestra to increase and expand programming for the Fred J. Cooper Memorial Organ, the world’s largest mechanical action concert hall pipe organ. The five-year initiative, “The Fred J. Cooper Memorial Organ Experience,” will feature the organ more extensively in programming and build new repertoire for the instrument. The musicians of The Philadelphia Orchestra are members of Local 77 (Philadelphia, PA).

Joseph Conyers

Joseph Conyers: Taking Community Involvement to the Next Stage

Philadelphia Orchestra Assistant Principal Double Bassist Joseph Conyers of Local 77 (Philadelphia, PA) leads the opening Project 440 seminar in Carnegie Hall’s inaugural NYO2 program at SUNY Purchase during Summer 2016. Project 440 presented programs in social entrepreneurship and college preparedness for students.

Joseph Conyers, assistant principal bassist for The Philadelphia Orchestra, is committed to community engagement and a belief that all young people should have music in their lives. Proof that actions speak louder than words, he is a cofounder and the director of the nonprofit organization Project 440, music director of the All City Orchestra of Philadelphia, an adjunct professor at Temple University, and on the national advisory board for the Atlanta Music Project. He also works closely with the Curtis Institute of Music and the Sphinx organization and is on the artist roster of the Chamber Music Society at Lincoln Center.

“The things that drive me most are: I love music so much and I know how music can change and help people in so many different ways, whether it’s psychological, emotional, or physical, it empowers,” says the Local 77 (Philadelphia, PA) member.

Conyers spoke by phone from Seoul, Korea, on a break during The Philadelphia Orchestra’s Asian tour. Like much of what he does, Conyers views these overseas tours, his sixth with Philadelphia, as a service. “We represent our country and Philadelphia,” he says. “The universality and connectivity of music comes to life. In a lot of ways, I feel fulfilled doing my civic duty as a musician.”

Conyer’s mother, a classical music enthusiast and amateur singer, noticed he had an instinct for rhythm. She signed him up for piano lessons at age five. Conyers chose the bass at age 11. He recently celebrated his 25th year on the instrument, which he selected for its size and boldness. “From my very first lesson I was trying to do things like vibrato because I wanted to show that the bass can sing,” he says.

Conyers has fond memories of growing up in a nurturing environment in Savannah, Georgia, that allowed him to grow as a musician. That’s why, after he heard about the Savannah Symphony going bankrupt, he knew he had to do something. Along with two other musicians who grew up together, Blake Espy of Locals 77 and 661-708 (Atlantic City, NJ) and Catherine Gerthiser, Conyers founded Project 440 (P440) to fill the void in music education and engagement left after the Savannah Symphony pulled out.

They soon discovered, despite their combined networks of contacts, it was challenging to find musicians with the right skills to work with the kids. Rather than be discouraged, Conyers saw an opportunity. They changed the program’s focus and moved it to Philadelphia when Conyers relocated to the city, which he saw as an ideal place to begin program expansion and development.

“Musicians weren’t engaged in their communities in a constant and substantive way. A lot of orchestras were going under and we felt that, if we train musicians at a young age to think of their communities as part of their musical experience, we could change that,” Conyers says.

Today, P440 is based on a three-prong approach that uses music as a tool to empower young people. The focus is: College and Career Preparedness—exploring career paths and skills that music can lead to; Entrepreneurship and Leadership Building—ideating and creating what their lives can look like in the future; and Community Engagement—serving the community through music.

“Most of the people we work with will never become professional musicians, but they will become better people through music,” he says. Currently, P440 works with the All City Orchestra of Philadelphia, which showcases the best young Philadelphia school musicians. But big things are in store next year when all students involved in music at Philadelphia schools (about 20,000) will have access to P440 programs.

Not only is P440 showing results, but even more exciting is that it’s part of a city-wide initiative to provide young Philadelphians access to music education. The Philadelphia Music Alliance for Youth (PMAY) consortium, funded by a $2.5 million Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant, brings together 10 organizations, including The Philadelphia Orchestra, to build a pathway for students in underrepresented communities (URCs).

“If we can change the narrative of why music is important for kids, especially in urban centers, it can give them opportunities and create thought processes that they might not have ever encountered before,” he says.

Eventually, says Conyers, programs like this will also help create more diverse professional orchestras by “casting the net wider” in terms of young exposure to classical music and training. “Music is a language and languages are best learned when you start quite young,” he says.

Despite his strong love for music, right up until he was accepted to Curtis Institute of Music, Conyers wasn’t sure music would be his career. “I always had two loves—music and meteorology,” he explains. “I had a plan B in my head, but getting into Curtis changed the direction of my life. I went all in with music and had a wonderful time at Curtis.”

Before graduation, Conyers had joined Local 77 (Philadelphia, PA) and began doing freelance work. It didn’t take him long to realize the benefits of AFM membership. “I did some gigs just starting out that were pretty horrible,” he says. “When you are in school, you don’t realize the power of this collective, the role it plays, and the history behind it. The union has allowed for the comfort and prosperity of many musicians. It’s neat to know I am part of something that enables me to work at a comfortable level and get an honest wage.”

Following college, Conyers became principal bass with the Grand Rapids Symphony. “That was a fantastic town and I learned so much there,” he says, recalling his experiences. When the symphony asked if he’d like to be a soloist at an upcoming concert he thought for a few seconds and then answered with his own question: “Can it be a commission?”

“The repertoire for the double bass is limited to about four standards that all bass players know. I thought this was a wonderful opportunity to add something,” explains Conyers. He asked his friend, John B Hedges, to write a piece.

Prayers of Rain and Wind is a complete reflection of my life—my favorite composer [Brahms], my mother’s favorite hymn, my love for weather, even the sound of my church and church choir are in the second movement. Every time I play it I feel like I’m bringing a little piece of Savannah and my upbringing to a different audience,” he says.

Conyer’s next position, with Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, was like moving back home. But he didn’t stay long. When a bass spot opened up with The Philadelphia Orchestra, the first bass opening in 16 years, Conyers knew he had to audition. 

“From the first time I heard the [Philadelphia] orchestra play [as a freshman at Curtis in 1999] I was spellbound, just completely wrapped up in the sound and I felt it was something I wanted to be a part of,” he says, though he thought his chances were slim. “Lo and behold there was an opening; I went in and my life was changed forever.”

He says that working with The Philadelphia Orchestra and his mentor Hal Robinson of Local 77 is a dream come true. “It’s surreal; I’m pinching myself on a regular basis. There are no words to describe the joy I feel being able to make music with this ensemble on an almost daily basis,” he says.

Today, Conyers is proud of his chosen home city and his orchestra’s commitment to community. “The symphony orchestra can’t save the whole education system in the city, but it can be a leading voice in that conversation of how we can provide points of opportunity in communities and help bring others to join a coalition,” he says. “I see this as a huge opportunity for orchestras. Symphony orchestras can impact the greater community, and for me, that’s super exciting.”