Famed ensemble provided soundtrack for Disney's 'Fantasia'

Reflecting continuing adversity in the classical music biz, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the famed ensemble that supplied the soundtrack for Walt Disney’s “Fantasia,” has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

The orchestra filed its petition in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on April 16.

While some smaller classical ensembles have folded in recent years, the Philadelphia Orchestra is the first major municipal symphony to seek bankruptcy protection. Filing is particularly stunning since the Philly unit has enjoyed great popular success over the course of its 111-year history.

Under Leopold Stokowski’s baton, the orchestra recorded the classical pieces employed in Disney’s 1940 animated landmark “Fantasia,” which helped develop a new audience for symphonic music.

Its 1965 recording of Handel’s “Messiah” with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, conducted by Eugene Ormandy, reached No. 3 on the national charts — one of the highest-charting classical releases in history.

While it has no long-term debt, the orchestra cited “rapidly dwindling operating funds and a structural deficit of $14.5 million” for the filing in a statement about its decision to file.

The orchestra added it “is operating at a significant loss based upon declining ticket revenues, decreased donations, eroding endowment income, pension obligations, contractual agreements, and increased operational costs.”

The 103-member orchestra will continue its 2010-11 performance schedule, which continues through June, during the restructuring. It announced the institution of a public fundraising campaign, “Listen With Your Heart.”

In a public letter to patrons, orchestra chairman Richard Worley and president Allison Vulgamore said, “We…have a strategic plan that will move the Orchestra forward with vision and purpose. This plan will grow audiences by enhancing the concert experience and connecting patrons with the music in fresh, innovative ways. It will also encourage mutually beneficial patron relationships and reposition the Orchestra on sound financial footing.”

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