There’s been a change in the news coming out of symphony orchestras over the past summer. Usually there’s a background drumbeat of struggle as orchestras fight to stay alive. But for months now, the beat has shifted, and we’re hearing about orchestras that are not only surviving but thriving.
Yes, Fort Worth Symphony musicians are on strike, the Pittsburgh Symphony is in the middle of contentious contract negotiations, and the Philadelphia Orchestra is still struggling with crushing financial challenges. For every good news story below, there are other orchestras struggling to just stay alive, but here are some recently-reported successes:
- Colorado Symphony: “For the first time since it was organized in 1989, the Colorado Symphony is beginning a new concert season with a budget surplus, $1.7 million in cash in the bank and substantial financial commitments toward a goal of creating a $50 million permanent endowment.”
- St. Louis Symphony: “Total ticket sales for all performances reached $6.87 million, up 3.8 percent compared with last season. Even though there are three fewer concerts this year, attendance rose more than 1 percent to 190,817, officials said.”
- Kansas City Symphony: Kansas City Symphony Sets Attendance Records, Virtually “Selling Out” Its Season “The symphony reported a record of nearly $5 million in total ticket revenue for its 2015-16 season, with $2.9 million of that in subscriptions. Perhaps more impressive, the symphony series performances sold 95 percent of available tickets, on average.”
- Indianapolis Symphony: “After the bitter 2012 contract battle that led to a monthlong lockout for musicians, ISO cites a string of successes, including three straight years of budget surpluses and major growth in ticket sales and fundraising.”
- Atlanta Symphony: “The ASO announced yesterday that it closed the 2015-16 fiscal year with a budget surplus for the second straight year. ASO spokeswoman Tammy Hawk said the final budget numbers won’t be released until a final audit is complete. In addition, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Musicians’ Endowment Fund has raised over $20 million and is expected to reach its $25 million goal this year.”
- Omaha Symphony: “Symphony officials say subscription ticket sales for next season are 8 percent higher than they were on this date last year. Subscription revenue is up 9 percent so far. The fastest growth is in the Rocks and Movie Music series.”
In addition, the Buffalo Philharmonic has raised $23 million in endowment, the Detroit and Grand Rapids Symphonies have each raised $40 million for endowments and Kansas City is close to meeting a $55 million endowment campaign. In recent days Detroit has announced it’s starting a new amateur orchestra and rethinking a second performance space, and Buffalo has signed a new six-year contract with its musicians. Both Detroit and Indianapolis, which were in dire health just a few years ago, have impressively renewed and reinvented themselves. The Minnesota Orchestra, which lost a season to a bitter
strike [lockout] a couple years ago, likewise seems to be recovering nicely. The Seattle Symphony has also been reinvigorated after a prolonged down period and seems to be announcing substantial new initiatives almost weekly.
It’s easy to cherry-pick successes and failures. It’s also easy to dwell on the bad stories and worry that they are cautionary tales. There doesn’t yet appear to be an obvious connection between these orchestras that appear to be doing well (aside from the fact all are mid-size orchestras or from mid-size cities). These stories might also not mean anything about the bigger state of the orchestra world. But I have been struck over the last several weeks by the number of good news orchestra stories we’ve been finding on ArtsJournal. In my experience, this is a change from the usual. Maybe not yet a trend, but who knows.
[Have I missed obvious other examples? Please add in the comments section below]