Colorado problem

Following up on my last post, about Colorado Symphony’s business plan

Yes, it’s bold about the problem they’re having. They’re not taking in enough money. And that’s because interest in classical music has fallen off, so that now the number of people who care about them is too small to give them the support they need.

But now comes the part I’m surprised about. One big part of their plan to make themselves more viable is to get more connected to their community. And they want to do that by giving more diverse performances, which means performances in more places, and by more diverse ensembles. Smaller ensembles, let’s note, than their full orchestra.

Here’s some of their language:

The key changes include…use of small ensemble performances as well as full orchestra performances.

The varied skills and capabilities of the orchestra will be utilized to create small ensembles for performances in community venues, schools and churches throughout the region through a regular schedule of performances.

Establish the Colorado Symphony Chamber Orchestra for concert performances in BCH, in community venues in metro Denver and in communities throughout Colorado. As noted above, at least four chamber concerts are planned in 2012-13, a full chamber season planned in 2013-14 and beyond. 4. Create and promote a range of performing ensemble groups for community venues, business venues and community centers. Roster of small groups in place by March 1, 2012.

Assess the viability of a range of programs aimed at medical projects ranging from performances to programs to augment and enhance medical therapies. Potential options include nursing homes, specialized hospital facilities, children’s hospitals, etc. While these efforts would initially likely be no cost community engagement actions, it is hoped that by demonstrating their value, direct funding or grant funding be secured for them. Establish Review Committee by January 10, 2012 and implement initial actions by March 2012.

So, first, the target dates. Some of them have come. But (as you can see from their press releases since the plan was published) the Symphony has made no announcement about what action has been taken. To be fair, in their press release announcing their 2012-13 season, they do say they’ll make announcements “throughout the coming months.” But the target dates have already come.)

Second, all those small-ensemble concerts. Presumably they’ll earn some ticket revenue. And the Symphony also hopes to get funding for small performances in nursing homes.

But how much funding? How much ticket revenue? At the end of the business plan, we find budgets for the current fiscal year — 2011 — and for fiscal years 2012, 2013, and 2014. Presumably the small-ensemble ticket sales and funding are included. But no details are given.

Ticket sales for fiscal year 2011 are (a preliminary figure) $5.3 million. Then they’re projected to go down to $4.9 million in fiscal 2012, and up to $5.5 million in fiscal 2014. Why? What accounts for the decrease, then the increase? They don’t explain the decrease, but when — in their projections — ticket sales go up, is that due to small-ensemble revenue? How much of the increase comes from that? And why do they think that making whatever money they project from small performances is plausible? The audiences for small concerts will, per concert, be smaller than for full-orchestra events. And ticket prices, surely, will be lower. So how will this add up to an increase in total revenue? I’m not saying it’s impossible, but they don’t say why they think it’s likely.

They also project quite a large increase in “one night only” sales from $320,000 in fiscal 2011 to $788,000 in fiscal 2014. Their “one night only” concerts are special events, outside their subscription series, happening for one night only. Next season, for example, Lang Lang will be the one-night attraction.

Which of course is a good way to earn some extra revenue. But on what basis do they project so large an increase? They don’t say.

Similarly summer sales. They don’t give summer concerts now. But starting next year, income from summer concerts is projected — $1.1 million in fiscal 2012, and just a little less in the next two fiscal years.

What’s the basis for these projections? And are they still valid, since the announcement of next season includes no summer concerts? (It even specifies that the season will last “a full nine months,” which would seem to skip the summer.)

So are the projected budgets still valid? The business plan — and I admire this — is bold. But its details don’t seem coherent. Whether that’s a problem with the plan itself, or just in the way it’s been presented, I won’t try to say. But — right now, at least — things aren’t adding up.

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  1. TomV says

    Oh brother! And how long does the CS think it’s going to take for their strategy to turn their community into a crowd of avid chamber music and symphonic music fans???

    Reshaping the image and product of a symphony orchestra does not happen overnight. It can take years, and I certainly wouldn’t budget such large revenue increases in years 2-3. Those ain’t gonna happen. It’s a case of group wishful thinking. They better push any ticket sales revenue increases out to year 5 and present either a strong fundraising initiative or cash flow projections and a bridge loan plan for the immediate future.

    They’re also wildly optimistic if they think chamber music is going to increase their revenues. They’re not in Europe, where chamber music still sells. General audiences are even less interested in chamber music than in symphonic music. Another big hole in their logic and revenue plan.

    Summer concerts are a nice revenue source if you can get them to come except on the 4th of July. You don’t build a Tanglewood or a Ravinia in a year or two. Those two summer festivals are also in or near major population centers. Does Colorado have the kind of urban population that will come if you present it?

    I’m afraid that all your points are valid Greg. By the time the plan MIGHT have produced results, they’ll have liquidated their assets under chapter 11.

  2. says

    In many ways this ‘business plan’ looks a plan to have a plan. That’s nice, but since it was announced, there has been no follow-up, either with the local media (Denver Post) or on their own Web site to give any details. I’ve been troubled not only by this lack of specificity, Greg, but also the seeming lack of community input. If this was a plan hatched in a boardroom ‘bubble’, who knows whether these coummunity concerts are really viable possibilities. I’m aware that CSO members have had some input, but even their, what’s their connection to the wider community to know whether these runouts can really happen and be financially viable. It costs something to get out there, set up, turn on the lights and raise he curtain, so if the organization knows something the public doesn’t know, it would do wonders to confidence in their plan if they would be more forthcoming.

    If school concerts are contemplated, hopefully they are reaching out to schools now, in the spring, before schools close for the summer and teachers take off for other things. Schools need to plan, so showing up on their doorstep in September will be months too late. I was disappointed to see little outreach to youth orchestras in the plan. There are at least six to eight youth orchestras within a fifty mile radius of Denver, but no mention of outreach to them. Where you might find just a fwe kids in an average school band or orchestra who’d be really really turned on to have a CSO member in their midst, youth orchestra kids have already shown their interest with their outside-school interest in belonging to their youth orchestra. So how will the CSO capitalize on that? Or will they?

    I think much could be possible if Sobczak and the people involved with implementing the plan will engage directly with their community. And as I say this, I truly hope they have been actively doing this for all the months since the plan was announced. There is much to be done and the stakes are very high.

    As I said on your earlier post, the organization is badly handicapped by not having appointed a music director who can be proactive in forming and guiding the artistic vision that all of this needs. I think that while we have the outline of a plan, the artistic vision that guides something like this can only be driven by a highly visible ‘personality’ who is ‘selling’ the plan to the community and to the stakeholders that the organization desparately needs for this to be successful. Without that person, they are operating at a real disadvantage.

    Greg, thanks for keeping this in your focus and thanks for your spot-on insights and questions.

    John Parfrey
    “Save the Colorado Symphony” FaceBook Page

    • says

      John, thanks for your encouragement. Means a lot to me that you found my thoughts helpful.

      A plan to have a plan — very well put. And not dishonorable, as long as you say, in plain language, that this is what you’re doing.

      One thought. Yes, a proactive music director would be a big help. And one who didn’t want to do the sort of things the institution wants wouldn’t be much help. But that highlights the necessity to have some kind of plan in mind before the music director is hired! Or else you won’t know who to choose. (To the extent that your plan for change can affect the choice. Sometimes, obviously, one candidate is so far ahead of the others musically, and in rapport with the musicians, that she’s the one you have to choose.)

      Community input. Of course! Amazing how often classical music institutions make plans for change without talking to the people they’d like to attract.

    • richard says

      It would also be nice when going into schools, to not just working with the administration, but also work closely with the band/orchestra teachers on the staff.

      • says

        Absolutely, Richard. I would hope that CSO administration would reach out to and meet with all music educators as a preliminary part of their outreach. It would be nice to hear from them to find out what would be the best way to work with their programs.

  3. says

    Greg, I have to say that this looks like it could work, if done property. Of course, as you say, all the details are missing so who knows. But I think the idea of the orchestra dispersing, going out to new venues, playing in chamber music groupings for smaller audiences and so on, is an excellent approach. As you so often say, classical music has to adapt.

    I have something to share. I just attended a couple of concerts in a Baroque festival and witnessed some missteps worth noting. Classical music organizers need to have a good idea of what they are doing, but they don’t always. Here is my post and I hope it might be of help to some…