Saturday, October 1, 2016

Orchestral ups and downs

Musicians of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra have gone on strike, rejecting management demands for concessions in salaries and benefits.

Meanwhile, the orchestras of San Francisco, Atlanta, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Indianapolis, Buffalo, San Diego, St. Louis, Seattle, Omaha, Minnesota and Colorado are reporting good news: jumps in concert attendance, improved bottom lines, musicians receiving pay hikes.

What’s gone wrong in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Fort Worth, and gone right elsewhere? A combination of causes and effects, some unique to the orchestras’ histories and hometowns. The overriding factor appears to be governance – debt management (or mismanagement), fund-raising and marketing.

Some orchestras have attracted new audiences and donors; others are dependent on longtime patrons who are now dying off. Some have broadened their appeal with new programming and new concert formats and venues; others are sticking to the tried-and-(previously) true.

A few expert observers have begun to weigh in on these issues. Here’s one early take, from Douglas McLennan, founder and editor of ArtsJournal:

Another overview, from Anne Midgette of The Washington Post:

And another, from Michael Cooper of The New York Times:

The Richmond Symphony seems to be on the right side of the good news/bad news divide, at least in terms of revenue. Its ticket sales have increased over the last three seasons, and it posted a surplus of nearly $52,000 on a budget of $5.58 million in the 2016 fiscal year.

UPDATE (Oct. 3): The Philadelphia Orchestra strike ends after two days, with its musicians approving a contract with modest pay hikes, concessions on scheduling concerts, and a slight increase in the orchestra roster, The Times’ Cooper reports: