Orchestras somehow manage to shout over the sound of trouble over and over again
I was doing some research this morning when I ran across this article from Time magazine. Odd, I thought, how their website seems to be having a problem with dates -- this one was stamped June 13, 1969.
Please read at least the first few paragraphs, so that you can see how life in June 2011 is not all that different. I've gotta say that I was floored by this. (Note that this article did not have a byline):
Music: American Orchestras: The Sound of Trouble
As a group, the symphony orchestras of the U.S. are unsurpassed in quality by those of any other nation in the world. Yet today they are in trouble —loud, unavoidable, cymbal-crashing financial trouble. In Buffalo and Rochester, the two Philharmonics are so pressed for funds that they are talking merger; so are the Cincinnati and Indianapolis orchestras. The Detroit Symphony, which has just emerged from a 34-day musicians' strike, is in such economic straits that it may have to disband. "Between 1971 and 1973," predicts Manhattan Fund Raiser Carl Shaver, an expert in orchestral finances, "we stand a very good chance of losing at least one-third, if not half of our major symphony orchestras."
The facts are summed up in a new study prepared for the nation's top five orchestras—New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Chicago—by the management-consultant firm of McKinsey & Co. Because rocketing costs —most notably, sharply increased salary scales—have not been met by a similar gain in income, the orchestras' combined annual operating deficit rose from $2.9 million in 1964 to $5.7 million in 1968. The loss will soar to $8,000,000 by the 1971-72 season unless drastic steps are taken.
Into Bankruptcy. So large are the deficits that orchestras have been forced to dip into endowments to survive. In the past five years, the Chicago Symphony has had to dip into its endowment so regularly that it has shrunk from $6,200,000 to $1,000,000. In Cleveland, the orchestra is about to tap its endowment fund for $600,000 to help meet a 1968-69 deficit of $1,100,000. If the same thing happens next year, says Orchestra President Alfred M. Rankin, the endowment fund will be wiped out, and the orchestra built by George Szell over the past 23 years into one of the world's finest may have to disband or go into bankruptcy.
The New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony and Philadelphia Orchestra are not that badly off, but they are sufficiently worried to have joined a newly created committee of managers and orchestra presidents. A major concern is the symphonies' lucrative recording agreements, which may be endangered by the contract signed in April with the American Federation of Musicians. The new rules, affecting length of sessions and overtime pay, will make recording in the U.S. at least 20% more expensive, and thus may force record companies to sign up more orchestras abroad, where labor costs are lower.
There are a few encouraging exceptions to the battle against poverty—notably in Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City and Atlanta—but the crisis situation is nationwide. Six years ago, the
Detroit Symphony had an earned annual income of $550,000, which left it only $400,000 to raise to meet a $950,000 budget. This past season, the orchestra's earned income rose to $900,000 —but its budget soared to $2,200,000. The Los Angeles Philharmonic's deficit of $500,000 in 1966 has increased to $1,100,000 for 1969.
One reason for the crisis is that money for the arts is tighter than it has been in years. Because of more pressing social needs, the Federal Government, as well as many state governments, has cut back its spending on culture. Much of the money that formerly came from the big corporations is now going into the ghettos. As for private donors, explains the Los Angeles Philharmonic's Zubin Mehta, the same reliable philanthropists also give to museums, hospitals and universities, and they have just about reached the limit of giving. Foundation money, like the $80.2 million that Ford gave to 61 orchestras in 1966, must be matched by orchestra-raised funds; many of the symphonies have not yet found the donations to qualify for such grants. "Every year our expenses go up," says Mehta, "but the donations remain the same."
Some critics of American orchestral life contend that the real trouble is that the symphony has been for too long a plaything of the wealthy. Even though symphony-going is not dominated by the rich to the extent that it was 40 years ago, it is still a formal experience that most turned-on youth regard as static, outmoded and irrelevant. As the conservative, 19th century-oriented programming of most orchestras proves, the institutions are trapped into patterns of pleasing the wealthy patrons who support them—and by and large, the patrons like Beethoven, Brahms and Tchaikovsky. This does not mean that the orchestras would automatically attract larger audiences with avant-garde programs. The real problem is attracting the young today so that there will be an audience tomorrow.
Boston Symphony Music Director Erich Leinsdorf insists that "the real crisis is musical, and it can only be solved musically. For over two decades there has been an increasing interest in baroque music. The orchestras have done nothing about it. There is a growing interest in avant-garde music. Nothing is being done." No one objects to preserving the masterpieces of the past, as a museum keeps Rembrandts. But some musical experts feel that there may be more orchestral museums than are needed. English Conductor Colin Davis, 41, a strong possibility to head either the New York Philharmonic or the Boston Symphony some day, is one of them. "You devalue your masterpieces if you play them every week," he says. "If it is something you have too much of, like sex and breakfast, then it doesn't mean anything any more."
Civic pride is strong, and few orchestras really want to quit. Because of union-backed demands, the big five already are operating 52 weeks out of the year. At first glance, it might seem that a longer season would automatically mean more income. But since every concert by every orchestra is a deficit affair, more concerts mean a larger deficit. Los Angeles has expanded its annual schedule from 37 weeks to 46 in the past three years, and the musicians are pushing hard for 52. "Sure, the schedule is murderous," says A.P.M. President Herman Kenin. "But the goal is not 52 weeks but 52 checks. The musician has to pay the mortgage on his house, educate his children and feed his wife all year, not just 40 weeks."
Orchestra managers do not begrudge the musicians their salaries. Says President Talcott Banks of the Boston Symphony, which now has a guaranteed minimum wage of $14,000 for 52 weeks of work a year: "The raise in salary levels we are now paying was long overdue." Instead, the concern of orchestra officials is about how to use their players throughout the 52-week working year. Fund Raiser Shaver likens the plight of the orchestra to that of "a manufacturer who had a market for 1,000,000 bolts, and as a result of the union contract was forced to turn out 2,000,000 bolts."
No Semantic Gimmick. Conductors Mehta and Leinsdorf believe that the disadvantages of high labor costs and long seasons can in the long run be turned into assets. Mehta thinks that the eventual answer will be an orchestra in every major American city that will serve several musical purposes. "The only way seasons can be enlarged indefinitely is by giving symphony and opera," says Mehta, "then breaking up the orchestra—making chamber-music groups, moving around the countryside, going out to the people." Leinsdorf goes Mehta one better. "The solution is not to make the orchestra smaller but to make it larger, 120 in all, instead of 100 or 106. It would have three divisions within it: a baroque ensemble of 26 players or so, a modern ensemble of eight to 20, and the regular 19th century orchestra, which usually has about 75 musicians."
For many U.S. orchestras, one potential pattern for the future is the success formula of the former Minneapolis Symphony. In 1966, at the time of its $2,000,000 Ford grant, a study was made of anticipated income and costs for the next five years. The directors decided that by 1971 the symphony needed to raise a minimum of $10 million, if it was to have a chance of coming out on top. But how? First, the organization's name was changed to the Minnesota Orchestra. More than just a semantic gimmick, that symbolized the orchestra's intention to become regional rather than a municipal enterprise. As a result, it could now zero in on large, untapped financial sources in Saint Paul and other Minnesota communities. Under Polish Conductor Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, who had been programming an imaginative spectrum of Western music, the orchestra began presenting school concerts all over the state, lowering student-ticket prices at Northrop Auditorium in Minneapolis to $1. When it became apparent that new audiences were being reached, donations from previously untapped sources began to pour in. As of last week, the Minnesota Orchestra had nearly reached its $10 million goal.
The lesson to be learned from the Minneapolis experience is that each orchestra must devise ways to serve its community better. As Shaver warns: "You cannot raise endowments by trying to finance the status quo."