Lost But Not Forgotten

Several orchestras have gone bankrupt & stopped playing since 2001. Here you can keep track of news relating to their situation: A MUST read.

The 2002-2003 orchestra season saw one of the worst failure rates in decades. Six professional orchestras disbanded and put over 400 professional musicians out of work. Henry Fogel, President of the American Symphony Orchestra League, in his address to their annual conference in June, 2003 had this to say about the orchestras that have gone out of business:

“It’s worth remembering that during the last recessionary period, eight orchestras ceased operations. Today, in each of those eight communities, a new or restructured orchestra has emerged. Orchestras are amazingly resilient nonprofit institutions, even though their economic structure is precariously balanced. And communities and their musicians refuse to let them disappear.”

Here we analyze the reality of that statement and track the continuing progress of the following failed orchestras and the musicians they once employed. If you have any information that is more recent than this, please contact me and I’ll update this page ASAP.

Colorado Springs Symphony Orchestra – last update: 05/15/06
As of 2/13/04 the Colorado Springs Symphony Orchestra has officially reorganized into the Colorado Springs Philharmonic: http://www.csphilharmonic.org/. As of 7/31/2004, I learned that the Colorado Springs Philharmonic association has ratified two year contract in conjunction with their musicians who are represented by AFM Local 154.

According to Diane Merrill, Local 154 president, the contract maintains the current musician salary during the ’04-’05 season and provides a small increase during the ’05-’06 season.

Florida Philharmonic Orchestra – Last update: 05/15/06
According to Jeffrey Apana, Secretary-Treasurer, South Florida Musicians Association
Local 655 AFM, none of the attempts to reorganize the FPO have yet come to fruition. This week, FPO funds are being distributed to creditors. Ticket holder claims are being viewed as deposits, and the ticket holders are receiving in full the amounts they paid for tickets to concerts that were never performed. The non-priority claims (including the bulk of the musicians’ claims) are being paid at about $.22 on the dollar, and the musicians are receiving about $1,014,915, or on average $13,532 per musician.

When asked about any efforts to reestablish a full time orchestra in the Miami area Jeffrey said,

“At this point, I am not aware of any efforts currently underway to reestablish an orchestra. We are hopeful that the Cleveland Orchestra residency, which begins in January 2007, will generate some new interest to reestablish a year-round permanent orchestra.”

San Antonio Symphony – last update: 5/15/2006
The San Antonio Symphony instated a truncated season in a ’04-’05. The symphony’s management signed a new contract with the musicians which calls for the musicians to receive a raise in weekly wages in 2004, but because of the short season, they will actually make far less in salary and benefits than they did prior to the orchestra’s bankruptcy filing last spring. From $33,150 down to $23,400 annually.

The musicians of the San Antonio Symphony have a web page designed to inform their community about the musicians and issues related to their situation. You can visit the page at: http://www.sasmusicians.org/

San Jose Symphony – last update: 5/15/2006
According to representatives of the AFM Local 153, a new ensemble established operations in 2003-2004 concert season. The newly formed group is the Symphony Silicon Valley. The length of their season is significantly reduced as compared to the San Jose schedule.

Shortly after posting this update, SSV oboist and popular classical music blogger, patty Mitchell sent in the following account on the progress of the new ensemble:

“The SSV has expanded for next year; we will be doing more services, and with some sets we’ even have an added third performance. In addition, for the past two years, and from here on out, we have been located in the same (new) hall as Opera San Jose, so some of us who used to have to decide between the two now get to do both. (This was a great blessing for a number of us.) Also, a number of the SSV orchestra members are hired to play two ballets next year (Nutcracker and Giselle).

No, we aren’t up to San Jose Symphony numbers…[but] it’s also good news that the SSV has an endowment set up now, with a one million dollar seed grant.

Oh, and the final good news this year was that we sold out two sets! In fact the only way I could buy tickets for one set was when a ticket buyer had turned in two tickets. That was pretty darn good to hear.”

Patricia Mitchell: oboe, SSV

Savannah Symphony Orchestra – last update: 5/15/06
According to representatives of the AFM Local 447-704, there have been no organizations formed to replace the Savannah Symphony.

Tulsa Philharmonic – last update: 5/15/06
The Tulsa philharmonic has been completely dissolved and the players from the Philharmonic, in conjunction with a local benefactor, have established the Tulsa Symphony Orchestra: http://www.tulsasymphony.org/

Currently, the organization has presented a gala concert and is performing as the pit orchestra for the Tulsa Ballet, Tulsa Opera, and Tulsa Light Opera. Plans for a regular season in 06-07 are forthcoming according to the organization’s website.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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