Delaware Symphony Goes Dark for 2012-2013

The Delaware Symphony Orchestra (DSO) posted a message at its website yesterday announcing the organization’s plans to go dark for the entire 2012-2013 season. Moreover, the 6/5/2012 edition of the Delaware News Journal published an article co-authored by Maureen Milford and Betsy Price that sheds more light on events.

Pertinent details include:

  • The organization has not filed for bankruptcy but it has yet to complete a detailed plan for resuming operations, however, an “assessment project team” has been tasked with that responsibility.
  • The “assessment project team” will consist of select board members, DSO executive director Lee Williamson, DSO music director David Amado, and unnamed “advisors with expertise in finance and law.”
  • The DSO sent a written notice to the musicians dated May 31, 2012 informing them about the suspension and that individual contracts will not be distributed.
  • The orchestra was engaged in collective bargaining agreement (CBA) negotiations with the musicians and their representation via Local 21 of the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) when they made the decision to suspend the 2012-2013 season.
  • Guest artists have been released from contracts (so if your group has any 11th hour programming holes to fill..).
  • An undisclosed number of board members have resigned, and the existing slate of board officers was replaced on May 30, 2012.

As for what will transpire regarding one of the larger issues vis-a-vis the CBA, the News Journal article quotes Local 21 AFM Secretary-Treasurer Glenn Finnan as saying that a discovery process is underway.

“In light of this new development, the musicians and the local will be working with the new management team at the DSO to examine what went wrong financially, and how best to move forward to keep live music coming to the audiences who so love the concerts.”

An inside source reports that the news came as a complete surprise to the musician negotiating committee and up until mid May, they believed negotiations “had been progressing very well.” It was anticipated that a one year extension type of agreement was all but complete; however, that was replaced by what went public yesterday.

It’s worth pointing out that the Delaware Symphony website was selling 2012-2013 tickets until late in the morning on 6/5/2012 until they posted the suspension notice. Consequently, toward the end of that season suspension statement, the organization makes it clear that those interested in refunds can contact the organization via telephone.

As this point, there is no shortage of questions but in the meantime, you can read the letter sent to musicians along with the orchestra’s official statement below.

Read the Letter Addressed to Delaware Symphony Musicians

May 31,2012

To our DSO musicians,

After a number years of operating through extremely challenging economic times, the Delaware Symphony Association (the “DSO”) regrettably cannot financially sustain our programming and cannot go forward with the next season as originally planned.

As a consequence of the current financial situation, the DSO is unable to extend your individual contract, nor is the DSO able to enter into a commitment to extend the current collective bargaining agreement.

The fact that the serious financial realities we are facing mirror what many of the nation’s other orchestras and cultural institutions have experienced over the last few years does not lessen the disappointment we feel. Please know that we are deeply proud of DSO’s exceptional orchestra and the admirable legacy you, along with all of our musicians and Maestro David Amado have helped build over the years.

The Board of Directors is fully engaged in focusing on the future and doing everything possible to achieve enduring financial stability. To that end, the Board has authorized a three-month operational analysis that will guide the DSO in the development of a new business model that will stabilize its finances. Our hope is to have the framework for this new model ready for testing in what would be are-programmed 2012-2013 season. When the financial situation is effectively addressed, the model framed, and the specifics for the re-created season are clear, then the DSO will be able to move forward and renegotiate contracts.

We have already assembled an assessment project team comprising Board members having functional leadership responsibilities in development, marketing, finance, and operations. Also included are Lee Williamson, DSO’s executive director; Maestro Amado, whose inspiration and knowledge will be invaluable; advisors with expertise in finance and law; and other participants who may be brought in for consultation as appropriate.

To help expedite the implementation of our vision for a positive outcome, at the Board meeting last evening, the DSO Board elected and installed a new set of Board officers to provide fresh leadership and perspective.

We will be informing you of our progress every step of the way and ask that you stay engaged with us as we work, together, to secure our financial health while continuing to fulfill our mission of enriching the enjoyment of classical music through the experience of live performance in Delaware.

Delaware Symphony Association,
Jerome K. Grossman
Immediate Past Chair

Read the Official Delaware Symphony Announcement

Delaware Symphony Orchestra to Undertake Operational Assessment. 2012-13 Season Will Not Go Forward as Originally Programmed

After several years of operating through extremely challenging economic times, Delaware Symphony Orchestra (DSO) cannot financially sustain programming and cannot go forward with the 2012-13 season as originally programmed.

“It is a regrettable financial situation that mirrors what many of the nation’s other orchestras and cultural institutions have experienced over the past few years,” said Ann Hamilton, chair of the board. “But DSO is determined to move forward. Our immediate goal is to conduct a three-month operational analysis in pursuit of a new business model designed to help the organization achieve financial stability.”

According to Mrs. Hamilton, the completion of the past season would not have been possible without the generosity of several contributors, particularly the generosity of Gerret and Tatiana Copeland, who, in addition to their gift, supported a matching Board challenge grant, which was successfully completed in May.

To begin its analysis, DSO has assembled a project team comprising of Board members having leadership responsibilities in development, marketing, finance, and operations. “Also included are Lee Williamson, DSO’s executive director, who brings a wealth of experience in nonprofit organizational management, and Maestro David Amado, whose inspiration and knowledge will be invaluable to our effort,” said Mrs. Hamilton. Rounding out the team are advisors with expertise in finance and law as well as other participants who may be brought in for consultation, as appropriate.

DSO must raise funds to support the assessment effort, the results of which will be used to help the team, board and staff, pursue the development of a financially viable operational model. The next step will be to test the model through a newly created 2012-13 performance season. DSO will be integrating a fundraising effort essential to bringing the new season’s program to the stage.

To help expedite the assessment initiative, DSO has proceeded with the election and installation of a new set of Board officers to provide fresh leadership and perspective. The new officers are Ann Hamilton, chair, Betty Duncan, vice chair, Robert Mack, treasurer and Mary-Jo Anderson, secretary.

“We will keep everyone involved with DSO apprised of our progress every step of the way,” said Mrs. Hamilton. “We ask that our donors, patrons, subscribers, the Grand, our exceptional orchestra, devoted staff, and committed Board remain engaged with us as we work to secure our financial health and carry out or mission to enrich the enjoyment of classical music through the experience of live performance in Delaware.”

For refunds or to make a donation, please call 302.652.5577 or 800.374.7263


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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0 thoughts on “Delaware Symphony Goes Dark for 2012-2013

  1. Under these extenuating circumstances one could read between the lines and interpret this spin as something more like this:

    * * *

    Dear Musician:

    We don’t like how these contract negotiations are going and in taking the lessons from other orchestras in the US – namely Louisville and Detroit – to heart, we are preemptively taking action to avoid all this nasty union business and have decided to cancel next year’s season.

    Besides, you musicians and your unions will only exacerbate our financial troubles and so why don’t we just avoid the whole nasty mess and throw in the towel now, rather than later?

    Sorry to deliver this sad news to you, but I am bailing out entirely. You can’t therefore wag your fingers at anyone because I (and my fellow ex-board members) have taken the bullet, have walked the plank and have jumped ship.

    I hope you appreciate our sacrifice.

    Have a great summer!

    Delaware Symphony Association,
    Jerome K. Grossman
    Immediate Past Chair

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