It looks like the Memphis Symphony Orchestra (MSO) has officially entered into cycle of panic induced fundraising coupled with all but certain massive budget cuts. The MSO released a press statement on 1/30/2014 asserting that the economic downturn and fickle patron habits have forced the organization into financial crisis.
An article from the January 31, 2014 Associated Press reports that the MSO board approved a resolution to “wind-down” the orchestra at the end of the season.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, there has been a great deal of discussion and conjecture about what the MSO means by winding down operations. According to MSO board chair, Gayle Rose, even though that’s the term the board used, they can’t tell people what it is. But that isn’t stopping them from telling people what it isn’t.
Board chairwoman Gayle Rose said during a meeting Thursday that officials aren’t sure what winding down will mean.
“We don’t know that yet,” Rose said. “We’re not just going to throw up our hands and say this is over.”
She says a best-case scenario would include fewer performances and less community outreach. Rose says the symphony will be broke in April if nothing is done.
If that statement seems confusing, you’re apparently not alone.
Author and critic Norman Lebrecht inferred that unless the MSO raises a bunch of money, they will close out at the end of the 2013/14 season.
The board of the Memphis Symphony has decided to close out at the end of the current season unless they raise a lot of money, very soon. They can’t find the $20-25 million it would cost to continue.
Lebrechet’s article on the subject from 2/3/2014 prompted what might be best defined as a virulent reply from MSO President and CEO, Roland Valliere, who attacked Lebrechet by accusing him of ineptitude and harboring a personal agenda over a failed commercial project Valliere launched several years prior.
This is Roland Valliere, the Memphis Symphony’s President and CEO. Some years ago, when I created the Concert Companion, Lebrecht wrote a scathing indictment of the project. The funny thing was that he never actually used the device and didn’t know what he was talking about. What was true then is true now. The Memphis Symphony has not announced “lights out.”
Lerbrecht replied in-kind within minutes.
Curb the bile and respond to the facts reported in your local press: ‘Memphis Symphony Orchestra board members have approved a resolution to “wind-down” the organization’s operations at the end of the season.’
Subsequently, neither Valliere nor any other MSO spokesperson have provided Lebrecht with an expanded explanation of what winding down the organization actually means.
Moreover, statements from MSO musicians have been as confusing as those from board chair Rose. Chris James, MSO second flute and piccolo, serves as the current chair of the orchestra musicians’ committee and describes the murky future within the context of horticulture.
“The rhetoric that we’ve been using a lot is the Memphis Symphony as it exists is a dead tree. Rather than chop off limbs and resuscitate it somehow, we’re trying to plant a new tree,” James said.
All of this caginess has stirred additional bewilderment, including the Nonprofit Quarterly (NPQ), which described the MSO’s announcement as something of a curiosity among comparable events at other orchestras.
NPQ, of course, has been covering multiple restructurings among classical music organizations across the country. This one is odd simply because of the ambiguousness of the declaration.
Currently, the MSO is engaged in crisis fundraising efforts but it seems clear that the orchestra is facing a round of substantial expense reductions lasting no less than several seasons. Whether or not those cuts will be codified in emergency negotiation sessions is currently unknown.