Domino effect? Now Milwaukee Symphony says it faces ‘possible extinction’

Domino effect? Now Milwaukee Symphony says it faces ‘possible extinction’


norman lebrecht

December 07, 2013

A stark warning was issued this weekend. The MSO, which had been thought to be in recovery, has suffered a terrible financial year. A press release said it is ‘in danger of running out of money and faces possible extinction if additional pledges cannot be secured to fund the MSO’s much more modest, prudent budget and business plan for the future.’

The musicians, already reduced from 88 to 79, are facing a further drop into the 60s. Executive director, Mark Niehaus, a former trumpet player in the orchestra, said: ‘In this critical time in the existence of the MSO, we have reached an unprecedented level of collaboration among the key players in the organization: the musicians, the music director, administrative staff, and partners.’

With Edo de Waart as music director, Milwaukee seemed to have negotiated itself out of a Minnesota-like existential crisis. Now the future looks less certain.

milwaukee symphony orchestra.widea


  • My God. It is “exeunt omnes” for the American orchestra.

  • R. James Tobin says:

    The number of empty seats at the first couple of subscription concerts this season was unprecedented and shocking. For a recent concert, the MSO was offering all seats for $10 each.

  • John Porter says:

    The MSO is a shadow of what it once was, in terms of season, services, and size. The so-called turnaround was actually years of cuts that may have turned it into a very fragile organization. Living the in shadow of the Chicago Symphony, after the years of cuts and now this situation, well you have to wonder about its future.

  • PK Miller says:

    I think Lloyd Arriola above has it right. I have never seen it this bad. Across the Board arts organizations seem to be stumbling if not foundering. City Opera down the tubes. Arts organization after arts organization. Our own Albany (NY) Symphony is going strong thanks to its dynamic Music Director, David Alan Miller. Schenectady Symphony also does well being a wonderful opportunity for up & coming artists to play concertos such as Ryan Reilly, a brilliant local pianist, junior at Julliard, who excelled in a newly rearranged Tchaikovsky 2nd pf concerto.

    But so many artistic organizations seem to be going down the tubes. I believe we are faced with the fundamental question of how DO we support the arts? Have we lost our collective soul or did we never have it to lose?

    I was based in Chicago for 2 1/2 years, lived in Milwaukee, enjoyed the orchestra many times in particular a funny, well played Falstaff–this being almost 45 years ago.

  • Mike says:

    This is what Minnesota audiences and community members have been warning the Minnesota Orchestra organization about, that making the draconian cuts to the product (less musicians, less skilled, less performances) will lead to spiral of even more economic challenge. Unfortunately they will likely take away from this episode the need to cut even more.

  • Paul says:

    There are many well run, thriving orchestras in Boston, Kansas City, LA., Chicago, D.C, Dallas,

    San Francisco, Cincinnati, Houston, San Diego, St Louis , etc, etc.

    Did the MSO have the financial rug pulled out from under them by the right wing Bradley Foundation withholding its annual gift, in the same vein as the ALEC supporting anti union bankers have chosen to derail Minnesota? These ” crisis”are fortunately an aberration, but the self fullfilling belief in failure does a serious disservice to the civic health of both cities. An ideological power game by a very small group of players, and not one other cities’ civic leaders with integrity will want to touch.

  • Daniel Bernard Roumain says:

    I’m a Haitian-American composer. I’m hoping and waiting for more diversity in classical music.

    Until that happens, why should the demise of any arts organization be a mystery or surprise?