Chicago’s deficit just grows and grows

Chicago’s deficit just grows and grows


norman lebrecht

October 14, 2014

The press release (below) gives a positive spin of record fund-raising and ticket sales. But behind the upbeat message there is darkening concern of a level of spending that is running way beyond the orchestra’s means.

The CSO’s operating deficit soared to $1.4 million from $169,000 the year before. Operating expenses shot up from $78.1 million from $73.8m.

Watch those numbers. The incoming chief executive has a headache awaiting him.


press release:

CHICAGO—The Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association (CSOA) released its fiscal year 2014 results at its Annual Meeting today at Symphony Center. The 2013/14 season marked the CSOA’s fourth consecutive year of record-breaking ticket sales and contributions, according to Jay Henderson, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the CSOA, who presented the artistic and financial highlights of the season.

CSOA Chairman Jay Henderson said, “Under the artistic guidance of Music Director Riccardo Muti, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra has had an exceptional year of music making at the highest possible artistic level. Complementing that work, CSOA community engagement initiatives continue to serve audiences of all ages and walks of life, a critical part of our mission. The CSOA Board of Trustees is committed to preserving the CSO’s legacy of artistic excellence and supporting the vision of our music director, Riccardo Muti, while maintaining the financial strength of this great institution. Thanks to the dedicated work of our music director, musicians, patrons, staff, donors, volunteers and Board members and their ongoing commitment to the CSO, we experienced record ticket sales and record fundraising results.”

Two commitments to the CSOA’s endowment, received in June 2014, from the Zell Family Foundation and the Negaunee Foundation, of $17 million and $15 million, respectively, helped to secure the long-term future of the CSOA by providing support in perpetuity for both the naming of the position of CSO music director and the naming of the Negaunee Music Institute at the CSO. In addition, a pledge of $2 million from Randy and Melvin Berlin to create the Berlin Family Fund for the Canon, will support the performance of music by Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert and other great composers of the Classical era.

At the close of the 2013/14 season, more than 13,000 individuals participated in supporting the CSO through philanthropy compared with 10,400 in the previous year.

Ticket Sales and Earned Revenue for Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 2014

  • Ticket sales totaled $22.4 million for 240 CSOA-presented events, a slight increase over last year’s amount of $22.3 million, marking the fourth consecutive year of record-setting sales.
  • In addition to ticket revenue, other earned revenue of $7.3 million was taken in from tour fees, merchandise sales, space rentals, royalties, recording fees and miscellaneous activities.
  • Nearly 386,000 tickets were sold for 240 ticketed concerts*.
  • Approximately 454,000 people attended CSOA performances and presentations at Symphony Center and in other venues in greater Chicago last season, including 185 free events such as Civic Orchestra of Chicago concerts, the CSO’s All-Access chamber music programs, education programs and open rehearsals for students and community groups, as well as the CSO’s free performance in Cicero.
  • Subscription renewal rate for CSO series in the 2014/15 season is over 90%.

* Figures exclude concerts at Ravinia or on tour anywhere outside the Chicago area.

Contributed Revenues for Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 2014

  • During the 2013/14 season, overall contributed revenue totaled $57 million.
  • General operating support to the CSO totaled $30.2 million—an increase over last year’s record-setting total of $29.8 million. Individual philanthropy totaled $20.6 million, corporate sponsorships and partnerships totaled $5.9 million, and contributions from foundations and government agencies totaled $3.7 million.

Financial Information for Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 2014

  • Operating revenues totaled $76.6 million, a 4% increase over FY13’s $73.6 million.
  • Operating expenses totaled $78.1 million, resulting in an operating deficit of $1.4 million.


  • Total assets increased by $56 million to $529 million, and net assets increased by $57 million to $323 million, due to an increase in contributions and investment returns.
  • Endowment investments were $288 million.
  • Under the oversight of the Investment Committee, the CSOA’s long-term endowment returns continue to rank among the highest of comparable funds with a one-year return rate of 18% and a 15-year return rate in the top 7% of comparable funds.


  • sdReader says:

    Peanuts in that city!

    • william osborne says:

      Chicago has one symphony orchestra while Berlin, Munich, Paris, London, and Vienna all have 5 or more. And they all have two or more full time, year-round opera houses while Chicago can barely support a 5 month season in its single, vastly under-funded house. Yup, Chicago understands something about peanuts. Won’t keep it from thumping its chest though.

      • Herrera says:

        Helloooo, State Subsidy. If every American city were to pay their musicians the minimum wage financed by tax payers, Biloxi Mississippi can have 5 opera houses too.

  • Delbert Grady says:

    “Chicago has one symphony orchestra” this is a true statement only if you’re counting full-time, well-known orchestras. In fact there are some quite good other orchestras in the Chicago area, such as Ars Viva and the Chicago Philharmonic, giving 5-10 concerts a season. Not to mention the summer-only but high-quality Grant Park Orchestra, which consists of Lyric Opera players and members of other high-ranking orchestras doing a summer gig, plus the Civic Orchestra, which is the CSO’s de facto training orchestra. The latter two are noteworthy also because their concerts are free, and attract a lot of listeners who would balk at the CSO’s high ticket prices.

    • william osborne says:

      Yes, I was speaking of full time orchestras and opera houses — an important measure for access, the support of musicians, the cultural engagement of cities, and numerous other factors. Chicago has the 4th largest metro GDP in the world. No reason it should be behind London, Berlin, Paris, and Vienna (which are all less rich) in its number of orchestras and opera houses, nor in the corresponding number of performances. One full time orchestra and only a half season opera house for a city as big and rich as Chicago is far below international norms. Time to face the truth and do something about it.

      • william osborne says:

        BTW, “Delbert Grady” is an interesting metaphor for some aspects of classical music — a distinguished ghost in a tux with a highly questionable past…

      • Greg Hlatky says:

        Chicago can have as many orchestras and opera companies as there may be demand for. Nothing stopping it at all. If there aren’t it would be reasonable to assume there’s no demand. What evidence do you have the demand exists?

        • william osborne says:

          What evidence do we have that significant efforts have been made to create demand? No worry, we’ll leave classical music to the Venezuelans and Chinese.

          • Milka says:

            Poor Mr. Osborne now he replaces
            Berlin Paris and Vienna with China
            and Venezuela ,whatever will he do
            when he runs out of cities, countries
            ans statistics ?

  • Andrew Patner says:

    The CSO Association had had a technical operating deficit of about and no more than *1.8 percent* of its operating budget over the past four years. With net assets of * $323 million*, the CSOA chose to *increase* it’s operating budget by foyer percent, $3 million, this year to $76.6 million. Performances, community and educational activities, have all *increased.* Looking at these reports as if they are balance sheets from for-profit stock companies only gets one so far. There are trims going on in administration but not in musicians and performances. We shall see!

  • Andrew Patner says:

    four* percent

  • The difference between “total assets” and “net assets” is about $200 Million.

    What does that mean? That they are currently carrying $200 million in debt?

  • Andrew Patner says:

    Robert Holmen: There are Illinois state construction bonds from the renovation and expansion of the hall and the neighboring building in the 1990s that come due in 2028 and some other instruments. All are laid out in the financial statements available to the public.

  • Milka says:

    Some people do go on and on and on, ad nauseam with same old observations.
    Say Chicago and they will give you Berlin
    Paris and Vienna . Name an average American city and they will dig up three smaller backwoods european cities that have endless
    supply of concert halls and opera houses.Mr. Hlatky makes an indisputable point but I am afraid it
    makes no matter. Some people can’t be bothered with facts.

  • John Porter says:

    I can’t seem to find anything about the percentage of tickets sold in relation to capacity. I wonder how many, if any, empty seats they have across their season. A big deal has been made about this at the Met Opera.

    Does anyone know?

    • Andrew Patner says:

      About 79 percent paid capacity, John Porter, with a particularly harsh and long Chicago winter this year.

  • Dave T says:

    @William Osborne $26.5 million was contributed by individuals and corporations to the ChiSO in one year. Would be curious if that much were given to all “five” orchestras combined of any one of these European cities, let alone any one of them.

    • william osborne says:

      Actually, $26.5 million would be a very small amount of public subvention for a major orchestra by continental standards. Major orchestras typically have budgets around $80 to $120 million million. Continental governments usually pay about 50 to 60% of the costs or about $40 to $60 million million. (Those are all very rough numbers. I would have to look up more precise details, but I don’t have time this week.)

      The British Arts Council, for example, usually spends about $70 million just for London’s two opera houses. And by European standards that’s on the low side since the UK has one of the lowest levels of public arts funding in Europe.

      Imagine what the Chicago Lyric could do with $70 million each year from the government. So much American talent and love of music would be unleashed. It’s a shame that Chicago with the 4th largest metro GDP in the world falls so far short of international standards for the support of the arts. And it’s a shame that the reactionary mentality of so much of the classical music public fails to see the problems with America’s dysfunctional system of arts funding.

      • Dave T says:

        @William Osborne I apologize, my question wasn’t clear: I am inquiring as to the comparative PRIVATE support (individual, corporate, foundational [which I left out of my number for Chicago]) the Chicago orchestra receives to that which do the European ones. By your stats it is clear that government contributes a far larger share of apparently (?) far larger budgets.

      • Jack Hartnick says:

        ” dysfunctional system of arts funding” ? Seriously??? If they cannot stand on their own merits, they can be replaced by the plethora of Orchestras in nearby counties and cities,
        Northern Illinios has quite a few! They are NOT at the trough of tax dollars that are provided by people who will never see a CSO concert. Witness the revolting attempt to grab $12M from the people of naperville/Il state by CSO. They have a bloated payroll. Simply start cutting some costs, men+women.

  • Dave T says:

    So wait, the Berlin family pledged $2 million to make sure that the canon gets overplayed to death? Like what, they wouldn’t get overplayed to death anyway?
    Are they really that worried about a Diddersdorf-Reger-Ligetti Axis takeover?

  • John Borstlap says:

    The best way to empty concert halls and opera houses is to programm modernist music, which would make much more subsidy and sponsorship necessary.

  • Andrew Patner says:

    A shame indeed! Imagine if anyone in the world had ever even heard of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Joffrey Ballet, or the Art Institute of Chicago. They might have become something . . .

    • william osborne says:

      Of course Andrew. Chicago doesn’t need 5 orchestra like London, because the Chicago Symphony does five times as many performances as London’s orchestras. And it doesn’t need two year-round opera houses like London because the Lyric with its half year season does four times as many performances. It’s all thanks to those hard working musicians — and also explains why we need to support so few of them. And thank you for adding so much clarity to the situation, Andrew, with your usual exalted methods. Forgive me if I do not continue this fine dialog with you. I’m simply no match for your high intellectual standards — a true paradigm of American arts journalism.

  • Andrew Patner says:

    Dialog? That’s a new word from Mr Osborne. I long ago stopped attempting to tear him away from his abacus and his warmth towards others. I could never approach his level of discourse.

  • Milka says:

    Speaking of modernist work Avatara if one even dare think it 20th C could in my opinion empty
    a hall a lot faster than one could say
    “Stockhausen” .

  • John Fallon says:

    In the last few years, anytime I’ve wanted CSO tickets, I can get them, pretty much anywhere I want. The hall has usually got plenty of empty seats too. But lately too many old warhorses I never want to hear again, coupled with some instantly forgettable new music. This month the Mahler 5th, Brandenburgs, Dvorak 9th; don’t need, heard too often.

    I’ve heard the Lyric orchestra often enough in the last 5 years. Too often the CSO gives a bored sounding run through (maybe not so surprising), when a ‘lesser’ orchestra tries harder