Chicago sells more tickets, loses more money

Chicago sells more tickets, loses more money


norman lebrecht

October 27, 2016

Tough truths from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra accounts, posted today.

1 Ticket sales reached $22.2 million for 218 CSO concerts. The CSO Main series netted $15.4 million. Single-ticket sales hit $6 million. All these figures are all-time records. But…

2 The CSO had a $1.1 million operating deficit. Income was $71.9 million, expenses, $73 million.

Go figure.



  • herrera says:

    Simple household budget arithmetics, if you spend more than you earn, you go into debt.

    But that’s not the issue, the real question is, what *should* be the aim of a world-class orchestra? Always have a balanced budget, year after year, to spend only within one’s budget? Or to push boundaries, to take risks, to spend more on projects that highlight the orchestra’s preeminence?

    That’s the debate that Muti is having with the CSO’s patrons:

    There are patrons that say, why are we putting on these very expensive opera concerts, that push the budget over by a million, like Verdi’s Falstaff, paying for a whole cast of superstar soloists, paying for a full chorus, for like 3 days of performances, when there is the Lyric Opera right down the street?

    There is Muti who says, are you a world class orchestra doing world class productions or not? If you want to keep your world class status, then patrons need to open up their imaginations as well as wallets. And oh, by the way, the NYT just flew in a critic to attend the Falstaff concert and gave it an absolutely stellar review.

    So yes, the choice is, live within one’s means and be a provincial orchestra reviewed only by the Chicago Tribune, or spend a million more and attract international press and earn the rave that the orchestra deserves.

    • Milka says:

      What utter nonsense

      • Stephen says:

        What is your view then?

        • Milka says:

          Cannot believe Muti would utter such an inane comment.Or the the CSO
          would run a deficit of a million dollars to get a NYT review which in the long
          run means nothing .The last paragraph is one of complete stupidity.It seems that for Herrera being reviewed by the Chicago Tribune leaves one to be thought of as a provincial but running yourself into debt and a NYT review makes one world class.
          Muti with his handsome salary and limited talents is being paid to lead the best
          performances of which he is capable not drive the CSO into a deficit just to feed
          his ego & putting another feather in his cap.

    • Pamela Brown says:

      That may have been what Mozart was thinking, as he always put his music and productions first and ran up considerable debt. But he was scorned for that.

    • MacroV says:

      Absolutely. Great orchestras are great not just because they play well, but because of the the creativity and ambition of their programming. On a given night the CSO doesn’t necessarily play measurably better than many “lesser” orchestras, such is the standard today, but they will stand out by doing the kinds of productions that you don’t easily encounter elsewhere.

      And a $1.1 million deficit on a $73 million budget is pretty modest and, I assume, manageable.

      • L.F. says:

        Manageable? Should be avoidable! I seem to remember Bertrand Russella saying that the survival of the good in the world depends on making it profitable…

  • Todd says:

    People freak out when they see 7 figure deficit numbers. On expenses of 73M, 1M is around 1.5% of expenses. Pretty close to target. The mission of a world class symphony orchestra is to meet the mission not balance a budget or make money. 1.5% is close enough to be viable.

  • Saxon Broken says:

    Could the deficit problem be solved if they no longer had to pay Muti’s salary?