New boss puts Cleveland in the red

After four years of consecutive surplus, the Cleveland Orchestra has posted a $2.4 million deficit for 2016, its first year under the leadership of Andre Gremillet.

Some of the loss was incurred in the Miami residency. And the endowment shrank in vaue by 4.4 percent.

Strange statement on the deficit from the orchestra’s board president Dennis LaBarre: ‘We face our challenges… We could have made [it] go away, but we want our challenges to be out there to incentivize ourselves to overcome them.’

Hm.

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  • We’ve all heard this tune before…until it comes time to pay the piper.

    It’s all well and fine to challenge oneself into a $2.4 million deficit, but historically, it’s the musicians who are on the front lines in paying for management’s follies: first will come the hiring freeze, then higher health premiums, then salary freeze, then reduced pay, and if it all fails, file for bankruptcy.

    Good luck, if Cleveland thinks it’s discovered a new financial model.

    Ohio is optimistic, having voted to Make America Great Again, but even the orchestra in San Francisco — populated by more dot com billionaires than the city has space for — doesn’t pursue a model of purposeful deficit.

  • The Miami residency does have to be rethought – there’s a problem with only attracting the oldest audiences wherever you are. Kind of always wanted to see the Miami Symphony grow into that spot – increase the orchestra size and season – at least that sends the message that good things don’t have to come from other places – which the New World (as fine as the faculty and students are) also perpetuates. It’s possible to have quality in a local group, because it’s always connecting with the community – that’s an important lesson anywhere, but it could be true in Miami. Cleveland has enough work to do in Cleveland.

    • The Miami Symphony is an amateurish orchestra comprised of a few decent players and students from local colleges. The “orchestra” cannot be listed in the same paragraph as the Cleveland Orchestra let alone be compared as a substitute. Oh and the Miami Symphony doesn’t pay many of its players – hopefully they will go into extinction soon. There is no substitute for quality and professionalism.

  • I think that the title is a bit misleading. Most of the scheduling and expenses were booked before Mr. Gremelitt came on board. He will have to figure out what is not going right and refocus efforts. Perhaps with a new Board chairman, he will be able to change course.

    I don’t necessarily view Mr. LaBarre’s comments as a “a model of purposeful deficit,” but just the typical corporate denial that all too often emulates from bad decisions at the Severance Hall boardroom. I count renewing FWM’s contract again among these. Despite some successes here and there, it has been a remarkably mediocre tenure. I suspect that, if the Cleveland Orchestra brought in some of their better guest conductors, Miami would do better financially.

    • I read this as a statement that the Cleveland Board has decided to honestly allow the news of a deficit to be out there, rather than use some smoke and mirrors to hide it. Small deficits like this are often made to “go away” with a loan from the endowment fund or from a donor, without really being removed from the books. This is way too soon to blame the new CEO for this deficit – others were right that most of the planning would have been done at least a year ago. Also, this is not an amount to get excited about yet. The Cleveland Orchestra annual budget must be well over $50 Million – a single unprofitable year can be chalked up to a few unfortunate circumstances. If this goes on for a couple of more years, then it’s a completely different story. Arts groups are not-for-profits that should be operating on a break-even basis, which can be achieved by losing money one year, and making money the next. Also, they are subject to all of the same pressures as for-profit businesses, like weather and economic downturns, so bad years will occur now and then.

    • Minor citation from Spellchecker Police: “emulates” should probably be “emanates”.

      Editorial comment: I wouldn’t call $2.5 million a “small” deficit. If it’s for one year only and the CO sorts it out next year, i’s not the end of the world. But was there a particular extraordinary expense that caused it?

      ~Vaquero

  • [redacted] André Grémillet has been on the job for 15 months… Anyone remotely familiar with how big institutions like the Cleveland Orchestra operate knows that planning takes place two or three years in advance, and righting the ship is a long process. Under such circumstances, blaming him in such an openly agressive way in your headline is pure sensationalism. The man is serious stuff, cut him some slack, and let’s revisit the topic in two years from now.

  • Wouldn’t it be great if folks from Miami (and all the rest of S FL’s Gold Coast, among the wealthiest areas in the US) who value classical music would organize to bring back a world class orchestra like the Florida Philharmonic Orchestra? Wow, the FPO went backrupt in 2003 with a deficit a LOT smaller than Cleveland’s current deficit – and they even have a year-round, full-time fundraising team (Cleveland Orchestra Miami) that raises money exclusively for the Cleveland Orchestra. Perhaps it’s time for Southeastern Florida to “put itself back on the map” culturally speaking. Don’t get me wrong – putting together an orchestra of the FPO’s quality and stature wouldn’t happen overnight. Before the FPO became the 20th largest and most prestigious symphony orchestras in the US, it had already received about 40 years of progressively increasing philanthropy from patrons supporting the many separate smaller orchestras that were able to sufficiently grow into organizations worthy of being combined into a regional orchestra capable of eventually offering full-time employment – the only way that committed, world class performers were able to move to S FL and make the FPO as great as it was (compare the FPO’s Mahler 1 recording to anyone else’s including Cleveland’s). Perhaps Cleveland ought to cease its endless soaking up of precious philanthropy in Miami. Perhaps there’s value to committed local citizens building something that truly belongs to them.

  • Maybe another residency someplace? Maybe another orchestra they can put into bankruptcy? It worked for a while with Miami, and the loss of the Florida Philharmonic, but sounds like the underlying problems are still there. Time to face the music!

  • Maybe time fior another residency someplace? Maybe another orchestra they can put into bankruptcy? It worked for a while with Miami, and the loss of the Florida Philharmonic, but sounds like the underlying problems are still there. Time to face the music!

  • All these residencies, whether in Florida or Austria, can’t be cheap, I mean, who pays for lodging for the players? I can’t imagine every violinist has a winter home in Miami and a pied-à-terre in Vienna… Ticket sales cover all these expenses?

      • You’re right, Iris. Wish more South Floridians would express their frustration about the negative philanthropic effect the Cleveland residency continues to have on S FL. Perhaps enough is enough?

        • But a city that aspires to be culturally W orld class is required to have a world class professional orchestra (other than a training orchestra like New World, which is a world class institution, but which will never have mortgage-paying professional musicians laying down rooots, etc)

        • I don’t support them as an institution and I do not attend the concerts (I never watch concerts btw) However wonderful the Cleveland Orchestra is as an orchestra … love all the musicians, I do not appreciate the way it is handled as an institution, and what it has done to the South Florida Music scene.

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