A modest Midwest orchestra has a $232 million endowment

A modest Midwest orchestra has a $232 million endowment


norman lebrecht

October 23, 2018

The St Louis Symphony posted good results last night. Audiences up, revenues and donations likewise.

Most striking was the endowment news. The irch has $223.2 million in the vaults, up five percent due to ‘significant donor contributions and earnings on investments.’

That’s St Louis, not a major city.

Why is it that major orchs in London, Paris, Berlin struggle to break $10 million in endowments?

It’s the best hedge against bad times ahead. But in Europe we still expect governments to bail us out.


  • From Wiki about the St. Louis Symphony: “In January 2005, a labor dispute led to a cancellation of concerts for two months. Before the musicians could vote on the terms of the new contract, management changed the locks to Powell Hall without notifying them. Auditions were cancelled, and the health insurance for musicians was cancelled without notice as well. … After a two-month period of negotiations, the musicians agreed to a ten-week reduction from a 52-week season, and 30% wage reductions.”

    In recent years the orchestras in San Diego, Miami, Kansas City, Albuquerque, Syracuse, Tulsa, San Antonio, New Orleans, Denver, San Jose, Colorado Springs, Honolulu, Miami, and Philadelphia declared bankruptcy. Many more are in continual financial trouble.

    • karl says:

      in the REAL small cities I know of these 2: Hartford, CT Symphony also had to take a 30% pay cut a couple of years ago. The Syracuse Symphony shut down in 2011.

    • Mary says:

      The San Antonio Symphony’s shutdown lasted for only one season, after which the musicians returned to the stage albeit at a reduced schedule (26 weeks instead of the prior 39 weeks). Currently the musicians have a 30 week schedule for the 2018-2019 season. With a new board chair and successful fundraising following the abortive takeover attempt last season, there is reason for optimism in San Antonio.

    • Vaquero357 says:

      Small Correction: the old Kansas City Philharmonic went bankrupt and out of business in 1982 (36 years ago – so not really “in recent years”). It was replaced shortly after by the present day Kansas City Symphony.

      And *excellent* orchestra, well worth hearing if you happen to be passing through the region.

    • Jack says:

      And that has what to do with the current solvent state of the St. Louis Symphony?

  • Many of us have started on the journey – generous donors have helped the CBSO raise the first £2.5 million for its recently-established endowment over the last five years or so, for example.

    But building an endowment is a long-term project, and it is going to take sustained generosity over a couple of generations to get to the point where some of our US peers are now.

  • Robert H Wilkins says:

    Sorry to break the news to you…but Saint Louis IS a significant/major city….with a wonderful orchestra and one of the most glorious concert halls anywhere…Powell Symphony Hall which makes the orchestra sound glow!!!!!!!!!!

  • Robert H Wilkins says:

    Sorry to break the news to you…but Saint Louis is a major/significant city with a magnificent orchestra that has been of the first rank of orchestras for decades!!!! Powell Symphony Hall, the home of the orchestra since 1968 is one of the great halls in the world (sorry for those folks who don’t venture into such “provincial” areas of the world)…it makes the orchestra sound positively glow!!!!

  • MB says:

    English Wikipedia – The city (St Louis) had an estimated 2018 population of 308,626 and is the cultural and economic center of the Greater St. Louis Metropolitan area (home to nearly 3,000,000 people).

    Bavarian Government – Beiträge zur Statistik Bayerns, Heft 549 – estimated population metropolitan region Munich 2018 – 2,946,700

    Perhaps St Louis is a bit more important than you realized…

  • Mike Schachter says:

    You get almost as large differences between UK and US universities. There is a huge American tradition of giving, partly fuelled by tax breaks.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      The university situation in the US is the result of two things:

      (i) Rich people can buy a place for their children since private universities (like Yale and Harvard) reserve around a third of places to the children of significant donors. Leading European universities select entirely on merit.

      (ii) Rich people can redirect their taxes away from things society wants to fund by pre-emptively assigning the money to their favourite charity. (Some have the revolting gall to claim this is a tax break). Hence many rich people give this tax money to universities or orchestras. It pretty much is not allowed in Europe.

      Personally, I prefer the European model.

  • Patrick says:

    St. Louis: long, proud tradition. Outstanding musicians. Excellent Music Directors/Conductors. The fact is, there are many first rate orchestras found in smaller cities all over the world.

  • Karlo says:

    …different tax laws regarding charitable donations in the U.S.A. and U.K. The U.K. is similar to Canada regarding such matters, which is why in both countries, orchestra endowments and gifts to the arts are peanuts.

  • phf655 says:

    The arts in the United States would not exist were it not for private support. The Boston Symphony Orchestra reported an endowment of $488 million in its 2016/17 annual report. The American tradition of private patronage does not exist in Europe. Those who lament the absence of state support should ask themselves if they want symphony orchestras, or other arts institutions, beholden to Donald Trump’s Republican Party, or for that matter,to the left of the Democratic Party, each with its own agendas which are most certainly inimical to artistic independence and excellence.
    The Saint Louis Symphony has had an influence in the American orchestral world disproportionate to the small size and recent economic weakness of its host city, with its support for new music and unusual programming. Its outgoing music director, David Robertson, has an international career, as does its incoming music director, Stephane Deneve, and its recent former music directors, the late Hans Vonk, and Leonard Slatkin.
    Cleveland Ohio is no longer a major city, and its economic situtation is probably worse than that of St. Louis. The history of St. Louis’s orchestra is tied to heavy German immigration into the area in the nineteenth century.

    • NYMike says:

      And how “beholden” to their respective governments are the Royal Concertgebouw, Vienna Philharmonic and Berlin Philharmonic orchestras??

    • Vaquero357 says:

      Ay-Men! Yes, government funding of the arts is great….until the government runs short on funds and has to stop subsidizing luxuries. We saw this in Europe 15-20 years ago when government started cutting back on funding, and the arts institutions literally had no clue how to go out and get private donations.

      Plus, in the U.S., there are a lot of people who just aren’t into the traditional European arts like classical music, who will rightly ask why their tax dollars should be going to support something in which they have no interest. The institutions can do “outreach” programs to try to get these folks interested, but that gains only so many “converts.” The others still aren’t interested.

      P.S. Cleveland is a much less important city (economically) than it used to be. But it’s still home to a superb, world-class orchestra. Congrats to their audience and donors for keeping Cleveland a major “player” in the performing arts!

    • Anson says:

      By the way, whatever happened to David Robertson’s international career? It’s no knock on the (excellent) SLSO or him, but I remember as long ago as 2002 I was told that he was a rising star, destined for the top directorships in Europe, or maybe Chicago, New York. And then I stopped hearing much about him. (Only saw him live once myself, but I remember being impressed.)

      • Anon says:

        He is a Director in NY.
        He is Director of The Juilliard Orchestra.

      • GraemeG says:

        He’s also, since 2014, chief conductor of the Sydney Symphony who are in Europe with him for two weeks in late November

      • MacroV says:

        Well, he was MD in St. Louis – as the comments on this thread make clear, a very major orchestra – for 15 years, and he’s MD in Sydney, also a terrific orchestra in a magnificent city. Not half bad; not everybody can be become MD in Chicago and NY.

  • MacroV says:

    It’s all the more remarkable because about 20 years ago the St. Louis Symphony was in deep financial trouble. I don’t know how they did it, but now they have one of the largest endowments of any U.S. orchestra. In a city that remains deeply troubled.

    I’m not sure how you’re defining “modest,” but it’s as fine an orchestra as you’ll find in any of those glamorous European capitals.

    • Vaquero357 says:

      Ditto on that! An outstanding orchestra – one the *many* fine ensembles to be found all over the Midwest. Also: Minnesota Orchestra, Kansas City Symphony, Omaha Symphony, Des Moines Symphony, and a little group somewhat toward the east that you might’ve heard of: Chicago Symphony.

      • William Ford says:

        I am going to hear the Omaha Symphony Saturday evening at the wonderful Holland Center and then the Mariinsky Orchestra under Gergiev at Lincoln’s Lied Center. Classical music is alive and well in the Midwest.

      • Luigi Nonono says:

        The Minnesota Orchestra has always been in the top ten, it is insulting to group it together with other Midwestern orchestras. They play with more commitment and discipline than any major orchestra.

      • Kyle Wiedmeyer says:

        I’m surprised you mention Omaha and Des Moines and Kansas City and neglect to mention the Milwaukee Symphony, fresh off an 8-year tenure by the great Edo de Waart as MD. They recently raised $100+ million for a new concert hall (renovated old theatre) and increased endowment and can hold their own against many of the best orchestras in the country.

  • David Hyslop says:

    Norman : The rise in Endowment is a tribute to the St. Louis community. I can assure you , having been the CEO of the St. Louis Symphony from 1978-91, it was not always that way.

    • SLSO fan says:

      Yes David Hyslop but St. Louis audiences were at their peak back then in the Slatkin era. Almost twice as many classical tickets sold as today.

  • Cubs Fan says:

    And Saint Louis is a very fine orchestra. They aren’t paid nearly the high salaries players in Chicago, New York, or Los Angeles get. But they play just as well – and have for decades. Their hall is magnificent. If only the civic leaders would get the city cleaned up and reduce the crime rate!

    • The View from America says:

      It takes more than city leaders to “get the city cleaned up and reduce the crime rate.” For that to happen, you need buy-in from everyone.

  • Unston Nale says:

    You know the St. Louis Symphony is the second oldest symphony orchestra in the United States. Only the NY Philharmonic has a longer history.

  • For comparison, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra currently reports an endowment of $137 Million against an annual budget of about $35M

    Immediately next door, the Fort Worth Symphony has an endowment of $23M against an annual budget of $12M

  • According to the Chronicle of Higher Education the average annual return of an institutional endowment is about 4.6%.

    St. Louis could be getting about $10M per year which would pay for 100 musicians at about $100,000 per year.

    • Bill says:

      You can’t draw at the rate of return in an inflationary environment. Also, that $100k turns into a much smaller number after you account for taxes and benefits. If you wanted to actually pay $100k per musician, you need a number more like $150k on the income side.

  • PaulD says:

    I wonder how Leonard Slatkin feels about seeing the St. Louis Symphony described as a “modest midwest orchestra.”

  • David K. Nelson says:

    I guess “not a major city” means “a city not in the U.K.”
    St. Louis was making splendid recordings in the 78 rpm era. A serious record collector would know all about the quality and stature of the SLSO.

  • Bernard Labadie says:

    The St. Louis Symphony is anything but a “modest Midwest orchestra”. It’s a great institution with a rich history, fueled by a wonderful group of talented and dedicated musicians and a great management team. I know it first hand, having had the privilege of conducting them on many occasions. Each one of my visits there has stood out as a musical highlight in my yearly schedule. I’m proud of calling them my friends and I congratulate them on their tremendous success. #underratednomore

  • Christopher says:

    The SLSO has the third largest endowment and tenth largest annual budget in the US. It is the second oldest orchestra in the US and like the Cleveland Orchestra punches way over its metropolitan area. Additionally, there home, Powell Hall, is one of the most beautiful and impressive acoustically halls in the world. This cliche of nothing is important unless it’s on the east coast or LA is very short sighted. In fact the SLSO, along with Cleveland, Minnesota, and Pittsburgh routinely play at a higher level than some of the “big five”. Folks in the Midwest have a reputation for modesty but I wouldn’t describe these institutions that way.

  • Corno says:

    Headlines matter! Describing the St. Louis Symphony as modest is a huge error. Of course, the city is not nearly as large as New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles, but both in its rich history and in its quality, modest is completely the wrong word to describe this jewel of an orchestra. It is great news that this once financially troubled institution is now on better footing, so that its balance sheet more appropriately matches its high artistic level.

  • Kyle Wiedmeyer says:

    St. Louis metro area is almost 3 million people. It’s not Chicago, Los Angeles, or New York, but most would consider it to be a major city.

  • James Scott says:

    St. Louis Symphony also has women in both the Principal Trumpet and Associate Principal Trombone chairs – a great orchestra that shows that perhaps there is some small progress on gender issues in orchestras if you don’t exclude the places where the progress is happening.

  • JAH says:

    I concur with other individuals who said the St. Louis Symphony should not be categorized as a “modest Midwest orchestra.” I expected to be reading about the Des Moines or Sioux Falls symphonies.