Indy posts big loss

Indy posts big loss


norman lebrecht

December 03, 2019

When an orchestra trumpets its educational efforts at the head of its annual report, the eye is drawn instantly to the bottom line. Sure enough, it’s red.

The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra has reported ‘a general operating loss’ of $751,000 for the 2019 financial year.

Total operating income was $27.4 million.

CEO James Johnson said: ‘Last summer, we began an unprecedented program to evaluate and, as needed, change every aspect of the way we do business. As a staff and board, we are engaged in better planning, collaboration among and across departments, open communication, greater accountability, and fiscal transparency. Our financial reporting and planning will take a heightened priority to assure that we are thoughtful and disciplined in continuing our tradition of providing the highest caliber performances throughout this remarkable community.’

Other priorities: They need to replace music director  Krzysztof Urbański who leaves in 2021, and they still don’t have a concertmaster.

Work in progress.



  • Paul says:

    I strongly believe in education and outreach concerts, however, with an emphasis on older students such as those around 15-20 years old. This is an age-group that can immediately begin buying tickets and attending concerts on their own asap. Although bringing music to very young children is indeed important, I see many organizations invest too much in outreach to that particular group of children so young that the return on investment can rarely be seen or felt in our generation. I would be interested to learn of orchestras who are actually making an effort to reach that group of older teenagers who could soon be capable of attending concerts on their own.

  • The View from America says:

    I wonder what the consensus view is locally about the success of Urbanski at the ISO, considering the heightened anticipation that accompanied his appointment.

    • Pat says:

      The musicians seem to really like and respect him. My source is overheard conversations.

      • Pat- to be fair to your comment, there are some musicians who do like and respect him, and respect the fact that he tried to raise their level before essentially giving up in 2015. The majority do not feel that way.

        • Pat says:

          I’m not sure what you mean by a long time. It seems to me, as an outsider, that the relationship of the audience, orchestra and conductor was best when Leppard was the conductor. It seems to me that attendance has dropped recently.

  • Pat says:

    The money problems of the ISO are not new. A few years ago the endowment was over 100M and now it is less than that. I am not an insider so I don’t know exactly what happened.

    • Enquiring Mind says:

      They could use the endowment to balance the budget for more than a century. At what point is an endowment just hoarding instead of considering it a donation meant to address operating costs?

  • MacroV says:

    It’s a fine orchestra, as is pretty much any band that pays close to a living wage. It shouldn’t be that hard to hire a good CM; lots of great violinists out there. Hopefully they’ll find a good MD, too. Meantime, I’m sure many European orchestras would be in even worse financial shape if they had to operate on the ISO’s business model.

  • Mick the Knife says:

    “better planning, collaboration among and across departments, open communication, greater accountability, and fiscal transparency.” And none of those meaningless buzzwords are related to the problem of a deficit.

  • The Indianapolis Symphony has been a disaster for a long time. Major agencies have been warning their top conductors to avoid the ISO for years. The money woes are a symptom of severe institutional problems that have gone unaddressed for ages. Urbanski doesn’t like the orchestra, many of the orchestra members don’t like him, and that’s just for starters (age discrimination lawsuit, resignations over sexual harassment and misconduct, and more.)

    • fflambeau says:

      Well, they’ve had record ticket sales for a number of years in a row. They have a large endowment of almost $100 million (that fluctuates with the stocks of Wall St.). They do have a large budget and they’ve had good conductors. Urbanski is set to leave in 2020 and I’m sure they will have no trouble replacing him (he’s been there a decade). He doesn’t like him and vice versa? Well, he’s hired 19 members of the orchestra, so that’s hard to believe.
      The age discrimination suit was settled out of court. Sexual harassment? That’s not new there either. Maybe things are not as dark as you see them.

  • fflambeau says:

    Indianapolis, for Europeans who may not know this, is a pretty big urban area: much bigger than Dresden, for instance, with well over 2 million people in the metro area.

    Its symphony orchestra dates back to 1930 and it performs in a concert hall with almost 1,800 seats. It has had some distinguished conductors including Raymond Leppard.

    I would say this deficit is not a large one.

    • K says:

      Also worth noting is that music education in many Indianapolis area high schools is top notch. Marching bands (for high school football halftimes) are big in the US, and they are no bigger than in Indianapolis, which routinely boast the best in the US. All that to say – Indianapolis is a sizable city, but also one that has an appreciation for music and music education.