What it costs to fly a US orchestra to Europe

What it costs to fly a US orchestra to Europe


norman lebrecht

December 17, 2019

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has an interesting, unsigned piece on the benefits (questionable, in our view) of orchestra touring.

The Pittsburgh SO comes to Europe every other year.

The cost? $2.5 million

The benefits? Well, Delta set up a direct Paris-to-Pittsburgh flight, but dropped it last year.

Read here.




  • You need a proofreading Norman

  • Patrick says:

    $2.5 million to fly the The “Pisstburgh” SO to Europe? No wonder they’re pisst.

  • Mick the Knife says:

    “This fall, the PSO stormed some of the continent’s best venues, packing halls from Vienna and Hamburg to Amsterdam and Brussels, and earning effusive praise from foreign press.” – that tells concert goers and donors back home that the PSO isn’t just a small time regional orchestra. I would expect it is critical to sustaining operations. Perhaps the Baltimore Symphony and Maryland could learn something from their artistic-financial model.

  • fflambeau says:

    The link doesn’t seem to work for me.

    But I disagree: the PSO has a German/Austrian Conductor and travelling abroad is good for them and they have lots of interntional fans. I also like to see European orchestras going to the USA for the same reasons.

    $2.5 million sounds like a lot but they have lots of people and instruments and then there are local transport costs, food and hotels. I think it’s a bargain.That’s why they do it. Moreover, donors likely pay the tab anyway.

    • dffs says:

      German / Austrian ??
      You missed the end of WW2.
      Honeck is Austrian.

      • Calvin says:

        Whether he is from “Austria” or “Lower Germany,” the world certainly could stand to see more of the underrated Honeck. His more recent recordings have been substantively and sonically terrific — sometimes apostrophizing Kleiber, but surely there can be far worse things than that.

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        And a terrific conductor and person into the bargain!!

  • Monsoon says:

    I wrote my master’s thesis on this. Nobody could even begin to quantify the value, such as if good reviews overseas resulted increased ticket sales and donations at home. At best, it helps lure musicians who rather work for an orchestra that tours than doesn’t.

    • anon says:

      I was unaware that most musicians had the choice of working for an orchestra that tours vs one that doesn’t. How many auditions have you taken recently?

      Can you share your data on increased home donations and ticket subscriptions due to a foreign tour? How long did the said increased donations/subscriptions last?

      • Monsoon says:

        I should have been clearer: It helps lure music directors. They very much want to work for an orchestra that tours because national and international media coverage does help advance their career.

        There was no data that showed good reviews overseas have a tangible benefit at home.

        You could argue that touring helps your brand, but with the exception of several organizations, most funding is local — local news coverage has much more of an impact on ticket sales and donations.

        Now in fairness, there are corporate funders that help cover a lot of the touring costs because they use the tour as an international advertising opportunity. So it’s not always a zero-sum game where the orchestra is choosing to spend $2.5 million on a tour rather than on activities at home — that money is only donated because the orchestra is touring.

        • Saxon Broken says:

          The Pittsburgh SO has a dedicated endowment fund for tours (e.g. the money could not be used for anything else). They also get paid some money by the hosts, and are used by “big business” to entertain and sell Pittsburgh as a business destination (these businesses pay something to the touring costs too).

  • Cubs Fan says:

    Pisstburgh? (Even the spell check in this comment caught that one!_

  • Michael Turner says:

    Good morning Norman. The typo in paragraph 2 makes me wonder if you were just a little pittsed when you wrote this article?

  • concertgebouw79 says:

    The concerts tickets for the American orchestras are a little bit more expensive when they are going in Europe but it’s less expensive than one concert of
    the Berliner.

  • anon says:

    I can think of better ways of supporting the arts with $2.5 million. There’s something a bit feudalistic in this “Versailles-the-Sun-King” style of cultural exhibitionism. When will we get passed this sort of thing.

    • Barry Guerrero says:

      I don’t see it that way, anon. Ticket prices for seeing a traveling symphony orchestra are generally far less than seeing a big-name rock band. Tickets to see/hear some crappy modern musical are usually as high or high. I think seeing traveling orchestras with different conductors is one of the great luxuries a good percentage of the population CAN afford. I would hate to see that go away.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      We’ll get PAST this ‘sort of thing’ when people stop buying tickets.

  • MWnyc says:

    The article was written by the Post-Gazette’s usual classical music critic/reporter, Jeremy Reynolds. It is unsigned because the newspaper’s writers are on a byline strike.

    Explanation here:

  • Old Man in the Midwest says:

    Most (if not all) US Orchestras have a big business underwrite their tours which actually earns them revenue (think Chicago, Cleveland, and I am sure Pittsburgh). Tours help balance the budget despite the high costs associated with touring.

    Remember, for the sponsoring business, it is cheaper than most advertising campaigns, and allows the C-Suite execs to invite customers and make an impression with the Maestro after the concert.

    And the benefits to the hometown are also important. Residents of the hometown take the orchestra more seriously and the PR team for the management can create a buzz for the orchestra that will help sell tickets.

    And for most musicians, touring can be a cheap way to visit cultural cities that would be expensive to visit on their own.

    All in all, it makes sense for most large US orchestras to do some international touring.

    • anon says:

      “for most musicians, touring can be a cheap way to visit cultural cities that would be expensive to visit on their own”

      Have you polled CSO and Cleveland musicians as to the popularity of the tours? Take a look at the number of subs that are brought along – may indicate the popularity of tours with the regulars.

      “benefits to the hometown are also important. Residents of the hometown take the orchestra more seriously and the PR team for the management can create a buzz for the orchestra that will help sell tickets.”

      Can you quantify actual increases in ticket sales?

      • Sir David Geffen-Hall says:

        Dear Anon,

        > Yes, touring does get weary after years in such an orchestra. However, there is still a glamour factor for the first ten years of a career when musicians are young and have no family burdens.

        > Not sure how one would quantify the effect on ticket sales, however, there is no question that for a large orchestra like the Chicago Symphony (for instance), having Bank of America as their tour sponsor, actually adds to both gross revenues and net “profit” ultimately making tours a profitable venture. It is also why the Cleveland Orchestra has done some many off site residencies away from their home city which remains economically stagnant due to dependence on “rust belt” industries.

        • anon says:

          I’m not convinced that corporate sponsorship of ventures that do not benefit locals or bring locals into the concert halls is a sustainable model for assuring long term economic viability of a city-based symphony. The strategy fails to address the need to develop a local reliable support base and suggests that the local orchestra adds little value to its home city. Is the next step a nationally touring orchestra without a home base?

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Old Man writes: “for most musicians, touring can be a cheap way to visit cultural cities that would be expensive to visit on their own”

      Many musicians hate touring. It is very hard work, since to be economically viable, the orchestra tends to play most evenings, and travel the next day for the next evening concert. The orchestra has barely time to quickly run through the programme the afternoon of the concert. There tends to be very little time for sight-seeing.

  • Fan of the Earth says:

    Whether orchestral touring is justifiable from a financial or reputational perspective is surely a lesser consideration to whether it is environmentally responsible. Sure, maybe some local bigwigs (or even smallwigs) are impressed when the Pittsburgh Symphony is well-received in a major cultural hub like Berlin. But with dozens of its own very well-established orchestras, could anyone seriously make the argument that pleasing the ears of a few thousand connoisseurs in a city already well-served with music really justifies spewing all that CO2 into the atmosphere? Really? Knowing what we all know about the devastating impact climate change will have on all of us, but particularly those with few resources to adapt?

    I used to be able to passionately articulate the benefits of orchestral touring. But I think now it’s time for the classical music business to undertake some honest self-reflection: is stroking our hometown egos through orchestral touring more important that the planet we live on?

    • Barry Guerrero says:

      I would be willing to be that the ‘carbon footprint’ of a travelling orchestra is insignificant in comparison to the many square miles of Amazon jungle that get torn down every day. I would focus on that, instead; especially since much of that rain forest gets replaced by cattle and mining. Just as bad (or worse) are the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of gallons of fuel that get wasted every day by slow or standstill traffic jams. In California, one of the stupidest things are the ‘diamond lanes’ that happen when there are the most cars on the highways. Think of all the fuel that gets wasted by taking a lane away when there are many thousands of cars on a given highway. I submit those things are vastly more damaging than fuel burnt to move an orchestra about.

    • anon says:

      “stroking our hometown egos through orchestral touring” may have been a factor 20 years ago in an orchestra’s bottom line. Times have changed, donors have changed, priorities have changed.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      They’re not mutually exclusive. Many of those musicians will be passionately enthusiastic about the environment and I’m betting that even if they stopped travelling today it wouldn’t make a scintilla of difference to global warming/climate change/climate catastrophe/climate emergency. (Tick which one is appropriate to stop it constantly morphing!)

    • Retired Touring Orchestra Player says:

      I agree, Fan of the Earth. It’s an unpopular position, but international touring does appear to be mostly about “stroking our hometown egos.”

  • Dennis Ferry says:

    Norman, what’s your point? I can never quite figure it out.