Kennedy Center latest: 20 orchestra staff are fired

Kennedy Center latest: 20 orchestra staff are fired


norman lebrecht

March 31, 2020

President Trump’s $25m stimulus bill has given Ken Cen the license to sack 20 NSO staff, on top of stopping the musicians’ pay.

The news was given in a conference call by National Symphony Orchestra executive director Gary Ginstling.

In all, 250 KenCen staff have been dismissed.



KenCen has just issued a wordy, practically meaningless press release, which follows.

As America and countries around the world try to make sense of the current global public health and economic crisis, new realities have come sharply into focus for business and non-profit leaders, forcing many—including the Kennedy Center—to do everything possible to ensure our long-term financial health and survival. Without question, the Kennedy Center has been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and has experienced overwhelming financial losses. The shared sacrifices we make as an institution and the financial steps we take today, though painful, are vitally important to securing the future of the Kennedy Center. By safeguarding our financial position now, we also improve our capacity to open our doors and stages for audiences as soon as it is safe to do so.

As a living presidential memorial and congressionally created National Center for the Performing Arts, the Center’s economic model is different than most arts organizations. Our business operations rely heavily on ticket revenues and donations, which combined, equal 80% of the Center’s annual operating budget. The coronavirus pandemic has forced us to cancel all performances through at least May 10, 2020, thus depleting almost all ticket income and greatly reducing charitable gifts to the Center. With no end in sight to the current crisis, we feel it is prudent to assume that our business may not resume for several months.

Our extensive financial modeling indicates that if no changes are made to our spending patterns, even if we are able to open in mid-May, with the recent $25 million federal stimulus funding, the Kennedy Center would run out of cash as early as July. In order to stretch the Center’s finances as long as possible, we must take immediate action to change our expense structure and preserve cash. In addition to drawing from the $25 million stimulus funding and the Center’s existing $10 million line of credit, we must furlough approximately 60% of the Kennedy Center’s full-time administrative staff beginning April 6 through at least May 10, 2020. These measures are apart from the 725 hourly and part-time employees already impacted. The remaining skeleton staff consists primarily of box office, finance, marketing, and development employees required to maintain business continuity. It is imperative that we scale back the entire institution’s personnel costs during this time of closure and dearth of ticket income. Again, all of these choices are difficult, though absolutely necessary for us to re-employ staff and musicians when we can resume our programming and bring audiences back to the Center in the months to come. The human impacts of these actions are indeed devastating, which is why Kennedy Center leadership has committed to covering full healthcare benefits for all furloughed employees.

In the last week, we have received many questions from the public and our patrons about the $25 million designated for the Kennedy Center in the federal stimulus package (CARES Act). This economic relief will save jobs and ensure jobs for our furloughed staff to come back to once the pandemic subsides and we are able to reopen for business. The following breakdown illustrates how the Kennedy Center will use these funds to cover essential expenses over the next six months:


Employee Compensation $12,750,000

Employee Benefits $7,500,000

Artist Contracts and Fees $1,750,000

Deep Cleaning $250,000

IT to improve telework capacity $250,000

Rent or utilities $1,000,000

Information Technology $750,000

Other Admin Expenses $750,000

TOTAL $25,000,000

After exhaustive review and scrutiny of all options, the Kennedy Center’s leadership and board believe the plan outlined above is the only way forward. Our priority and responsibility is to ensure that the Kennedy Center is able to fulfill its mission into the future and re-open once the pandemic has subsided and our lives, our community, and the economy may return to some normalcy. We look forward to re-engaging artists and re-employing staff, just as soon as health and public officials indicate it is safe to do so. Our nation’s stages will come alive. On behalf of the entire Kennedy Center family, we wish you all good health and courage in the days to come.




  • Anon says:

    Rutter has financially hamstrung this organization. She’s already gone deep into the KC’s line of credit, something like 30m in debt now? They’ll also be furloughing around 60% of the admin staff – the education dept in particular has been reduced by around 90%

    Hopefully they can bring Michael Kaiser back to save this organization from what his successor has done to it. The Reach – what a joke and great monument to Rutter’s hubris and ego.

    • kencenemployee says:

      Spot on!!! Rutter needs to be fired asap!

    • Has-been says:

      The Reach was a Michael Kaiser plan !! He left before it was completed and Deborah Rutter inherited it and raised an enormous amount of money for its completion.The Reach was a great idea and in time will be a great performance and teaching space. The pandemic could not have been anticipated.

    • Anonymous says:

      The Reach project predated Deborah Rutter, she inherited it.

      • Anonymous says:

        True, however the concept for the Reach was that it would be an institution that Kaiser had envisioned bringing to the KC. That didn’t happen. Instead of re-tooling the plan and making it into a viable, usable performance space, they just forged ahead, raised boatloads of money, went over budget, raised boatloads more, essentially completely tapping out all their contributors, and then ended up with an attractive but pretty useless space for their current needs.

        • Anonymous says:

          This is not what happened (I worked there during his time), his plan was essentially very similar to what you see today. Rehearsal and educational spaces, along with some reception areas and the outdoor space for the public.

  • Stubborn dude says:

    I think the question to ask is: if 60% of the KC staff is furloughed, who are the 40% getting almost 13 million dollars for the next five months? This is 2.5 mln a month of taxpayers’ money. The Kennedy Center should have a full audit!

    • Morgan says:

      Management is still “working from their homes” to bring back the KC. Lots of management. 16 Vice Presidents of the Kennedy Center for starters and down the line. The upper 40% that are important to the Kennedy Center, according to Rutter.

      • The View from America says:


      • Stubborn dude says:

        About 150 senior management are now making 2,500,000 a month of taxpayers’ money, while the whole of the NSO is fired. Do you think it’s a good leadership move? That’s 17K a month, on average. How is that even possible or legal?! Why was not a universal paycut across the board suggested? Should not everyone carry a burden of healthcare crisis, together?
        Why is the NSO, musicians and staff, chosen to be a scapegoat? All these questions need answers.
        And the Kennedy Center needs an audit or should return the stimulus money back to taxpayers

  • Teachable Moment says:

    As an arts institution with a Democrat idol as it’s eponymous bedrock, this should tell those on the left who legitimately cares about them and more importantly WHO DOES NOT.

    All these trusting musicians in NY alone being turned out in the cold despite both immediate donor and PRESIDENTIAL assistance of all things…

    • Anon says:

      Go away, Redneck Incel.

    • Patrick says:

      I assume you mean musicians in the Washington DC area? Not NY?

    • Enquiring Mind says:

      Lesson 1: the KC is in DC not NY.

    • Michael says:

      You are aware the Kennedy Center is in DC, right? Not that facts can remedy your blind hatred. Sad.

      • Pandemic Paula says:

        Clearly Teachable Moment is a New Yorker


        (In shrieky Hillary speak, shaking in in one of her 1% outfits paid for by speaking engagements at Wall Street banks.)

        You sure don’t see Hillary or the Obamas lifting a selfish finger, DO YOU? Not for the arts or anything else unless it’s a paid gig. (Hillary cackling at gullible Dems again)

        • Anon says:

          No, Teachable Moment is YOU, Pandemic Paula/Ida Rothstein/Redneck Incel. If Teachable Moment were a New Yorker, Teachable Moment would know KC is not in NY. You, R.I., clearly did not. Nice try, though.

          You’re really wasting your time, as well as ours, constantly bashing Hillary. OK, we get that you hate her. But this is a blog about the MUSIC industry, and you will NEVER convince us to follow tRump. Your cultish devotion to him is sick. By the way, why don’t you ever say anything about Melania staying with him after he was unfaithful to her all of those times?

          Did you notice how Moscow Mitch admitted OSM blew the virus response? That has to make you mad…

          • Anon says:

            So what are you claiming Hillary, Barack, Michelle, Nancy, Chuck, Joe, Bernie, etc are DOING to help classical music during the Chinese originated pandemic in the states?

      • Ida Rothstein says:

        On the bright side, President Trump’s signature Bill is about to provide direct financial assistance to both individuals and organizations ASAP.

        No doubt, Democrats rooted in their principles will of course refuse and return their stimulus payments en masse but I respect their resolve.

        • Musician says:

          Hello again, R.I., or whatever you want to call yourself. It’s VERY obvious that you’re NOT an amateur or professional musician. Do you even listen to classical music?

          After seeing post after post of yours with no mention of anything musical EVER, I believe you stumbled onto this blog by accident. You saw a couple of negative comments about your leader, and you made it your mission to push your pro-trump agenda. It’s not working. You’re actually making it worse.

          You don’t belong here. Say one thing about music and prove me wrong.

  • Stuart says:

    President Trump’s $25m stimulus bill has given Ken Cen the license to sack 20 NSO staff, on top of stopping the musicians’ pay.

    That sentence makes no sense. Firstly it is a $2T bill that the Congress put $25m into for the Kennedy Center (and the $25m has nothing to do with COVID-19 relief.) It is not Trump’s bill (thought, yes, he signed it.) And the bill didn’t give the Kennedy Center license to do anything – they made this (questionable) move on their own despite gaining an unexpected $25m. One is not really related to the other.

  • Music for a while. says:

    Lock the doors!!!

  • Guest 123 says:

    It appears that Mr Ginstling is still on the payroll, and if nothing has changed since the Washington Post article, is on a 25% salary reduction (along with a dozen or so named Senior Staff). That means he is making several hundred thousand still, if he receives compensation near the levels of other executive staff listed in the 990’s.

    And the other elephant in the room is the status of the Music Director. Is Maestro Noseda forgoing his salary and benefits? Was he informed of these decisions?

    I heard that the Kennedy Center staff staying on are only taking a 10% pay reduction, only if they make beyond a certain amount, which I believe to be a rather high salary level.

    From what I can surmise, the Kennedy Center is choosing to leave one group largely unaffected, all things considered, while unemploying the rest.

    It seems the more prudent decision would’ve been a deeper salary reduction across the board, where everyone shares equally in the burden, especially those whose salaries have placed them in a healthier financial position.

    This is all unconscionable considering the significant financial advantage the Kennedy Center just received.

    Further, how could the “Nation’s Center for the Performing Arts” be in such a poor position financially that they only had enough cash to cover payroll for 2 months before the Stimulus. Was it the overspending ($150M over budget) on the expansion? What level of mismanagement must’ve taken place for them to be in such a poor financial health?! How can all these other orchestras and arts centers continue to pay their people but one of the largest in the country, the only one that received stimulus money, just started letting people go?! I think the executive staff and board need to publicly answer these kinds of questions to the public, who happen to be paying their bills right now.

    • Stubborn dude says:

      This is very well put, bravo!
      These questions should be asked publicly, by press, and not just on this blog

  • Stephen Owades says:

    Given that the Kennedy Center is closed and no performances or ticket revenue are happening, and they’ve had to lay off the musicians, do you really think they should keep paying the staff? Would that be smarter or fairer?

  • Stubborn dude says:

    Curious where is Noseda in all of this? Nothing on his FB page, nothing on his website. Is he going to make a statement in support of HIS orchestra?!
    Norman, have you reached out to him? Why is he totally silent??

    • Tamino says:

      I suppose Noseda is hitting his head on the wall, why he always ends up in places where politics, mismanagement and greedy managers kill his artistic ambitions.
      Torino just behind him.

      At the end of the day, in these day‘s music business reality, chief conductors are not much more than extensively traveling paid entertainers. Entertainers for both the audiences and the orchestra.

      Even if e.g. Muti came out and walked the line with his musicians. In fact these modern maestros are all, owned, paid, and at the end of their usefulness cycles dispensed, hired entertainers and PR tools.

      • morgan says:

        I do not see why Noseda would stay after this. Rutter and Rubinstein have created an atmosphere in which a contract is meaningless to them so why would anyone/or entity adhere to a contract with them at this point. I can’t imagine any member of Congress who supports unions or following labor laws being in support of their actions even in a pandemic.

      • abitmusical says:

        Rostropovich also walked the line with the musicians of the NSO

  • Alvaro says:

    Given they basically have no more Admin, I wonder what those $750K in “Other admin expenses” are for .

    Christmas does come early for some, apparently!

  • Sketchy Gary Ginstling needs to resign, though the National Symphony Orchestra board of directors will likely make that decision for him once details of his conduct and actions during his final year at the Indianapolis Symphony become public (and they will.)

    In contrast, Kansas City Symphony Executive Director Danny Beckley is continuing to pay the musicians in KC. Beckley was Sketchy Gary’s General Manager in Indianapolis, and Gary routinely threw Beckley under the bus in order to deflect blame and protect his own career interests. The Indianapolis Symphony is also living with the devastating financial and structural mess that Gary left behind in the wake of his career ambitions. In the case of the NSO, Gary will be happy to deflect all blame on Rutter- a skill he is quite adept at.

    More to come on all of this, but for now the NSO board needs to take action, or congress should rescind that 25 million-dollar gift.

    • Stubborn dude says:

      Could you elaborate on what happened in Indianapolis?

      • Sketchy Gary’s tenure in Indianapolis was disastrous for the organization, and specific details will be coming in the near future. You can click on my name at the top of this post to find several articles on why Indianapolis has been a mess for decades.

        Regarding Sketchy Gary’s final year: he took actions that he knew (or should have known) would be harmful to the Indianapolis Symphony in order to advance his own career interests. Throughout his time there, he concealed vital information from the Board of Directors, and routinely threw employees (like the General Manager) under the bus in order to deflect blame from himself. It’s insane that the NSO board hired him while Indy was neck-deep in the Federal Age Discrimination Lawsuit, and Sketchy Gary’s handling of that matter was in his own self interests and not the ISO’s, which the ISO discovered well after Sketchy Gary had escaped to Washington DC.

        It will all come out in due time- for now, the NSO board needs to reclaim organizational control of their Executive Director before he again takes actions in his own self interests at the expense of his employer.

  • MacroV says:

    You all are blaming the wrong person. Deborah Rutter did not create the Kennedy Center or its financial model. You would think that such a large institution would have much more stable finances and would be able to operate a few months without revenue from performances. Evidently not, but that’s a problem that goes back way before Ms. Rutter – even before that of the sainted Mr. Kaiser. The KC administration has been surprisingly open about how they are spending the money and what other money they have available.

    As for The Reach: Rutter started at the Kennedy mid-2014. Pretty sure the Reach was conceived well before that. Harebrained idea or stroke of genius, it wasn’t her whim.

  • Karl says:

    There was no Trump stimulus bill for the Kennedy Center as implied here. Democrats insisted on giving money to the Kennedy Center to get a 2 trillion dollar RELIEF bill passed to help the industries, small businesses, unemployed workers and health care providers hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic. NPR:
    “The Kennedy Center has suffered greatly, because nobody can go there. It’s essentially closed,” said Trump. “They do need some funding. I said, ‘Look, that was a Democrat request. That was not my request.’ But you’ve got to give them something.”

    • NYMike says:

      And you believe whatever comes out of Herr Trump’s mouth??

      • CA Chad says:

        And you believe whatever comes out of Frau Pelosi’s mouth??

        She doesn’t care any further than her walled off mansion on Presidio (a PRIVATE STREET for the 1% ONLY).

  • dandolo says:

    Can someone with knowledge of the details explain why rent is a line item? Does the Kennedy Center not own the building? Who does?

  • Intbaritone says:

    Am I the only one that thinks employee compensation is insane in that short “budget” presented? I’d love to see a breakdown of where that 12.5M is going

    • Saxon Broken says:

      It depends on how many employees are being compensated. Although US arts institutions have bloated administrations compared to equivalent European institutions.

  • EagleArts says:

    I’m sad to say that there appears be little to no news of the plight of US orchestras in the New YorkTimes. Nothing. Sure there are some bright spots, but it looks like disaster for many.

    • Tiredofitall says:

      It’s called prioritizing. No one person is more important than another at this time, except for healthcare workers. My applause every evening for their dedication is more heartfelt than any I’ve given in a concert hall.

  • Annnon says:

    Better 20 admin staff than 20 musicians.

    The players chose the right profession, they could’ve been ICU doctors without protective gear working 24 hour shifts 3 days in a row, at the same pay.

    • mark says:


      “I don’t work, I don’t save lives, but I want taxpayers to keep paying me to the tune of $25 million bailouts, because I play the triangle really nice.”

    • Tamino says:

      The utalitarian perspective on human life is a virus. It‘s what the Nazis did as well. Stop it.
      It‘s utterly inhuman and false.

      (And it‘s also shortsighted. Also doctors don‘t save lives out of thin air.)

  • How is it helpful, accurate or fair for you to replace the word “furlough” with “sacked” and “fired”?? Are you unaware of the distinction? Your editorial slant reveals a bias that is unbecoming. I’m employed by an opera company and have personal experience with being furloughed.