San Fran Symphony shuts up shop

San Fran Symphony shuts up shop


norman lebrecht

June 18, 2020

Just in:

SAN FRANCISCO, CA—The San Francisco Symphony today announces the cancellation of all concerts through December 31, 2020 due to COVID-19. “While we are deeply disappointed to not present the exciting lineup of live concerts we had planned for Fall 2020, including the start of Esa-Pekka Salonen’s tenure as Music Director and a festival of events featuring our eight Collaborative Partners, we know this action is necessary in order to ensure the health and safety of our Orchestra, Chorus, staff, and audiences,” says San Francisco Symphony CEO Mark C. Hanson. “In accordance with statewide guidelines that live concert performances will not be permitted until the final stage of the reopening process, the City of San Francisco and the War Memorial and Performing Arts Center have indicated that all performances in Davies Symphony Hall must be canceled through the end of the calendar year.”

In light of this extended period of concert cancellations, and in order to best position the organization for financial stability while producing and releasing original digital content and experiences, the San Francisco Symphony Board of Governors, Music Director, staff, members of the Orchestra & Chorus, and stagehands, have joined together in implementing a shared sacrifice plan that includes temporary pay reductions for all employees earning more than $75,000 annually, and a staff restructuring that includes the elimination of some positions and some temporary furloughs of varied duration. The San Francisco Symphony has also made the difficult decision to permanently close resale shop Repeat Performance on Fillmore Street effective July 31, 2020.



  • COVID19 says:

    This pandemic is the death blow to classical music.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    Aw, heck…. I love Repeat Performance!

  • drummerman says:

    It doesn’t say when the “final stage of the reopening process” is. Any San Franciscans out there who know? Supposing that the final stage is, say, August. Then what happens to the Symphony? I’m not making light of the subject. I live in New York, the so-called epicenter of the virus. I just don’t understand why they have to cancel six months in advance.

    • Girl with an Opinion says:

      Governor Newsom has said in the past that things in Stage 4 won’t be allowed until there is a vaccine or therapeutic treatments. So there is no definitive start date for Stage 4. He has lately been going back on a lot he has said in the past so he may go back on this too if he feels too much political pressure from other industries that fall in this category like professional sports and other more popular live entertainment.

      I agree that all these organizations making decisions about the fall now are doing it too soon. They are saying it’s for the health and safety of everyone but the bigger motivating factor is money. They can’t make money if they have to follow social distancing rules so their Boards are deciding to just cutting their losses for the fall instead of waiting to see what happens and/or trying to find creative ways to work within the guidelines.

      NL is right – it’s frustrating to see our European counterparts making it work. But they have government subsidies and a culture that values the arts. We have no subsidies and Boards who only care about their bottom line.

      • David says:

        Of what gets written on SD i see sentiments like this occasionally: “But they have government subsidies and a culture that values the arts.” I want to deny the truth of this. For some reason in America it has become unpatriotic to appreciate classical music and other high arts. The sentiment that this is a pastime of the nobility has become entrenched, it makes me so sad.

        I can’t understand how we got to a point where appreciating great music is not in the best interest of the public, and I fear that we may lose the battle.

        Girl With an Opinion, I want you to wrong but i dread that you are correct. (Where’s that sad emoji?)

        • Anon says:

          Girl WIth An Opinon is right. This isn’t an idealogical issue, it’s a business decision. Orchestras in the US are private businesses. Their boards protect those business interests. It would make no sense for any private business to try and remain open with the circumstances challenging orchestras during COVID.

          With govt. funding, EU orchs can and are remaining open. It’s a simple difference in business models for orchs: private vs. govt funded. The benefits of both have always been hotly debated. COVID is simply one circumstance in which govt. funded orchestras can survive more easily than privately funded orchestras.

    • Bill says:

      There aren’t any set dates, the stages are based on achieving various milestones in infection rate, etc. Searching on “Newsom California reopening phases” should get you a description.

  • Enquiring Mind says:

    If EPS and the SF Symphony streamed live concerts of chamber music/chamber orchestra (adequately rehearsed and played at the level of their usual concerts) with music composed in the past 100 years, I would buy a subscription. I’m sure I’m not the only one. Why do they just quit while European orchestras are finding a way?

    • D says:

      The reality, which no one in arts leadership is saying publicly, is that these extended cancellations have as much to do with the catastrophic financial impact of COVID-19 as with the virus itself. Large institutions, in particular, with their immense financial obligations to the unions, have been crippled. Many literally do not have enough liquidity to meet full operating costs for a season of performances. (Before anyone responds “What about their endowments,” please remember that non-profit endowments are largely restricted and cannot be drawn down beyond a fixed percentage.)

      The European orchestras still have government subsidies to keep them afloat; in the U.S., it’s all about private philanthropy, which is also drying up. The funders’ priorities have been dramatically reframed, and they now largely are focused on supporting humanitarian causes which allow their gifts to have measurable impact. Even those who continue to value the arts are reluctant to give to institutions that have no programming to support, so it’s becoming a vicious cycle.

      • RM says:

        Couldn’t you see it coming a mile away? Blame it on the unions!

        Those same unions that allowed us to bargain for ourselves to make a living in the face of a more or less uninterested population while Social Democratic Europe has it’s government subsidies.

        • D says:

          No one is blaming the unions, but the fact remains that the larger institutions have enormous financial obligations to the unions.There are many union-represented personnel required to operate a concert hall, beyond just the instrumentalists: stage crew, lighting crew, ushers, ticket takers, box office staff, security staff, cleaning crew, parking attendants, etc. No is begrudging anyone the opportunity to earn a living, but the costs associated with simply opening the doors of a venue are enormous.

          • RM says:

            “The reality, which no one in arts leadership is saying publicly, is that these extended cancellations have as much to do with the catastrophic financial impact of COVID-19 as with the virus itself. Large institutions, in particular, with their immense financial obligations to the unions, have been crippled.”

            Looks a lot like going to the trouble of particularly singling out unions to me. It’s the lede of the post.

          • NYMike says:

            As an AFM member, I have to agree to the facts presented by D like it or not. The MET’s contractual obligations to almost a thousand unionized employees have forced it to “furlough” them all.

          • RM says:

            A very poor response to Covid-19 particularly in the UK and US is what has forced them and other AFM organizations to be furloughed. The facts are in on that one. I don’t see any sense in shifting responsibility to unions at this point.

      • Enquiring Mind says:

        Case in point: I stumbled upon a Philadelphia Orchestra video of a Bruckner Symphony on their website last night. I “bought” my ticket for $25 and watched it from beginning to end. The next broadcast is on my calendar. They may be the only American orchestra doing this every week. It was an excellent rebroadcast and I appreciate that they are providing high quality content without commercial interruption.

    • Anon says:

      It’s because European orchs are mostly govt financed whilst US orchs are privately funded. European orchs don’t depend on ticket sales to survive. They don’t necessarily have to even produce revenue. So they can do all the proper social distancing, experimental things necessary to survive right now.

    • RM says:

      Because the US (including SF) is not handling the pandemic like Europe?

    • Ilio says:

      Because COVID19 is worse in the US. We have the most cases and deaths of anyplace in the world. We also have more people and not enough testing compared to the EU.

      • Mr. Knowitall says:

        The EU, taken as a whole, has about 25 percent more people than the US. About 445 million vs. 330 million. But you’re right that the US hasn’t managed the crisis nearly as well as most EU members.

  • Monsoon says:

    Everyone is doing this.

    Just received an email from Carnegie Hall saying everything in 2021 is canceled.

  • fflambeau says:

    I think this is a bit too severe. Put off by one month and definitely have music during the holidays.

    • NYMike says:

      Absent a vaccine will YOU attend a holiday ’20 concert??

      • M2N2K says:

        Can’t speak for “flambeau” whom I probably don’t know or about “holiday” shows that have never been my cup of tea, but if there is a concert this fall that I would be interested in attending under normal conditions and able to afford – in or around my city – I would definitely be there without hesitation.

        • M2N2K says:

          Please forgive me for misspelling “lambeau” with a single forte only instead of correctly shouting it at a true fortissimo.