US orchestra shuts down til August 2021

The Nashville Symphony has cancelled the whole of next season and sent staff and 79 musicians on furlough.

Nashville says it cannot meet its $1.2 million monthly payroll.

This bodes ill for the rest of the landscape.

Here’s what they have told subscribers and supporters:

This is one of the most difficult messages we’ve ever had to write, but we wanted to let you know first,before we released this information to the public.

Today, our Board of Directors voted to suspend all concert and event activity through July 31, 2021, and to furlough a total of 79 musicians and 49 full-time staff members, effective July 1.

Like many other businesses and organizations, the Nashville Symphony has been profoundly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic: To date, we have been forced to cancel or reschedule more than 65 concerts and events, with losses thus far caused by the pandemic projected to total $8 million, or nearly 30% of our annual income.

Since March, the Nashville Symphony’s management has been exploring every available option to ensure the long-term sustainability of the institution. In light of our current challenges, we firmly believe that today’s decision is the best course of action to ensure that the Symphony can continue serving our community in the long run.

We realize this news must be terribly disappointing to you. And we want you to know that we are working hard to support our musicians and staff through this difficult transition.

Without the ability to perform for the public, we are unable to generate essential operating revenue. And without that revenue, the Nashville Symphony faces a threat to its very existence. Until we have certainty that our economy can remain open, and that audiences are ready and able to return to large public gatherings, attempting to restart concert activity poses significant risks to our institution.

 

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  • Is this the straw that breaks the camels back?

    I had a hunch that the classical music scene in the United States was one more economic downturn away from becoming simply unviable as a way in which to make any kind of living; Thanks in large part to a lack of governmental funding for Arts.

    Glad I made the right choice in getting out after undergrad because instead of only 200 people lining up for an orchestra audition after prescreenings, there are now gonna be a 1000! since probably only the “A level” orchestras will survive this.

    Perhaps if conservatories charge $80,000 a year instead of $60,000 things will improve? Or, maybe large investments in Entreprenurial Music courses will solve the problem for musicians? Or maybe hitting the practice room for 16 hours a day instead of 8 will draw the audiences in?

    I wish everyone that makes their economic living off of classical music the best.

    • Brilliant commentary on the conservatory scene for classical musicians.

      I would note, the entrepreneurial courses have been offered for over 10 years in many conservatories. I haven’t noticed it making a difference in the number of my colleagues working non-music day jobs or taking fewer students to pay the bills.

      • All most all the “entrepreneurial” classes that are taught are useless but look good when pitching to perspective students.

        Most of the teachers have never started an ensemble yet they lecture and pontificate on a subject they have little knowledge of.

        The young players that make it in this smaller, non-orchestral setting do so by years of perseverance, equal heavy lifting by all members of the ensemble, and by offering something that is truly unique and of high quality.

        And they learn by doing. Not by attending some dusty lecture by an academic with no working knowledge of what goes into such a long term endeavor.

    • Notice how very few conservatories offer degrees in Music Education, which is by far the most practical and useful music degree out there…

  • They are looking at many options and a safe way to get back to work. Programming for 20-21 is postponed but that leaves the season open to try other things such as socially distanced chamber ensembles, chamber orchestra, etc. Hope they can find a solution sooner than later.

    • Oh, what, a harp here and a clarinet there? A little bit of this and a little bit of that? An unknown composer here and a “new work for socially distanced forces” there”? As the last months have clearly shown, no one is interested. Closed until August 2021 means closed – and let’s see if they reopen.

      • You obviously aren’t in the music business. Look at what’s happening in Vienna, Berlin and Amsterdam. Dallas Symphony is starting back up this week with some wonderful music and they are following all the protocols needed during this crisis. So it is possible.

        • You obviously aren’t in the management business. The European symphonies, as a rule, are heavily subsidized by the state – which makes them a lot more resilient. How the recession and economic hole left by the pandemic affects various symphonies will depend very much on their specific finances.

          Nashville is in a bad spot. Unlike the “Top 10” they have less rainy day funds, small endowment, and have been running a deficit. And their revenue options are not as robust. Who will pay to stream Nashville when they can stream Vienna or Berlin? How much operational cost can they cover with chamber music?

          Unlike more local symphonies who pay low by service fees without contracts, benefits, or pensions, I have a feeling a number of regional symphonies may be hardest hit. They are sandwiched between a rock and a hard place.

          • You might be surprised. As a former symphony violinist of 30 some years who performed with over 40 orchestras, now retired, one of the worst concerts I ever heard in my life was the Berlin Philharmonic. They sound like a rag tag ensemble: nobody was ever playing together.
            And there have been smaller regional orchestras which have knocked out some amazing concerts. The fact is, there are so many very fine musicians these days, if they don’t get into one orchestra, they get into another one that may not be as famous, but they are filling up the smaller orchestras, thus making them sound fantastic.
            You can’t throw the baby out with the bath water. You should make certain that you are better musician before you make a comment like that because you have to understand the nature of the game of the audition. When you get to the finals, pretty much everybody has a chance and there’s not that much difference usually unless if somebody wears out or wears down, which is part of the reason that some auditions and call backs to 2nd, 3rd, and 4th rounds can last for days on end.
            I know musicians who have played with major orchestras and then retired to go back home to their roots and they end up getting the jobs in those local symphonies. And then they end up telling me that the orchestra sounds better than the former one that they were in. You should not make light of the Nashville Symphony as the difference between Nashville and Berlin is not as far as you might think. I’ve heard some REALLY bad concerts from Berlin, especially when I lived in Berlin and went to the Philharmonie.

          • I have never heard a bad berlin philharmonic concert. I have heard them
            With different conductors they were always great.

          • I agree with you, that name brand doesn’t necessarily match the quality of the performance. I remember hearing some NY Phil concerts so bad I felt like standing up and booing. But the name sells. And they do knock it out of the park. Presumably what they put online is their better representation.

            OK if you need to miss the point for some reason, but it doesn’t negate the fact that someone looking to stream has a LOT more choice than someone looking for a live concert. And they are very unlikely to choose Nashville from a worldwide selection. It limits what Nashville can do.

            I love Nashville. I’ve had a lot of friends and my favorite teacher ever from the NSO. It doesn’t change the financial reality for them or most other regional symphonies.

  • Just curious – why choose an illustration that has nothing whatsoever to do with the Nashville orchestra?

    On another note – if this orchestra’s closing is indicative of what is coming for other ensembles, the AFM pension fund might be in some serious straits.

    • It already is and has been for quite some time. They were caught up in several messes over the years because they had people who had no idea about investing and so they took major hits during the stock market crashes

  • Direct from the Nashville Symphony website: “We do not accept unsolicited music scores.” Live as a museum, die as a museum. Oh well…

      • You’re right. But they should. The fact that they don’t is evidence of their idiocy. I mean, call me crazy, but it seems like being in the “new music” business and all it might be a good idea. But then they wouldn’t be able to maintain their smug superiority complex would they? Never have I seen so many people with so little money act so elitist.

        • The number of composers looking for performances is staggering. It just isn’t practical for the people in charge of making programming decisions to plow through a neverending flood of unsolicited material. Many New Music ensembles do occasionally issue calls for scores.

    • It would require a ton of work because composers are always looking for a venue to showcase their music. However, so many of them today have forgotten how to write a melody, no matter how obtuse, that you can end up with fatigue from having to decipher their score. You may burn out in reading the first movement before you can get to the one at the end that’s pretty good…
      I see both points.
      And quite truthfully, if you’ve had to do a lot of these concerts with some of these contemptible contemporary pieces, you would be glad not to have to do some of them. Some of them sound more like primal scream therapy…

    • I take your point, but in fact the Nashville Symphony has a pretty good track record for performing new music. That’s probably the reason they post that notice: so they aren’t deluged by hopeful composers who are miffed when their unsolicited works aren’t acknowledged.

  • That makes the Tennessee arts scene a bit of a joke, doesn’t it? If that’s the state’s idea of serving music. It’s basically resigning.

    • Have you been to Nashville? I don’t think so. Nashville is one of the biggest music cities in the world. Not only do symphony musicians perform in the Nashville Symphony, but they are also recording artists and they do the Nashville scene as well with country music backups.
      Memphis gets a few of those concerts too.

      • There really isn’t much comparison to be made between the Memphis and Nashville orchestras; Nashville is, by far, the more accomplished ensemble. It is not too long ago that the musicians in Memphis had to take (if memory serves) a 38% pay cut.

        Nashville has benefited a lot, over the years, from the receipt of a tremendous amount of funding from an extremely wealthy “sugar momma”. Her name is Martha Ingram. She has agreed to pay for the healthcare premiums of musicians & staff through the end of the year.

        BTW – the music director, Guerrero, has also been furloughed. The CEO – Adam Valentine – and his 9 (nine!) managers get to keep their jobs.

      • I have, and to Memphis, where I heard the Memphis Symphony Orchestra play Italian music at the Music Hall and the Calvary Orchestra play Bach at Calvary Episcopal Church. But I think we are talking about two different things. I was expressing concern about art and art music in Tennessee. These need state support, unlike the other activities you mention.

  • Maybe the musicians could attempt to do what the New Orleans Symphony players did in the beginning of the 1990s when they re-organized with self-management. They could restructure and take all the risks upon themselves.

  • And they were just recovering from the devastating floods from ten years ago that cost them upwards of $40 million. I wish them the best. Any word on the Grand Ole Opry?

  • Sad news indeed, but they have been having financial problems for years. They finished FY 2014-15 in the red by $3.3 million; FY 15-16 in the red $8 million; FY 16-17 in the red $3.4 million; FY 17-18 in the red $4.8 million. One has to assume that 18-19 was also in the red.

    Just one more example of an American which got bigger and bigger without any really compelling reason for doing so. Then when a tragedy happens, be it a pandemic virus, 9/11 terrorist attacks, hurricane, etc., they’re suddenly in deep, deep trouble.

  • More evidence that classical music institutions are bereft of vision and creativity. Cancelling an entire season without any attempt to create an alternative season is evidence of a leadership vacuum. This orchestra deserves to close forever and the musicians should be encouraged to go create a new entity.

  • I certainly understand the furlough idea, which gives everyone a chance to collect unemployment. But cancelling all of next season in one fell swoop now seems very harsh indeed. Why not cancel next year in several stages, as the virus progresses or dwindles?

  • so thankful I did my music degree in Music Education instead of performance. Why anyone would want to pursue a degree in performance now is beyond me…

  • It seems to me that the makeup of each city is very important to whether a classical organization will make it.
    While this is happening, a city with lots of German immigrants, Milwaukee is about to open a new hall (actually a refurbished one at a cost of $90 million) and has had little trouble raising that amount and an additional $40 million for its endowment. They also have a new and highly thought of musical director and have been in good hands for years. All is not bad news.

  • Another Midwestern city that is doing well in classical music: the Twin Cities. A city of Scandinavian backgrounds.

    Lots of money for their own “on strike” orchestra; excellent musical director and leadership.

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