Major US orchestra cancels 20-21 season

The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra was in deep trouble before Covid hit. Now it has gone silent.

Press release:

The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra management team and Orchestra Committee, which represents the ISO’s musicians, having met to discuss the challenges associated with the upcoming ISO season in the complicated and uncertain backdrop of the pandemic, released the following joint statement:

“While our mutual desire is to return world-class music to a city that
has been upended by the events of the last few months, we recognize
the challenges presented to the ISO by the pandemic and unforeseen
economic pressures. For those reasons, the 2020-21 indoor season
will not go on as planned.
Although we will not be able to bring you the performances we had

planned, we are committed to collaboratively exploring creative ways
to continue to connect with our patrons and return to performing if
conditions allow.
We will also be meeting to discuss how the musicians will be
supported in the interim, with a priority on providing health insurance
for the musicians and their families.
The pandemic only heightens our shared resolve to assure the ISO is
positioned to provide the most transformational and impactful
programs for our community.

The progress made during these discussions is a promising step in re-
emerging and in re-imagining the ISO’s long-term future. The ISO

management and musicians are committed to working together to
build a vibrant, thriving ISO and look forward to returning to the
concert stage.”

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    • Right? A solid second-tier ensemble.

      Still, sad that their management seems to have a trigger finger about this. Who knows where things will stand with the virus by next year.

    • Dear Jeff,

      I have no problem with the statement you question. The Indianapolis is certainly in the Top 20 of US orchestras.

      Yes, the bottom tier of the Top 20; but, I think that a definition that states “Major = ‘Big 5’ ” is silly.

      The Indianapolis is down there with Baltimore and Detroit and San Diego. Next tier up includes St. Louis and Atlanta and Dallas.

      Would you question the assertion that Baltimore (which these days is essentially as troubled an orchestra as Indianapolis’s is) was a “major” US orchestra?

      If someone were to assert that the Rhode Island Philharmonic was a “major” US orchestra, I’d tactfully suggest to them that they were wrong, and further suggest that the Rhode Island Philharmonic was a middling regional orchestra.

      But looking at Indianapolis from the standpoints of, player salaries, prominence of conductors going back in history, and quality of recordings going back in history, I think that there should be little question that Indianapolis hosts a “major” US orchestra.

      Which leads me to question whether you simply have a bias against the flyover states.

      • Great comment until the RI Phil quip— just pick a different regional orchestra! The RIPO regional orchestra, sure, but it’s not crappy and under Tovey the orchestra has been playing with soloists (Bronfman, Zukerman, Moser) that more “middling” full time orchestras never collaborate with.

      • Absolutely right. For those who are obsessed with rankings, I suggest you do a blind test of the same piece, let’s say a Brahms Symphony or a Strauss tone poem, with the above-mentioned orchestras, then throw in there some of the “top 5” orchestras, and then have somebody play excerpts of each recording. You, the listener, will not know which recording is currently playing. Your task is to identify each orchestra or, at the very least, to identify whether or not the recording was made by a high ranking orchestra or by a “lesser” one. You might be stunned at the results.

        • Your point is well taken. I find a “sameness” among top-tier orchestras. Being from Philadelphia, at one time, I could always correctly identify a Philadelphia Orchestra recording on the radio. Now, not so. In the effort to create ever more “perfect” performances, orchestras have “smoothed out” all the small imperfections and idiosyncrasies that gave each its own personality. In other words, orchestras have sacrificed personality in favor of an idealized “perfect” performance. I, for one, am not sure that the results are worth the effort and, more often not, seek out older recordings of 40, 50, 60+ years ago because they seem, while often less note-perfect, more “alive” musically.

      • “Flyover states”? Does that include Ohio (Cleveland Orchestra, Cincinnati Symphony), Chicago (CSO), and Minnesota (Minnesota Orchestra)? Them’s fightin’ words!

      • Dear John, I take issue with your comment characterizing the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra. To be sure, we are a regional orchestra, which defines us as part time, but does not describe our quality. Over more than two decades of leadership under the baton of Larry Rachleff RIPO grew in quality to rival many full time orchestras. Now, under the leadership of Bramwell Tovey, the Orchestra continues to grow.

        I welcome you to attend one of our concerts this season. Rhode Island is also doing an excellent job combatting Coronavirus and we are optimistic about our chances to perform.

      • 19th — in parent entity’s gross receipts for 2017 (with dummies for the non-independent National S.O. and Atlanta S.O.)

  • Since the ISO is “exploring creative ways to continue to connect with our patrons and return to performing if conditions allow,” they would seem to be considering streaming and/or smaller groups from within the orchestra performing for smaller audiences. Their statement only says that “the 2020-21 indoor season will not go on AS PLANNED.” They are clearly leaving open the option of offering an altered season “if conditions allow,” so how does that merit an assessment that the ISO “cancels (its) 20-21 season”? I realize headlines are “attention grabbers,” but they do need to reflect the reality of what is being reported.

    • My orchestra has done the same thing. They’re looking into smaller groups performing for smaller audiences, but the already-scheduled season has been put off until the 2021-22 season.

      And regarding your last sentence: not here they don’t. :-

      • For Indy SO there is a little different. The next season is Urbanski’s last season as music director, and they still have not announced his successor yet. I do not think they can simple move the scheduled season to 2021-22. I hope the pandemic would not add too much chaos when the orchestra is undergoing a transition.

  • “We will also be meeting to discuss how the musicians will be
    supported in the interim, with a priority on providing health insurance
    for the musicians and their families.”
    ————————————————–

    They must have been in a dire situation not to be able to muster enough support from any donors to impose as cruel a cut as this during a pandemic. The other “major” orchestras certainly did. COBRA (temporary) individually purchased health insurance is damned expensive, especially when you have no salary.

    One would hate to believe that this was part of some negotiating strategy since their present CBA is ending this fall. Or at the very least that the mere perception of jerking out health insurance from under the musicians would have been avoided to save the management/board the perception of that degree of cruelty.

    • Your comment makes me sigh again many sighs for the cost of healthcare in our country. Too damned high. I feel for the musicians.

  • Bloomington, Nõtre Dame? When Fabien Sevitzky led the Indianapolis Symphony it was major, with concert “Lohengrins” with Blanche Thebom, recordings of Tchaikovsky’s “Manfred” symphony for RCA, and a killer Weber waltz arranged by Arcady Dubensky from Weber’s piano duos. I attnfrf tyhri concerts while at the adjutant general’s school at Fort Benjamin Harrison just outside Indianapolis.

    Seitzky was of ourse an abbreviated nephew of Serge Koussevitzky, who led another major orchestra.

  • No symphony orchestra anywhere on this planet will have ’20-’21 season go on “as planned”, so this bit of “breaking news” is as non-sensational and non-newsworthy as I have ever seen.

    • And yet here is the headline in the Indianapolis Star: “Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra cancels upcoming indoor concert season.”

      I understand that this is an extraordinarily difficult time for everyone, but news is news. Neither this website nor any other news source is obligated to parrot the public-relations euphemisms that organizations employ to deliver negative information. If this orchestra – and yes, I would consider it “major” for these purposes – comes up with alternate plans that it can actually specify, I’m sure there will be a follow-up item. But it matters that they didn’t have these alternate plans ready to go, and it’s also significant that they didn’t follow the path of so many others that the season would be delayed until the new calendar year of 2021. The current inability even to provide health insurance for the musicians certainly indicates a very serious, perhaps existential situation. I gather that my view on how Slipped Disc handled this item is a minority one, but so be it. Thanks.

      • You are respectfully welcome – nothing’s wrong with being in a minority. What I meant by my previous comment was that it seems silly to announce here that next season will “not go on as planned” separately about each and every single symphony orchestra in existence throughout civilized world, when it is perfectly clear that there will be no exceptions to that reality. Making such announcements about some orchestras but not the others would be very unfair. But I agree that the language of various announcements, however legalese and non-specific it is, may sometimes indicate certain differences in managements’ approaches to dealing with the situation. In other words, my disagreement was mostly directed toward the headline and not meant to dismiss or deny the informational value of quoting the press release.

        • I’m afraid I don’t know where you’re going with this. “Not go on as planned” was the orchestra’s wording, not Norman’s. If you or the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra has a problem with with the headline, then your main beef is with the Indianapolis Star and the Indianapolis Business Journal, both of which ran basically the same headline as Slipped Disc.

          As far as newsworthiness goes, the one other US orchestra I can think of that has done this is Nashville, which generated a substantial discussion, but there may be more to come. I believe that Norman has already stated that what has become more routine announcements by US concert presenters that they are wiping out their fall 2020 schedules aren’t going to be separately mentioned. And with regard to the Indianapolis orchestra specifically, it is significant, as already noted in the discussion, that it’s the music director’s final season. That means that the announcement that they chose to make is especially fraught with re-scheduling challenges for the future.

          I suppose it’s possible that this was the first press release in history to make things sound worse than they actually are. But the key line that the orchestra has to work at “re-emerging and re-imagining the ISO’s long-term future” helps indicate why they probably had to take this step at this time.

          • No, my “main beef” is not with local media because they have an obligation to their local customers to report local news. This blog is different because it is clearly aimed at wide international audience. And I am not “going with this” anywhere because I already said what I meant to say including agreeing with you about the value of quoting the press release.

          • Okay, now I’m REALLY mystified as to these distinctions you’re making. But in an attempt to keep this discussion in check, I’ll make this general point not about music or the pandemic but about journalism in general: It is not the job of a media outlet – local, national or global – to “quote press releases.” It’s to report the news. The fact that this orchestra chose to state their news as what is currently a truism – “the season will not go on as planned” – does not relieve any news outlet of the obligation of stating what it obviously means in context. If the Indianapolis Star, the Indianapolis Business Journal, and Slipped Disc all got the story wrong, then I assume the orchestra will be in touch with all of them. It doesn’t look like that’s going to happen.

            BTW I remember that the Indianapolis Business Journal did an extensive, excellent and balanced job covering an age discrimination lawsuit filed by a bassoon player with this orchestra several years ago, so my assumption is that they know what they are doing here.

          • In cases like this one, press releases are a fairly important part of the news, so there is nothing wrong in quoting them. The fact that “they know what they are doing” does not necessarily always mean that they are doing it well. But I will gladly take your word for it that in this case they succeeded. As I said or implied before, local media deserve respect for covering local news. By the way, being “mystified” can sometimes be far more comforting than having clear understanding of an issue or a situation. So, enjoy it while it lasts!

  • “Major” doesn’t mean “great;” in the U.S. it’s simply a budget category (the highest — so much and above) that goes along with things like full-year salaries — not always 52 weeks — rather than per-service (though there are lower-category orchestras that also pay salaries rather than per-service fees).

  • One definition of “major” might be the length of its season. I believe ISO made the leap to 52-week season in the ’90s under music director Raymond Leppard. How’s that for “major?”

  • The danger of the pandemic putting a brake on Symphony Orchestra seasons is comparable to audiences unconciously getting used to skim milk when they’ve been fed whole milk their entire lives.

    Until a vaccine is found, orchestras will struggle and do anything they can to prevent their “raison d’être” from becoming superfluous.

  • I’d be prepared to say an American orchestra is “major” if it offers genuine full time livable employment/benefits to a full size and consistent complement of musicians, because you don’t reach that level without doing all the other things right. To me that’s what separates the sheep from the goats.

    I heard Indianapolis “live” under Leppard and as recorded by Koss Classics (Schubert, Vaughn Williams and Elgar) and they were just fine. I have also heard their 78 rpm recordings for RCA Victor Red Seal.

    More to the point, and I hope I’m wrong but fear I am not wrong, what Indianapolis has just done in one fell swoop is what the other orchestras and ensembles, major and minor, permanent and pick-up and festival, will do, but they’ll do it in drips and drabs. Which is more cruel and which is more kind I cannot say. Both are tragic.

  • According to ICSOM (International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians) https://www.icsom.org/about/, these are the 52 major orchestras in the United States:

    Alabama Symphony, Atlanta Symphony, Baltimore Symphony, Boston Symphony,
    Buffalo Philharmonic, Charlotte Symphony, Chicago Symphony, Chicago Lyric Opera Orchestra, Cincinnati Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, Colorado Symphony, Columbus Symphony, Dallas Symphony, Detroit Symphony, Florida Orchestra, Fort Worth Symphony, Grand Rapids Symphony, Grant Park Symphony, Hawaii Symphony, Houston Symphony, INDIANAPOLIS SYMPHONY, Jacksonville Symphony, Kansas City Symphony, Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra. LA Philharmonic, Louisville Orchestra, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Milwaukee Symphony, Minnesota Orchestra, Nashville Symphony, National Symphony, New Jersey Symphony, North Carolina Symphony, NY Philharmonic, NYC Ballet Orchestra, NYC Opera Orchestra, Oregon Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, Phoenix Symphony, Pittsburgh Symphony, Puerto Rico Symphony, Rochester Philharmonic, San Antonio Symphony, San Diego Symphony, San Francisco Symphony, SF Ballet Orchestra, SF Opera Orchestra, St. Louis Symphony, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Symphoria, Utah Symphony, and Virginia Symphony.

    The Indianapolis Symphony is included. And rightly so.

    • A useful list and a thorough job, Jose Bfggher. I’m indebted to you. Many thanks. J wasn’t aware of a number of these.

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