Another top US orchestra cancels entire 20-21 season

Another top US orchestra cancels entire 20-21 season


norman lebrecht

August 26, 2020

Milwaukee joins the list of wipeouts. ‘We’ve re-imagined our 2020.21 season,’ they say, as if imagination is involved in cancellation.

The delay will allow the organisation to complete refurbishment on its hall.



Statement: Your health, safety, and well-being—and that of our musicians, staff, and community—is our top priority. We are committed to providing you with a safe and welcoming environment to experience thrilling musical moments. And we promise to be your trusted partner as we navigate the future together.

When the pandemic began, we made the necessary—but difficult—decision to cancel the remainder of our 2019.20 season. Our hope was that by taking that essential step, enough time would pass to allow the community and country to weather this crisis with us all staying as healthy and safe as possible. When we cancelled the remainder of the 2019.20 season, we intended to return to performance in October 2020.

As you may have heard through the media, the basement of the Bradley Symphony Center sustained significant flood damage following an intense rainstorm and steam tunnel failure on May 18. Over the summer, C.D. Smith and partners have been repairing the damage while still working to complete the facility. Unfortunately, this caused a delay and pushed back our occupancy date until January 2021. In addition, the world still struggles to react to the uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and it has become clear that large-scale gatherings will likely not be a possibility when the building opens in January.

So, we need a new plan, one that will allow the music to play on despite these challenges. After careful thought and consideration, we are replacing the concert schedule we announced last spring. We have reimagined the season and it will now include virtual performances, reduced capacity, socially-distanced in-person opportunities when the time is right, and exclusive tours of the new Bradley Symphony Center for our loyal subscribers and donors.

We appreciate the continued support and patience of our patrons and community during this time and we remain committed to keeping you informed and serving you with flexibility and empathy as we navigate these changes together.



  • Olassus says:

    … as if imagination is involved in cancellation.


    • fflambeau says:

      Actually, tons of imagination is involved in cancelling a scheduled year and bring out alternatives, Olassus.

  • Brian says:

    Wisconsin is a state where there were lawsuits to end lockdowns and reopen the bars back in May, causing virus cases to skyrocket. You reap what you sow.

    • JD says:

      That is not something that is exclusive to Wisconsin but to all other states. Watch what you say especially if you do not live in the state, which I do. There are many other factors at work here and as far as the virus is concerned, you should direct your ire at Florida and California.

      • Here in New Mexico, the governor instituted strict preventive measures from the middle of last March to this day. In my county, Taos, there has been one Covid-19 death out of a population of 30,000.

    • Karl says:

      They are sowing freedom and herd immunity. No one is forcing anyone to enter bars. What’s wrong with freedom? Also note some of the latest studies show herd immunity can occur when only 10-20% of the population has been exposed to covid. That means many areas can go back to normal life when they recover from the hysteria that has been spread by the left.

      • Bill says:

        Got a citation for one of these “studies” showing herd immunity at 10-20% exposure levels?

      • Craig P says:

        Wow. You’ve been hammering this for months on your own blog. Do you really need to post it here too?

      • Nick says:

        Yes, indeed, Karl. There are studies, encouraging ones on herd immunity. And some areas can carefully move to normality. WI is not an overpopulated State, they have some possibilites to play with.

        • JD says:

          Wisconsin is limited in its choices thanks to measures put in place to hinder the governor from acting. It is about party loyalty over the safety of people. We don’t have choices and the comment about the state not being over populated…where are people going to live? There are many open places without current and needed amenities but that does not mean that people can just live anywhere.

    • Nick says:

      Do you really think you know more about the virus than some virologists, epidemiologists, other doctors and scientists?! Have you ever been to WI?!

  • Old Man in the Midwest says:

    May as well regroup and wait for the new hall to open.
    How will the musicians and junior staff members survive in the meantime?
    Again, once you go online, you compete with the Berlin Phil, LA Phil, the MET, and other Big Leaguers.
    Who will pay for anything online?
    Hopefully they can create some sort of season using smaller ensembles as well as smaller audiences spread out.

    • TubaMinimum says:

      As someone who works for one of the American “big leaguers,” no one is making any money online. Honestly paying to create that online content is more about just trying to keep engagement with your subscribers, who you hope might donate some of their tickets back to you or keep their money on their account for next year to help with cash flow, or your donors who you hope will make a donation.

      There’s not really a viable business model for that kind of online content, so it’s all about trying to remind people you need the support of that “we’re still here, you still like us, please help if you can.”

      • fflambeau says:

        Not true, Tuba. The Met has raised millions of dollars in donations by allowing free broadcasts online. I’m sure that someone like Daniel Hope has elevated his stature, too, as a musician by doing the same. He has many more fans as a result. The MSO could do the same thing.

      • John Porter says:

        No one is making any money online? You might take a look at the Village Vanguard, which is doing quite well with its online streaming and paying substantial fees to the artists.

        • TubaMinimum says:

          Kudos to them. I can’t say I’m aware of every business model out there. What I will say is smaller ensembles probably have a much better chance of recouping costs behind a digital paywall than a well paid 100-person orchestra who doesn’t cover their costs even when they sell out their 2,000-seat hall at an average price of $60 a head. Now certainly, going digital means you can reach more than 2,000 people, but your viable price does go down to something around $5-10. For an orchestra, even if you were to charge the upper limit of that at $10 a view, you’d need 12,000 viewers to be the equivalent of that one night of a 3-4 concert weekend (assuming that streaming and in-person costs of a concert are equal, which isn’t often the case given most orchestra’s lack of video infrastructure), and in general, a lot of the stream numbers I see from major orchestras get a few hundred to a few thousand viewers (when the product is free.) For marketing though, this presents a problem because you are being asked to shift your business model from being a high end department store to a big box chain where instead of selling a luxury product to a smaller clientele, you are selling a commodity product to a mass market (that may or may not exist locally, so you now are trying to compete with everyone.)

          So for those reasons, to me at least, the better model is for your marketing and fundraising departments to basically merge during this time. I’ve long believed that our product is not recordings. Those are advertising. Our product is the live concert experience. And if you look at the rock/pop/rap music industries, they’ve been forced to understand this over the last 20 years. So you use your livestreaming basically as PR, as an appeal to the hearts of the donors who might want to make a larger donation.

    • fflambeau says:

      They are competing with the same groups, even if they are not online, Old Man. Plus, the Met has shown that free rebroadcasts can bring in tens of millions of dollars in donations

  • Julia Bushkova says:

    Thank you, Norman, for keeping us posted.

  • Bruce says:

    Actually, figuring out a new plan — smaller ensembles, smaller venues, different repertoire, different audience protocols (“crowd the box office and crowd the restrooms” not being quite the thing anymore) — does take imagination.

    Although NL’s original point — that cancellation requires no imagination — stands. If that was all they were doing, then none would be required.

  • Sisko24 says:

    Thanks for picking this up and passing it along. I had read there was some discontent with this new hall in that there would not be a pipe organ installed in it at first. So one can hope the orchestra’s management can use this as an opportunity to finish the transformation of the facility and to begin solicitation for an organ. The place they are moving from has an organ donated by the Miller Brewing Company. I wonder if one of its stops is a Pilsen 32′ – deep and rich with overtones of mahogany?

  • Marfisa says:

    How does your headline relate to the press release?
    They say they cancelled the remainder of the 2019-20 season because of the pandemic. They announced a normal 2020-21 season to start in October, but flood damage to their building pushed its occupancy back to January 21, and uncertainty over Covid-19 looks likely not to end soon. They are therefore replacing the concert program for ’20-21, that they had announced in Spring of ’20, with an altered schedule, as adumbrated in their penultimate paragraph, to take account of probable working conditions next year. Sounds sensible to me.

  • Wisconsin says:

    Norman, you overtly omitted the portion of the statement that says that they will be performing starting in January, and created a headline that is factually incorrect. The MSO will be starting performances in January. Since you were unable to accurately post information for your readers, I’ll do it for you. Here’s what he left out:

    “Beginning in January 2021, this virtual season will include 12 classics and four pops performances that
    can be viewed in real time or on-demand. These concerts will feature chamber orchestra offerings
    performed by the musicians of the MSO in the new Bradley Symphony Center; repertoire, guest artists,
    and other details currently are being prepared. Concerts will be carefully selected to reflect the times in
    which we live and to showcase the incredible work of our world-class musicians and the brilliance of our
    conductor and music director, Ken-David Masur.

    Once the Bradley Symphony Center is cleared for occupancy and community health conditions are
    stabilized, it is only right that our most loyal and long-standing patrons will be the first to see and enjoy
    our new performance home. As a thank-you for standing by the MSO during this difficult time,
    subscribers and donors will be treated to both an intimate live performance and a guided tour of the

    Bradley Symphony Center before we officially open to the broader community. In keeping with city,
    state, and federal guidelines, these experiences will be reduced-capacity and socially-distanced. The
    health and safety of our patrons and musicians will always be respected, and masks will be required. In
    the weeks and months ahead, we look forward to sharing additional information, including access to the
    virtual performances as well as how to select your in-person performances.
    In the near term, we remain deeply committed to delivering powerful and enriching musical experiences
    directly to you on a regular basis throughout the fall. As we continue to release Milwaukee Symphony
    Musical Journeys streaming episodes twice a month, we will also premiere our all-new Listening Club,
    offering personalized and interactive access to Maestro Masur, MSO musicians, and special guests. We
    will create regular video content connecting you with the musicians of our world-class orchestra in new
    ways, giving you an uplifting glimpse at their world and immense talent. And our 2020 national radio
    broadcast series and archives will be available to stream at no cost at”

    • norman lebrecht says:

      without an audience.

      • Bravissimo says:

        Let me get this straight…

        There is an international pandemic, an orchestra cancels part of its season due to public health reasons, creates a portion of newly programmed performances without a live audience (again, because of that pandemic that you may have heard about) that will be broacast via the internet FREE OF CHARGE, and the best you can do is write a headline that says “Another Top US Orchestra Cancels Entire 20-21 Season?”

        That’s pathetic.

      • Marfisa says:

        “subscribers and donors will be treated to an intimate live performance … before we open to the broader community”. An audience (though reduced) is clearly envisaged. (On-line has advantages too.) The important thing,surely, is that musicians and the staff somehow continue to make a livelihood so that the orchestra remains in existence?

      • M2N2K says:

        Not “without an audience” at all. All online performances (especially those that are free of charge) can be seen and heard potentially by millions of people – anyone who is interested – which may actually be a much larger audience than any “live” concert can accommodate inside any concert hall.

  • Anon! A Moose! says:

    “‘We’ve re-imagined our 2020.21 season,’ they say, as if imagination is involved in cancellation”

    This seems to be a hobby horse of yours, and it makes no sense to me to go on and on about it. People know what they mean. If someone says they cancelled the season, I would assume they were doing no activity and laying off the entire organization. If they say re-imagined, then I assume they have changed the season to take into account Covid. Honestly, every time I see one of your headlines saying “cancelled season” my guts sink with anxiety that that orchestra is kaput. Then it turns out it’s not true.

    If language is supposed to be about clarity and effective communication, I don’t see what the problem is. It’s your blog and you can flog the horse as long as you like but there is a point where definitions are descriptive not proscriptive.

  • Jacob says:

    You should edit this – they are doing a streaming season

  • fflambeau says:

    I think this is smart given what’s going on in society.
    It allows the MSO:
    1) to rethink how they can reach out in times of an epidemic;
    2) “Musical Adventures” was excellent; they had been doing it for months; it is an online program, accessible anywhere and anytimethat consists of rebroadcasting on the internet old concerts with guests (Yo Yo Ma, and Emanue Ax for instance), talks, interviews all led by their new music director, Ken David-Masur. Bring this show back, it was really good.
    3) complete work on their new/old/being restored theater which they now own.
    4) perhaps do some ensemble work.

  • Pavo says:

    Having already completed their fundraising for the new hall as well as bridge funding, it’s my understanding that the MSO is in a uniquely strong position to weather this pandemic storm. Looking forward to seeing them play in the new space!