Orchestra declares blank year

Orchestra declares blank year


norman lebrecht

August 18, 2020

The Phoenix Symphony has called off its entire 20-21 season – no chamber concerts, nothing online. No hope of any music before September 2021.

“Forgoing these performances is disappointing to our musicians, staff, board of directors and loyal patrons and friends, president and CEO Suzanne Wilson said in a press release. “However, this cancellation represents the safest and most prudent plan to ensure the well-being of the entire Symphony community.

“As stewards of this historic and beloved institution, our mission and responsibility centers on preserving our future and reuniting in Symphony Hall to celebrate our 75th Anniversary in the fall of 2021.”



  • Nick says:


  • Concertgoer says:

    Liability — that’s the issue.

    “My husband got Covid-19 at your concert and died because you didn’t properly do XYZ, and so I want ten million dollars.”

    There are no plans we know of at either the federal or state levels to protect U.S. choruses, orchestras and opera companies from such lawsuits. No such plans are even under public discussion.

    Until that happens, the boards of directors of every U.S. performing arts organization will be inclined to cancel widely and far into the future.

    But cancelling is the easy part. What will be tough is rebuilding the wiped-out subscriber bases!

    • Brian says:

      Not entirely true. A number of orchestras in the US are performing in their halls this fall, whether for small, in-person audiences (especially in Texas) or for video streaming (Atlanta, Cleveland, Cincinnati).

      That said, Arizona has seen a particular bad infection rate, thanks to their governor who reopened businesses too quickly and didn’t enforce health guidelines around social distancing and face masks. So here we are with the Phoenix Symphony.

  • American says:

    This administration can take credit for killing live orchestral music as well as hundreds of thousands of human deaths. So much winning!

  • Maybe an excessive decision taken too quickly. We have seen during he last weeks many concerts be done. For exemple at Luzern and the Münchner Philharmoniker normaly will go to Paris at the end of September. In the case of this orchestra I suppose there’s some possiblilities to organize some outdoor concerts.

    • Monsoon says:

      Infection and death rates in Europe are substantially lower than in the U.S.

    • Craig P says:

      Nowhere is as litigious as the USA. Many people here look at any unfortunate event as a lottery ticket. Liability insurance only covers so much…

  • That's it says:

    They won’t be back.

  • David K. Nelson says:

    Others (American symphonic organizations that is) will follow. Very sad and it may well be that for some or many there will be no come-back. The habit of going out of your way to hear live music is easily broken.

    I do not believe the Phoenix Symphony has an outdoor concert venue available, so for them it is indoors or nothing. Summer would be the most unlikely time to want to do anything outdoors there of course. Their hall is by necessity being air conditioned nearly all the time and I suspect they were advised that the constant air flow was going to heighten the issues.

    And it is a very fine orchestra, or at least was very good when I heard them decades ago and there is no excuse given the annual plethora of top notch music school graduates for an orchestra in a community like that to regress. Now that I think of it, Leonard Rose was the soloist that evening (Saint-Saëns Cello Concerto No. 1 in A minor) so, yeah, it was “decades ago.” Time flies. I no longer recall the first work on the program but the Ives Symphony No. 2 came after intermission. First desk solos were all splendid. This is a great pity for those fine musicians and their audience.

  • Jim says:

    There are a large number of baseball stadiums in the Phoenix area. Ya mean that none of them are available for a concert(s)?

  • icebreaker says:

    they may be hoping to rise like a Pheonix for the 2021/22 season, and let’s hope they manage it. only time will tell.

  • Anon says:

    And yet, somehow major league sports teams are going forward with their seasons in Phoenix. If I’m reading it right, major league baseball there is going into the 4th week of its season. But they shut the symphony down. Go figure.

    • Old Man in the Midwest says:

      A very uninformed comment.

      Baseball derives a great deal of income from the revenue shares of cable TV licensing and the revenue derived from advertising, sales of products with logos, etc.

      While income is lost through loss of ticket sales and concessions, unless orchestras can come up with paid subscriptions through the internet or cable TV, you are comparing apples to oranges.

      • Anon says:

        Yes, I proudly admit to being uninformed about professional sports. I hate professional sports & I do not understand the obsession people have with them. It annoys me to no end that a city the size of Phoenix supports and pours endless money into sports facilities and events while their symphony withers.

        If it’s apples and oranges, fine, why? Why can’t symphonies learn & apply the same sales strategies that sports teams use? And for the love of God, why does seemingly the entire populace of Phoenix support sports but not music? How can we change that?

    • Rudiger says:

      That’s Merika…

    • anon-2 says:

      Indoors vs. outdoors makes a difference in how easily COVID spreads. Not so hard to figure.

    • Dave says:

      The Major League Baseball teams are playing to empty stadiums. Those players who wish to participate may do so. Some players have opted out.

      • Anon says:

        Yes, I seem to remember players being offered 6 figure bonuses for “opting out”. Many orchs are playing to empty halls also. They’re not shutting down their entire seasons.

    • anon says:

      MLB has lucrative revenue streams in place for broadcast of their games which makes playing without spectators a little more financially viable, and they have the funds available for regular testing of teams and staff. It may require a considerable capital investment for Phoenix Symphony to get set up to digitally stream performances, and for likely nowhere near the revenue possibilities of ticket sales/concessions. Meanwhile, they would need to have regular testing available for their musicians- which may also be very costly given the way the US handles its healthcare access. Your comparison is wildly off base.

      • Anon says:

        It shouldn’t be. If sports teams have a model that works, why aren’t orchestras learning from that?

        Look, you’re right that Phoenix Symph probably isn’t set up for digital streaming. It’s a small budget orchestra. But any orchestra management worth its mettle – no matter how small the orch. – should be looking at the “big guys” like Berlin or the MET & trying at least a nod in that direction.

        Berlin Phil has a terrific revenue stream in place for broadcasts in their Digital Concert Hall. They also streamed with no audience & survived. It’s not just baseball teams doing it.

        Vienna Phil is testing players before every concert. They apparently saw it as a financial priority. Again, it’s not just baseball teams testing players to stay afloat.

        Why are sports teams so well funded? Because they have corporate donors who keep them that way. Where are Phoenix Symph’s donors? Or a better question, where are Phoenix Symphony’s fundraisers responsible for cultivating these private donors?

        Yes, there are lots of differences in how professional sports teams are navigating the pandemic and how professional orchestras are doing it. But there are plenty of similarities. Of course, it’s more of a challenge in the US for orchs now, where orchs are all privately funded vs. public orchs in Europe. But then again, professional baseball teams are also privately funded.

        A creative, flexible orch. management should be able to come up with some type of compromise season to offer its subscribers. To just throw in the towel as Phoenix has apparently done is ignorant, pure and simple. They’re not trying very hard.

        And it’s also ignorant to dismiss as “wildly offbase” any comparison between the financial survival of professional sports teams and professional orchestras in the US right now. That’s pretty old fashioned in-the-box thinking. We need new models right now.

  • TPS Musician says:

    As a member of The Phoenix Symphony, I can tell you that we are currently exploring performance and outreach opportunities for the 20/21 season. The original concerts in Symphony Hall are canceled, but there is certainly the potential for other opportunities. We are disappointed in the decision to cancel the original 20/21 season, but are hopeful that we can continue to provide music to our community in some form.