Chicago Symphony finds 3,500 new donors in a year

Chicago Symphony finds 3,500 new donors in a year


norman lebrecht

November 14, 2022

The CSO published its annual results tonight.

Among the standout statistics are 3,544 new donors among a total of 14,976 givers who together raised $32 million.

Total revenues were $69.1 million, expenses were $67.5 million, resulting in a surplus of nearly $1.7 million.


  • Chicagorat says:

    Well, let’s give credit where credit is due. While, on the musical plane, the CSO has fallen into desolate, obscure mediocrity, no longer an elite orchestra, the institution still shines in the creative accounting department.

    But here are the real standout statistics:

    – Tickets sold are 210,227, a stunning 25% drop against the 276,166 tickets sold in 2018/2019, the last full season before COVID hit. An absolutely terrifying 40% drop (!!) against the 347,502 tickets sold in the 2017/2018 season. (In other words, those half empty halls that we talked about were, and are, shockingly real).

    – Compared to 2018/2019, revenue per ticket has increased from ~$67 to ~$78, an outrageously steep 16% increase. In other words, Alexander is jacking up prices for those few poor devils who still have enough stomach to attend the concerts.

    – In spite of the price increases, ticket revenue still dropped down to $16.31M from $18.53M in 2018/2019, a 12% drop (!). And a spine-chilling 30% (!!!) drop from the $23.28M in ticket revenue of 2017/2018.

    A 40% loss of audience over only 5 years, price increases accelerating an attendance death spiral, and free falling ticket revenue. This ladies and gentleman, is what the Italian Stallion and Alexander have done to the CSO. Let’s also thank the VP of Artistic Planning, Ms. Rocca, the mastermind of the current “Russian blast” season and the woman who recycled Muti’s most narrow repertoire shamelessly for a decade, for her critical contributions to these memorable outcomes.

    Just imagine where this gang would be without the backing of $400M in endowment. Is the time ripe for Deborah Borda to come to the rescue, clean house, and start anew?

    • Angeleno says:

      Deborah Borda likes to raise prices too. In her first year in L.A. she imposed a 220% increase on the LOWEST prices: from $11 to $35. So we learned immediately what she is all about!

    • Ripley says:

      These are good insights, thank you. Assuming the numbers are correct, 2017/2018 is the right point of comparison because in 2019 the CSO went on strike losing many weeks of revenue.

      40% fewer tickets sold against the last complete season (2017/2018) must be concerning and is certainly not a good trend.

    • Max Raimi says:

      What was creative about the accounting? You bring to mind the “Stop the Steal” crowd with your allegations pristinely free of any actual evidence. The CSO has suffered a substantial hit in attendance, along with pretty much every other performing arts institution post COVID. If it was Muti’s fault, it is awfully peculiar that the Muti concerts tend to be the most well attended. You have every right to your opinion that the orchestra is now desolate, obscure, and mediocre. It does not seem to be a point of view that is widely shared.

      • Max Raimi says:

        One other thing I should have mentioned is that the musicians’ contract is up for negotiation this coming summer and fall. If our beloved Rat really thinks that the CSO administration would indulge in creative accounting so as to appear more financially healthy than they actually are going into these talks, he has utterly no clue as to how the real world actually works. It is ludicrous on its face.

    • Mick the Knife says:

      Post-covid attendance is down everywhere. The problem is not the quality of whats on stage. People have lost the habit of going to the concert or opera hall.

    • GCMP says:

      You don’t know (at least from the examples shown here) if ticket prices are up or if the tickets are that are being sold are in the higher prices categories. The drop-off in audiences might be in the more-cheaply priced seats. It would be interesting to know what has happened to subscriber renewals, etc. (and yes, I suspect the decline in audience numbers is not just in the cheaper seats, I’m just saying one should be careful with statistics).

  • Chicagorat says:

    In the meantime, seemingly unperturbed for the 40% fewer tickets sold in Chicago compared to 2017/18, in his native country, the said Bill Clinton of classical music (a.k.a. the Chicago Symphony Orchestra soon-to-be Music Director Emeritus for Life) has now become the stuff of cabaret.

    A critically acclaimed comedian, Checco Zalone, launched in Florence his new tour, titled “Amore + IVA”, a satire of unethical (and hypocritical) machismo. Zalone’s new work has been praised by major Italian papers, across the ideological spectrum.

    The core of the show are skits with impersonations of carefully selected characters that are models for machismo, including two notable ones: Putin and Muti.

    A very short clip of the show is available here, with a glimpse of the Muti skit shown at minute 0:30 ( )

    Here are a few lines uttered by the Muti character on stage, as reported by Repubblica and Corriere:

    – “I detest exaggerations, just call me genius”

    – “Do Italian theaters allow women under 70 years old to enter? My pianist friend, Memo Remigi (a), talked to me about this pop audience, sexual harassment aside”

    – On “Pierino e il Lupo” (“Peter and the Wolf”): “No, it is ‘Pierino and the substitute teacher’ with Alvaro Vitali (b)”

    – “Chopin killed himself with pugnette (c)” “His Nocturnes were for right hand or left hand”

    – “Given how the evening is going, I’d talk about a guitar player, Segovia” (d)

    – “What the f*** are these crazy women talking about? … I don’t give a f***, I am paid a shitload of money anyway”

    (translations largely based on Google Translate and the help of one Czech friend based in Italy)

    See related articles here:

    A native of Capurso, in the Bari metropolitan area close to Muti’s home town of Molfetta, Zalone must know Muti very well. These satirical punch lines are meant to be taken by the audience as representative of a “behind the scenes” typical conversation with the real Muti, offering a window into the true character of the crass, vulgar, sexual innuendo loving “Maestro”. In this show, the “Emperor” has no clothes and show us his ugly and dirty underbelly.

    It is a shame that this show was not written in English, and not available on the Internet, where it would be welcome. The Italian Stallion is a master at manipulating ignorant journalists and ignorant fans alike into believing that he is a messiah of culture; his manipulation is quite effective and often (incredibly) he is depicted by Chicago and Austrian papers almost as a reincarnated Da Vinci.

    Congratulations to Zalone. He delivers pricking satire that exposes a powerful and deeply unethical man, whose misconduct in Chicago goes well beyond sexual innuendos.

    And congratulations to the CSO Board and Jeff Alexander for showing great judgment in picking a man of unassailable character as Music Director Emeritus for Life. Surely the good revenue numbers will continue under this arrangement, and the audience in Chicago will keep growing.

    (a) Memo Remigi. an octogenarian singer once very popular in Italy, was recently fired by the Italian RAI national television for having groped a colleague and co-presenter, Jessica Morlacchi, during a live TV show. The video is available on youtube

    (b) Pierino is an italian variation of Little Johnny. Alvaro Vitali is the most

    famous actor in the Italian erotic comedy genre. A sample Pierino movie billboard here:

    (c) “pugnette” is vulgar slang for male masturbation

    (d) A pun on “sega”, vulgar slang for male masturbation

    • steve says:

      if the journalists and fans are so ignorant as you claim, then please enlighten them all with some actual, concrete proof and substantiated evidence, which still you have failed to do! otherwise, you are the real ignoramus!

    • Guest says:

      This so described Macho Muti character is certainly preferable to the self-shaming beta males popping up nowadays.

    • Karl says:

      Just locker room talk.

    • Kyle Wiedmeyer says:

      Seems to me that you hate the CSO not because it’s a bad orchestra, as you say, but simply because you hate Riccardo Muti.

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    Way to go Chicago! I’m not a huge sycophant of this particular orchestra, but good news in ‘the arts’ is just that: good news! . . . Nice photo of bass trombone monster, Charlie Vernon.

  • Rick Dynes says:

    L O V E

  • MMcGrath says:

    What a grand American success story!! Congratulations, Windy City denizens, on your giving spirit and priorities.

    Now, let’s wean some of those numerous German radio symphony orchestras off of the taxpayer and teach them fund-raising and community relations. The Salzburg Festival and the Munich opera could tutor here.

  • Lothario Hunter says:

    “There are valid right-wing men of culture. The left has had and will have intellectuals but in recent years it has not done much for widespread culture.”

    ““Too many foreigners in Italy […]”

    Riccardo Muti in a recent interview on La Stampa, commenting on the cultural outlook of the country whose government is now led by Neo-fascist parties.

    Translated in English by Italy24 news

    “My current orchestra is the Chicago Symphony Orchestra […]. But the Vienna Philharmonic is the orchestra of my life.”

    “I once used the word oriental at a rehearsal in Chicago, and afterwards, during a break, I was politely pointed out, “Maestro, it would be better if you used the term asian instead of oriental.” I tried to explain that I wasn’t capable: ‘I’m sorry, I grew up with this word, for me the Orient is something wonderful. And besides, what am I if you’re Asian?’ The answer was, ‘You’re caucasian.’ Killed me. (laughs)”

    Riccardo Muti, quoted by Die Zeit in a recent September interview. “Laughs” was a note by the interviewer.