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The 'Most Cash-Strapped Classical Music Organizations' in America
by Jerome Weeks 5 May 2011

The good news, I suppose: None of the groups is in North Texas. The Houston Symphony is, though. The bad new is that an orchestra as established, as revered, as the Philadelphia Symphony is #1.


The website, 24/7 Wall St. — which easily has some of the most annoying pop-up ads, anywhere — has picked the 10 (actually, 11) most cash-strapped classical music groups in America. And, of course, they announce in their headline, “The Death of Classical Music in America.”

The good news, I suppose: None of the groups is in North Texas. The Houston Symphony is,  though. The bad new is that an orchestra as established, as revered, as the Philadelphia Symphony, is tops on the list. Even the big names, Jonathan Berr reports, like the Chicago Symphony and the Metropolitan Opera, “have begun to struggle.”

The fundamental reason has little, really, to do with unions or the economy or attacks on federal spending. It’s one that Kennedy Center president Michael Kaiser pointed to during his “Arts in Crisis” Tour that he brought to North Texas in December ’09.

It’s the performing arts’ “unshakable costs vs. their limits on revenue.”  It still requires the same number of musicians to play a Beethoven piano sonata as it did 150 years ago. As Berr puts it, a symphony orchestra with only one violinist is not a symphony orchestra. But the musicians’ salaries have certainly increased since then as have other costs, like heat and light.

Meanwhile, the concert halls can’t keep adding more seats, selling more tickets. So costs rise while ticket sales can’t. The solution, so far, has come from increasing ticket prices. But that has had unfortunate consequences. The arts aren’t elitist, Kaiser argued. They’ve just been costing too much for many people to afford.

Also of local interest: The only opera company to make the list is the New York City Opera at #4 — that’s the company that general manager George Steel unceremoniously dumped the Dallas Opera for after only a few months here in 2008.

  • Bill

    Two things:

    1) The Philadelphia Orchestra (not Symphony) is in a FAKE financial crisis.

    They project a deficit of 1-2 million bucks this season. Wow. What crybabies. Most orchestras of that size are projecting deficits these days. Phila however has an endowment of $!40 MILLION dollars in the bank, hardly bankruptcy material, and rarely matched or exceeded.

    The board at Phila has decided to declare bankruptcy to go into fake crisis mode so they can renegotiate contracts and eliminate musician benefits a la Scott Walker, GOP Governor of Wisconsin (who, by the way, just like the Chinese Community Party, hates unions, so I guess that makes Walker Mao Zedong Jr.).

    2) George Steel went back to a near-dissolved NYCO. the fact that NYCO is still alive and hanging around two years later, despite all the crud happening before Steel went back, is a testament to Steel’s effort to turn it around. It’s not Steel’s fault.

    The way I see it from outside of DFWTX area: If George Steel wanted to jump from Dallas Opera onto a half-sinking near-wrecked USS NYCO engulfed in flames….he must have REALLY hated his months there! I believe that was the case: the Dallas Opera season calendars of the years Steel left and the few after featured five, six operas a year, all bread and butter, no room for him to exercise any of his “NEW! YORK! CITY??!!” sensibilities, no room for adventuresome programming….why would he want to stay when the ailing NYCO came calling?!

  • Jerome Weeks

    I see. So you don’t simply accept, you hail George Steel for breaking his contract, breaking his promises, not just to the Dallas Opera administration but to the many Dallasites who looked to him precisely because he was hired to help steer the DO into more adventuresome programming — and he did this a mere three months after arriving here and after weeks of assuring the board and the public that he had no intention of going to the NYCO.

    He lied repeatedly.

    But you find the Philadelphia leadership are heinous frauds and hypocrites for doing basically the same thing with the musicians’ unions.

    I’m not defending what Philadelphia is doing, I’m just clarifying your moral stance.

  • Lyn Evans

    I’m uncannily lucky as to not be suffering the loss of programming or capital sustainment for the arts. New Orleans may be several steps ahead of the rest of the country, since its strategic cultural resources have been compacted and strengthened ever since August ’05. The visual and musical arts down here are burgeoning. Fundamentally, the city’s primary theatre has actually sold out for certain events. Additionally, the city can barely support the growing out-of-town crowds that come in for JazzFest. It has become engrained in every consumer to support or spend money to bolster the city. I think that New Orleans is at a polar opposite position than other large US cities. It’s uncanny to have come home to be a little “arts poor” and to only find myself in a thoroughly richer and vibrant arts environment. The “bootstrap” environment I was acclimated to growing up serves the city well. It’s amazing what pliability, grit and an improvisational approach can produce! I fundamentally believe that culture and art burgeon up on their own and can’t be held back. With critical infrastructure deteriorating in other larger cities, don’t be surprised if in its place – embryonic, inexpensive and extremely dynamic programs appear.