Orchestra Digest: December 21

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This week: Symphonic turnarounds, Saskatoon wishes Sawa farewell, and a slew of major gifts. Also, please see this post for recent news from Orchestra London.


The Indianapolis Symphony posted its second straight surplus in 2013-14, the Indianapolis Business Journal reports, lifted by strong fundraising and a 16 percent increase in ticket sales.
The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra also finished last season in the black, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. Attendance reached a 20-year high for 2013-14, the first full season since the lockout. A MinnPost article looks into the orchestra's attempts to re-invent "modern chamber orchestra."

And the Detroit Symphony posted a small surplus, Detroit News reports, with growth in ticket sales and donations.


Soon after hiring Courtney Lewis as its next music director, the Jacksonville Symphony named Robert Massey its next president and CEO, the Jacksonville Daily Record reports. Soon after that announcement, the orchestra and musicians reached a 3-year agreement with incremental raises, the Florida Times Union reports.

This season is Victor Sawa's last as music director of the Saskatoon Symphony, and as Global News reports, the search for his replacement is well underway. His last message to Saskatoon: "I'll miss you guys, have me back!"

And SSO musician Stephanie Unverricht, a Saskatoon native, has designed school programs to educate and inspire students in her city, Global News reports.

Season of giving

The Robert W. Woodruff Foundation will give $38 million to the Woodruff Arts Center, including $8 million to the Atlanta Symphony endowment, WQXR reports. The ASO's 9-week lockout ended last month with an agreement that reduced the orchestra's size.

Tech entrepreneur and Los Angeles Philharmonic board member David Bohnett will give $20 million to the orchestra in recognition of president Deborah Borda, the LA Times reports. The new fund will go partly towards exploring new digital platforms to reach audiences.
And Curtis Institute board chair Nina von Maltzahn is giving the school $11.5 million, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. The donation will underwrite a President's Chair and the Curtis on Tour program.
Other items of note

The New York Times laid off cultural reporter Allan Kozinn this week, along with roughly 110 other journalists and staff members, Musical America reports. Classical music blogger Norman Lebrecht called the firing "a terrible mistake."
The 'Cromnibus' budget bill passed by the U.S. Congress last week will cut benefits for some retirees in multiemployer pension plans, Time reports. The cuts affect funds in the "red zone", meaning they are seriously underfunded.
The Thunder Bay Symphony is taking a hard look at recent deficits, TB Newswatch reports. Executive director Shannon Whidden and his staff have taken wage cuts to reduce spending.

Compiled by Matt Heller, OCSM 1st VP. Sources include the discussion groups of ICSOM and ROPA. Visit OCSM online at: http://ocsm-omosc.org/index.php.

Orchestra Digest: Orchestra London update, Dec. 19th

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This week's bulletin is in two parts, with this first part focused on press coverage of the crisis at Orchestra London.

Dec. 10: Swan dismisses bankruptcy

After Orchestra London cancelled concerts through year's end, a flurry of press reports speculated that the orchestra might cease operations and go into bankruptcy. Executive director Joe Swan and board chair Joseph O'Neill tried to minimize those worries in an interview with the London Free Press last Tuesday, but could not rule out bankruptcy. Meanwhile, the orchestra continued to rehearse for a benefit concert last Wednesday.

On Wednesday, December 10th the orchestra held an emergency meeting with city hall staff, and Swan told CTV News that he would seek an immediate advance from the city, of roughly half its annual operating grant of $500,000. Mayor Matt Brown said he had not yet seen the orchestra's financial statements, but doubted that emergency funding would be offered from the city.

That same day, Swan spoke to Musical Toronto in detail about the orchestra's challenges, and expressed hope that the municipal council might still approve funding at its meeting on December 16th.

Officials speak out as players take music direct to city
Deputy mayor Paul Hubert blasted OL leadership in comments to CTV News on Thursday, Dec. 11th, noting that the city had been left in the dark as financial crisis loomed. If an orchestra is to return, Hubert said, "I would certainly be looking for a whole new business plan and a whole new leadership structure that would lead them forward."

An unsigned editorial in the Friday, Dec. 12th Free Press cast further doubt on the prospects for council support, while noting the "discord between musicians and executive director Joe Swan." A letter to the editor by Fiona Robson, a 17-year old cello student, argued that losing the orchestra would be a grave blow to the community and culture of London, noting the many benefits of a local, professional orchestra.

Over the weekend, Orchestra London musicians took their appeal directly to Londoners by playing pop-up concerts around the city, the Free Press reported. They also launched Twitter and Facebook accounts, and a blog. Former OL general manager Susan Weiss criticized musicians calling for Joe Swan's departure, the Free Press also reported, though she later backed away from those comments.

Dec. 16: Swan resigns as new financial details emerge

The picture grew more dire on Tuesday, as financial details released to the city showed the orchestra faced a $1.3m deficit, with $375k needed just to wind up operations this month, the Free Press reported. Executive director Joe Swan submitted his resignation that day.

The new shortfalls included $110k in back payroll taxes owed to the CRA, CTV News reported. Councillors Phil Squire and Harold Usher (speaking to AM980) expressed grave concern about the orchestra's financials. The city council indicated it would now hear a presentation from board chair Joe O'Neill on Thursday. Board members themselves could be liable for the back taxes, AM980 also reported.

Dec. 18: Council denies emergency funding

At Thursday's meeting, councillors voted 15-0 to deny the orchestra's emergency funding request for $375k, the Free Press reports. The aid would not have restored the orchestra, only helped it make its payroll and other obligations. A substantial crowd waited to hear the petition, but most left disappointed.

"The organization has really put the musicians in the worst position possible, and in turn the people of London," Coun. Tanya Park said. Others expressed hope that a new organization would take its place. Coun. Phil Squire said: "I'll be supporting an orchestra in the future. That being said, Mr. O'Neill, I would prefer that organization not have you involved in it, given what I've seen of your management of the board."

Compiled by Matt Heller, OCSM 1st VP. Visit OCSM online at: http://ocsm-omosc.org/index.php.

Orchestra Digest: December 6th

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This week: Orchestra London's shaky finances, the Toronto Symphony and Cleveland Orchestra buck the shrinking orchestra trend, and Calgary's visually-enhanced Turangalîla. Here are stories we're following....

First the bad news...

The London Free Press obtained an internal message from Orchestra London Board Chair Joe O'Neill, describing the orchestra's finances as "precarious" while expressing confidence in Executive Director Joe Swan. O'Neill warns that "further restructuring to reduce expenses is inevitable."

The New York Times reported a downsizing trend among some major American orchestras: Roll over, Mahler: U.S. orchestras are shrinking. Exhibit A is the Atlanta Symphony, which has recently reduced from 95 musicians to 77.

...and then some good
"You seldom shrink your way to greatness," Toronto Symphony CEO Jeff Melanson told the Toronto Star. The TSO posted a surplus in 2013-14, as Melanson promised an era of growth and bold thinking.
The Calgary Philharmonic teamed up with artists from Alberta College of Art and Design for a multimedia performance of Messiaen's Turangalîla Symphony last weekend, an Alberta premiere. The Globe and Mail posted a preview, and Giller Prize-winning novelist Sean Michaels posted a review for the National Post.

The Cleveland Orchestra posted close to a $1 million surplus last season, with record fundraising and a surge in attendance, the Plain Dealer reports. The success came as the orchestra launched a new initiative to bring in young people, and toured Europe and the US.

The Minnesota Orchestra's annual report didn't match the glitz, but came as remarkable news from an orchestra recovering from a lengthy lockout, as the Star Tribune reports. The MinnOrch's deficit of $650K was less than expected, and comes amid a major rebuilding campaign.

Read more: Orchestra Digest: December 6th

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