Thursday, August 9, 2012

Oh my......

Here is a link to an article about the finances of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra:  While I appreciate that both sides in the labor negotiations paint a worst-case-scenario for bargaining purposes, I equally appreciate that the annual deficit that the orchestra is racking up is rather staggering. A nearly $20 million debt.  Really?  Of course the ASO is not alone.  The Pittsburgh Symphony had a deficit of roughly $2.5 million.  And the big kahuna Philadelphia Orchestra just emerged from its year-long plus bankruptcy within the past month.  New York classical music institutions are also suffering. So many commentators say the old models must change and sometimes those commentators fail to say to what.  Others make suggestions that seem to threaten the very existence and raison d'ete for the classical symphony orchestra.

I will suggest a stop-gap strategy to keep musicians employed, albeit at a less lucrative level.  This strategy does not consider any existing agreements between the musicians and management so maybe none of it can be implemented.  Here goes:

1.  Have the music director, who already makes a healthy salary, conduct more concerts.  A corollary of this is to engage fewer guest conductors.  I think most patrons would not really care.

2.  Have more concerto and solo pieces played by principals in the orchestra.  Yes, I know, they will get paid more for this, but then other, possibly more expensive soloists would not have to be paid.  Again I do not think most patrons would really care.

3.  Reduce the number of weekly concerts from 3 to 2.  Now this might seem to reduce revenue, but more seats could be filled.  Now, the house seems to be about two-thirds full in each of the weekly concerts.  Patrons may not like this, but I think most would adjust if the reasons for the action are clear.

4.  I know that this next suggestion may not save money with the current contractual arrangements, but make one concert a month a chamber orchestra-sized event.  Implicit in this is that musicians should be paid by the hours expended in rehearsal and performing. If I were in their position, I would not like this suggestion, but its better than having no symphony at all.

5.  Reduce the size of the orchestra and augment it with contract players.  Not good for the salaried, but good for the stringers.

6.  Add more of those Matrix-style and video game type performances.  It doesn't fit with the traditional model of a symphony, but then neither does bankruptcy.

7.  Pass the hat at each performance.  As distasteful as it seems, it may encourage donations from those who don't normally give.

8.  When food prices went through the roof in the 1970's, the food store came up with "generic brands."  Similarly, when newsprint prices increased, magazines published on poorer quality paper.  Time for orchestras to produce cheaper brochures and mailings.  In Europe, patrons pay for programs.  Why not here?  For those who don't have programs, announce each piece on the screens located above the stage.  I recently attended that Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble.  They did this, and it worked well.

9.  The community must further commit to keep this institution alive.  It does no good for the orchestra's management to keep this quiet.  The orchestra's financial situation should not be a secret.

I suggest using some of this strategy until the economy improves- if it ever does.  I am not holding my breath, but we must do whatever we can to keep the ASO the premier arts organization in Georgia.

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