Symphonies Struggle for Survival

Photo: Syracuse Symphony string musicians

Start with the economy, mix in the American public's changing taste in music, overly large concert halls, and union-management struggles -- and you have the challenges of symphony orchestras around the country.

Most recently, the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra announced Tuesday they would be filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

In early February, the 50-year-old symphony serving central New York set a fundraising goal that, to management's delight, was surpassed by $100,000. But in early March, it came up just over $144,000 short in meeting another benchmark that would help ensure the continuation of operations.

"Certainly we were disappointed, but we're also encouraged by the fact that we're continuing to have a great deal of support from individuals and corporations and establishments that are interested in raising funds for us and assisting us in any way they can," interim executive director Paul Brooks told

Unfortunately for the Syracuse Symphony, they never reached that March goal, forcing the management to ask for $1.3 million in concessions from the symphony's musicians. The musicians made a counter offer of $915,000 that was not accepted and on March 28, the organization's board of trustees voted to suspend artistic operations, cutting short the organization's 50th anniversary season by 20 concerts.

Prior to closing, the organization has had several recent changes in management and seen its share of troubles. In summer 2010, an angel investor stepped in after management realized on June 29 that they would not have the funds to continue their everyday operations beyond July 15.

Such problems are not unique to Syracuse.

Honolulu's Symphony filed for Chapter 7 liquidation on December 13 of last year.

The Louisville Orchestra filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, also in December.

The Detroit Symphony's musicians have been on a very public strike, forcing the cancellation of many concerts this season.

David Rubin, a former member of the board of the Syracuse Opera and a member of the city's Cultural Resources Council, says the question is whether a city like Syracuse has the resources to support a nearly $7 million non-profit organization.

"I was at a program a couple of weeks ago with mainstream repertoire, all Mozart, on a Friday night, where the hall was barely half full," Rubin told

The symphony's director of communications, Vicky D'Agostino, acknowledged that their attendance had been dropping for the last three years, but cites other factors such as the economy and competitive entertainment/sporting events.

Orchestras Face Financial Trouble

D'Agostino also noted that their pops concerts, which included Broadway show tunes and Frank Sinatra favorites this season, had been getting higher attendance than their classics concerts.

Despite an overall drop in attendance, the Syracuse Symphony had sold out a few concerts during this concert season including their first pops concert and first classics concert. A now cancelled April performance with world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma sold out too.

Changing Musical Tastes

According to the National Endowment for the Arts, in the last 25 years paid concert attendance at classical music events has been dropping. There was a 20 percent drop between 2002 and 2008.

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
  • |
  • 4
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...