Symphonies Struggle for Survival


"I think we're working more collaboratively with the musicians than we ever have in the past. We're working very closely with them to try to figure out how to reduce expenses going forward and I, frankly, think that relations are very good."

Another Orchestra Cancels Concerts

Now the Syracuse Symphony will be filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and liquidating. It had already cancelled over 20 concerts and laid off all of its musicians due to the suspension of operations that was announced on March 28. Garland and his fellow musicians were hopeful that the symphony's management would be able to come up with $400,000 in additional revenue to continue operations.

"We were extremely disappointed that that they didn't believe they could do that [raise $400,000] and not only that, they were asking the musicians to sacrifice even more after the two years of sacrifices we have already made, which for each musician I might add, it amounts to over $7,000 since July 1 on a base salary of you know, not too much. The current base salary of the orchestra is less than $30,000," Garland told

Garland explained that the musicians thought the orchestra's management should have been selling subscriptions for the 2011-2012 season along with the "Save the Music" fundraiser, since they always use the subscription money to help cover operating costs.

One of the suggestions made to the musicians by the management was also to reduce the size of the orchestra.

"The worst thing to do is likely to make the product worse," Garland explained. "And certainly reducing the orchestra's size and quality, which would be the inevitable by-product of reducing it by 12 players or 10 players that they're certainly not going to help sell the product."

No Plans For Refunds In Syracuse

The symphony has no money to pay for refunds. This has led angry ticket holders to call the Attorney General's office demanding refunds.

In a message on the symphony's website, Brooks writes, "We deeply regret this decision and offer an apology to the people in our community. We appreciate the support you have shown over the years for the Symphony and especially in recent months as we fought together to keep the organization in operation."

In another message released Tuesday, Brooks and Rocco Mangano, chair of the Syracuse Symphony's Board of Trustees, wrote that one of the reasons the symphony is folding is so that any future orchestra that is formed in Syracuse, "will not be burdened with a $5.5 million debt; a $2.5 million unfunded pension liability or an orchestra that restricts its ability to configure itself to fit the times."

The Future

While the Syracuse Symphony's fate has been sealed, many other orchestras like Louisville's are still fighting for survival.

"An orchestra is like a steamliner. It's very slow to be able to turn around and to change. There's nothing you can fix and change quickly," warned Birman, of Louisville. "As a good example, in Louisville, I already have my concert dates negotiated past 2013, so we already know what we're committed to do for two years in advance. Therefore, it makes it very hard when the economy turns so quickly to be responsive and to react and to be nimble."

Birman knows of specific orchestras who are borrowing money against their endowments, while some orchestras are playing to more empty seats and watching their donations drop.

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