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The Death Of Classical Music in America

7. Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra

  • Founded: 1959
  • Location:  Milwaukee
  • Total Revenue: $14.18 million (FY 2009)
  • Deficit; $3.3 Million
  • Maryellen H. Gleason, President & Executive Director

One the youngest symphonies in major cities, the Orchestra was hit with a steep drop-off in contributions during the last fiscal year because of the recession.  Total revenue for the year was 16.5% below projections. According to the Journal Sentinel newspaper, the Orchestra is as ambitious as ever. “Belt-tightening and staff furlough days have not resulted in a reflexive lack of ambition or innovation,” it says.  Nonetheless, the Symphony slashed $500,000 from its expenses for the 2011 fiscal year.

8. Syracuse Symphony Orchestra

  • Founded: 1961
  • Location: Syracuse, NY
  • Total Revenue: n/a
  • Debt: $5.5 Million
  • Interim Executive Director Paul Brooks

The Orchestra has been in life support for a while. “Last summer the arts organization was close to collapse when it was without operating funds. An “angel investor” came to its rescue,” the Syracuse Post-Standard says. “In late January, it announced it faced a similar fate if it didn’t receive an immediate $375,000 to cover February expenses and needed a total of $1.75 million by Aug. 1 to continue its 50th anniversary season.  The campaign, which included an orchestral staging of Led Zeppelin songs, fell short.  “In plain terms, if there is to be another Symphony, it can start with a clean sheet of paper,” the Orchestra says on its website.  The season was canceled, including a  concert featuring world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

9. New Mexico Symphony Orchestra

  • Founded: 1932
  • Location:  Albuquerque, New Mexico
  • Total Revenue: $4.06 million (FY 2009)
  • Deficit: $1.45 million
  • Ruth Silva-Hernández
    Interim President/CEO

The New Mexico Symphony Orchestra filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection on April 21.  Like other orchestras,  the New Mexico Symphony was caught in the twin vice grips of the economic slowdown and rising costs.    Musicians are reportedly owed $800,000.  It also was behind in its rent.  The orchestra will cease to exist once the bankruptcy is completed.

10. Louisville Orchestra

  • Founded:  1932
  • Location: Louisville, KY
  • Total Revenue: $6.57 million
  • Deficit: $813, 676
  • Robert A. Birman, CEO

Weeks before its 75th anniversary in 2010, the Louisville Orchestra filed for protection from its creditors.  As the Louisville Courier-Journal noted,  the group sought to cut its roster of full-time musicians from 71 to 55 which would be supplemented with that with 16 part-timers to reduce costs by about $1 million.   Musicians were, of course, livid and CEO Robert Birman said at the time of the filing that he understood their frustration.

11. Honolulu Symphony Orchestra

  • Founded: 1900
  • Revenue: N/A
  • Deficit: N/A
  • Executive director: N/A

The good citizens of Hawaii may get their orchestra back, which was forced in 2010 to liquidate.  A group of local citizens bought the orchestra’s assets at an auction.  “We’re kind of taking a leap of faith in buying all the symphony’s memorabilia and musical works because we feel that is going to be necessary to restart the symphony,”businessman Mark Polivka told The New York Times.  They might just succeed, having reached a 3 year agreement with the musician’s union.  A new season is scheduled to start in September.

Jonathan Berr