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More on Cleveland

0 Robert Levine

The Cleveland strike was still ongoing as of late Monday night, at least according to Google News. The New York Times had a long article on the subject by Daniel Wakin, which seemed generally balanced and well-informed. It did include this tidbit, though:

Many of the nation’s top orchestras have reduced staff positions and administrative salaries in the last year. Orchestras have downsized seasons, canceled tours, programmed smaller works and left jobs open.

Current economic hardships, of course, are partly to blame. But industry experts point out that in the flush years of the 1990s, orchestras went on spending sprees without building up their endowments for a rainy decade. Now the crunch is on. At the same time, the old system of making the majority of ticket money from season-long subscriptions is breaking down. Big recording contracts are long gone.

It’s true that orchestra budgets expanded in the 90s. But so did orchestra endowments. The “crunch is on” not because orchestras didn’t raise endowments, but because the value of the endowments, like the value of just about every other financial instrument in the Western world, crashed - which, in turn, impacted the ability of patrons and donors to support orchestras as well.

The fact that orchestras have been cutting expenses is not, in and of itself, bad news for orchestras. In fact it’s arguably a good sign; an indication that the industry is agile enough to adjust to rapidly changing economic circumstances.

But the article is worth reading in full. There are accompanying audio snippets from orchestra staffers and musicians as well.


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