If we look around the orchestras worldwide, there is no unique trend as we enter a new year. National and local developments are very different.
Many North American orchestras have difficulties to balance their budgets. For example the Minnesota Orchestra had 2.9 million USD shortfall in 2011 on a budget of 30 million USD. The Philadelphia Orchestra filed for bankruptcy in April 2011, citing a structural deficit of 14.5 million USD. The Dallas Symphony Orchestra reports the deficit of 6 million USD in 2010-11. A key factor in the deficits walls that many orchestras chose to rely less on endowment funds to close their financial gaps.
What are their strategies now? Orchestras nationwide have reduced musician numbers or cut salaries. A recent three-year deal in Pittsburgh cut wages 9.7% in the first year with a freeze in the second. In Detroit musicians ended a six-month strike in April 2011 and took a 23% cut in salary. But strict wage concessions are only one way to address costs. Total number of musicians is another issue. Other options are of course attracting new audiences, reducing the number of concerts and making major expends cuts while increasing earned and contributed income.
The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra (SPCO) completed its eighth year in the black but anticipates a deficit 750.000 to 1 Mio USD in the running fiscal year which ends June 30. The gross ticket revenue declined by nearly 15% because of a strategic move to lower prices. This new SPCO pricing strategy (40-20-10 USD/ticket) was a major issue of discussion at the national conference of the League of American Orchestras early June 2011 and in the SYMPHONY magazine. On the other hand, lower prices have allowed the SPCO to cut marketing costs by 1 million USD over the past decade.
In Europe national orchestra and arts scenes are very different, too. The Scandinavian orchestras are doing very well. Helsinki and Reykjavik have got fantastic new venues. “In other parts of the world philharmonic orchestras are being closed down, but in Norway a new one has been formed. In a new concept, an entire region is joining forces to develop an unrivalled art institution”, explains the website of the Arctic Philharmonic Orchestra, founded in 2009. However in most of the other countries those orchestras who get public subsidies are struggling with problems due to the economic and financial crisis, especially in Spain, Portugal, Greece. But even in the UK and France some orchestras are facing cuts.
The German situation is a little bit different because of the widespread public funding system between the federal states and the local communities. The great orchestras (Berlin Philharmonic, Staatskapelle Dresden, Staatskapelle Berlin, Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, Munich Phiharmonic etc.) are doing very well. But some medium-size and the smaller orchestras in the cities and communities are in turmoil due to the increasing public debts and the shrinking public budgets, especially in the new federal states (the former GDR).
Those orchestras in Japan who have been struck by the earthquakes and the tsunami from March 11 directly, as the Sendai Philharmonic, look forward for normal conditions and reopening of venues. Most of the other orchestras are looking forward to cuts due to the enormous public debts which are not only caused by the tsunami and the nuclear catastrophe of Fukushima. “Chinese orchestras play catch-up”, this headline from the STRAD (October 2011 issue) shows what’s going on. “Chinese orchestras recognise that improving their standards will give them more opportunities to 2 abroad and play prestigious venues”, the STRAD reports. The tie-up between the New York Philharmonic and the Shanghai Symphony and between the Berlin Philharmonic and the Hangzhou Orchestra shows that China wants to emulate the top foreign orchestras it is welcoming in ever-increasing numbers. After 47 orchestras reported in 2009, today some 60 orchestras are in the business.
Another hotspot in Asia is Singapore, where the Singapore Symphony Orchestra opened its 33rd season and looks forward to reopen the old Victoria Concert Hall downtown Singapore in 2014. The orchestra recruits a new concertmaster. A main task for the board and management of the SSO will be a pay rise for the musicians in the near future, because housing costs are eating up to 60% from the musicians income. Artistically the orchestra is doing very well and waits for new international tour after the very successful European one and 2010.
To sum up:
2012 will divide the orchestras worldwide in those who’ll make a good race and those who’ll have to fight cuts, deficits and other problems. This is life.