The State of Our American Symphonies
How is Milwaukee faring?
Created in 1959, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra
(MSO) has a budget of $16.5 million and employs 88 musicians for 39 weeks a
year. The players earn an annual base salary of $55,000.
“This is the youngest of the first-tier orchestras, so
naturally we have one of the smallest endowments,” says Chris Abele, chairman
of the MSO board of directors. “Last year we took a financial hit like everyone
else, but we’re holding our own.”
The MSO receives its largest contribution from the
United Performing Arts Fund—to the tune of $2.4 million, down from a high of
The MSO has broadcast on national radio for nearly 30
years, and is a pioneer in offering Internet downloads of live performances.
MSO concerts are also carried statewide on commercial and public television. Famous past conductors include Lukas Foss and
Doc Severinsen; Marvin Hamlisch currently leads the Pops. Edo de Waart, a
conductor of international stature, has just completed his inaugural season
with the MSO. Known for building good orchestras into great ones, de Waart has
led the Rotterdam
and Hong Kong Philharmonics.
Where Others Stand
Kansas City Symphony was born following the financial demise of the Kansas City
Philharmonic in 1982. The 80 full-time musicians work a 42-week season,
including work with the Lyric Opera of Kansas City and the Kansas City Ballet.
The Symphony offers a base salary of $44,000, and the orchestra’s endowment
stands at $40 million. The orchestra has released recordings in each of the
last two years, taped two nationally broadcast PBS television specials and
performed on National Public Radio.
Indianapolis Symphony, founded in 1930, offers a 52-week season, with its 87
musicians earning a base salary of $72,000 a year. The orchestra’s budget is
nearly $29 million. Past conductors include Raymond Leppard and Pops conductor
Erich Kunzel. It closed last season with a $2.8 million shortfall, but the
owners of two of the city’s professional sports teams are joining to help the
symphony raise $100 million in an effort to build its endowment. In the 1970s
the orchestra sometimes performed in Milwaukee
as the MSO played in Indianapolis,
a sort of “sister city” orchestra arrangement.
- Based in Minneapolis, the
Minnesota Orchestra played its first concert in 1903. The symphony has an
annual budget of nearly $30 million, employing 98 musicians who make a healthy
base salary of $111,000. The organization recently imposed a 7% budget cut,
with musicians agreeing to a pay freeze, to cover a larger than expected
deficit. The orchestra tours with regularity, both domestically and abroad.
Minnesota Public Radio regularly broadcasts live performances, and public
television broadcasts are routine. Several famous conductors have led the
orchestra, including Eugene Ormandy, Dimitri Mitropoulos, Sir Neville Marriner
and Edo de Waart. The Twin Cities also supports the Saint Paul Chamber
Orchestra, an ensemble with an international reputation.
Other Midwestern orchestras include the Chicago
Symphony, one of the country’s highest-paying ensembles, starting at $127,000,
the St. Louis Symphony and its $77,000 salaries, and the Columbus Symphony,
which currently offers 36 weeks of work for $41,000 (though next season’s
cutbacks will force a 25% reduction in work and salary).
Some orchestras have recently experienced serious
financial difficulties, like the Philadelphia Orchestra, which nearly declared
bankruptcy earlier this year. Others, like the Charleston and Honolulu Symphonies, have gone
out of business. The New York Philharmonic is facing a record $4.6 million
shortfall this season, and players in Seattle
have made major salary concessions. Federal funding is down as well, with a $6
million reduction planned for the National Endowment for the Arts and
Humanities in 2011.
Back in Milwaukee,
it is not all gloom and doom. In fact, there is some serious optimism. The
orchestra is performing at a consistently high level, and both players and
conductor seem to be enjoying their new partnership.
“We are ahead of our projected budget this year, and our ticket sales are steadily increasing,” Abele says. “We are going to Carnegie Hall next season, and we have a higher quality of musicians auditioning for the MSO since Edo has been appointed music director. The players are pumped and excited, and the audiences are thrilled.”