For generations, large and small cities saw orchestras, operas and other classical music organizations as part of civic life. Now, many are in deep financial trouble with no relief in sight.
Costs are rising at a faster rate than their receipts. That’s why the Philadelphia Orchestra, long considered a crown jewel of American cultural life, recently had to seek protection from creditors. Even classical music organizations that are keeping their heads above water have had to slash costs to the bone including laying off staff.
Classical music is probably the art form that is least able to weather any economic downturn. For one thing, fixed costs are high. Major orchestras include about 100 players. Top-flight musicians command salaries in the six figures. Some conductors earn seven figures. Some groups need to pay rent on their halls. Endowments have taken a hit in recent years causing orchestras and other classical music organizations to scale back performances and, sometimes, cut back staff. Economies of scale are difficult to find. A symphony isn’t a symphony with one violin player. This may result in a situation where only the biggest and strongest classical music arts organizations survive.