Precarious Finances At America's Symphony Orchestras

ArtTracker| America’s symphony orchestras are an investment in ‘ensembles’. Belt-tightening accountants can’t insist that the violinist also play the flute. An abnormal wedge of expenses go for salaries and benefits in symphony orchestras like the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra, one of America’s finest.

Times aren’t good in Cleveland and haven’t been so for years.

While the Cleveland Orchestra’s payroll may not be outsize for its caliber of playing, it is clearly outsize for the market that supports it. The numbers for the year ended June 30, 2008: Conductor Franz Welser-Möst received compensation of $1,316,120. Concertmaster William Preucil (the orchestra’s most highly paid member) received a salary of $414,159 and benefits of $19,658. The mean compensation for players was $140,200. Benefits include 10 weeks of paid vacation and 26 weeks of paid sick leave. The orchestra’s 2009-10 budget is $42 million, down from $45 million during the prior period. Net assets during 2008 were reported to have been reduced by $27 million; published financial information seems to indicate an operating loss, perhaps in excess of $7 million.

A key aspect of funding of America’s symphony orchestras is to ‘come clean’ about the problem, making musicians and performers a part of the strategic solution, says the WSJ. Read Are Symphonies Too Big to Succeed?