'Remarkable year of rebuilding': MN Orchestra reports $650K deficit

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In an abbreviated season, hastily organized after a lengthy lockout, the Minnesota Orchestra finished the year with a budget deficit of $650,000 – small enough that Board Chair Gordon M. Sprenger called it a "remarkable year of rebuilding."

In a news release, the orchestra said it had expected a loss of about $1 million – so the deficit isn't nearly as large as anticipated. (And for context, the orchestra ran a deficit of $1.1 million in 2013, and a whopping $6 million in 2012.)

“We began the year facing a great deal of uncertainty but over time the Orchestra’s story has been one of resurgence,” Spenger said.

That resurgence, according to the orchestra, includes: a new musicians’ contract was negotiated, a six-month concert season was organized, the orchestra won a Grammy Award, and Osmo Vänskä was brought back as music director.

The 16-month lockout ended Feb. 1, with musicians accepting a 15 percent pay cut this season as part of a three-year contract, KSTP notes.

Ticket sales also helped them get there.

Despite 16 months of inaction during the lockout, paid attendance for this year was essentially the same as it was in 2011-12, the orchestra's most recent full season (about 78 percent of paid capacity).

In total, 116,000 tickets were sold to 83 Orchestra events during 2014's six-month season and total attendance (including complimentary tickets and free performances) came in at more than 150,000 people.

The orchestra also got $10.5 million from a combination of gifts, and funds released from different accounts.

Orchestra struggle

For the past few years, there have been numerous reports of orchestras struggling to remain operable.

Orchestras in St. Paul, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Louisville and Nashville have faced significant economic issues – some leading to a lockout, WABE in Atlanta reported in October.

Poor ticket sales, an aging audience and constantly increasing costs have been blamed, WABE said.

The New Republic, in a 2013 piece, blames it on a long-used, but outdated subscription ticket model, which had customers buying chunks of concerts at a time (requiring a certain level of commitment). The story said a cultural shift (people not wanting to commit that time) combined with the 2008 financial crisis meant the revenue stream became outdated.

Some orchestras have adjusted, but it's more expensive. Now, shows are sold bit by bit rather than in larger blocks, which costs the orchestra more to promote, a Los Angeles Philharmonic official said.

The Washington Post said three things are now being emphasized: cost-cutting, better connecting to the community, and performing more modern pieces to draw in a modern audience.

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