Though thriving artistically, Chicago Symphony faces tough financial questions

Posted on: October 10, 2012

In Sunday’s (10/7) Chicago Tribune, Heather Gillers and Jason Grotto write, “When the world-renowned Chicago Symphony Orchestra gathers under the lights of its elegant performance hall to play Beethoven’s 7th Symphony or Stravinsky’s ‘Rite of Spring,’ the music nourishes the soul but doesn’t feed the bottom line. Ticket sales and performance fees from CSO concerts cover only about half the cost of putting them on. Salaries and the cost of providing benefits for top musicians are rising while revenues remain flat. And the CSO is burdened with more debt than any other major symphony in the country, in large part thanks to a $110 million renovation of Symphony Center, completed in 1997. Those issues cast a shadow over contract negotiations last month with the CSO’s musicians, who ultimately walked out for 48 hours over salaries and benefits. Their strike, the first in more than two decades, highlights an increasingly pressing question: Can one of the world’s greatest orchestras maintain that status while also protecting its financial health? The 121-year-old nonprofit organization has experienced a $10.8 million operating shortfall over the last decade, including $927,000 in 2011, and the organization anticipates a $1.3 million shortfall this year. … As it tackles difficult financial questions, the CSO has some clear advantages, among them generous patrons and a dedicated audience. … CSO officials are aware that continued artistic success will rely on building up the bottom line.”

Posted October 10, 2012