Today we take stock of symphony orchestras big and small across the US. It’s become fashionable to hate on them, to ignore their good work and declare them dead or passé. The kiss of death has been blown in their direction so often you’d think players would catch a chill.
All is not lost, though, and a new study points to some surprising strengths remaining for classical music. Today’s post, in four parts, looks at those strengths and the ways to build on them.
Part one: The state of US orchestras
Let’s start by taking a graceful swan dive into a properly-heated infinity pool of orchestral data.
In a new report the League of American Orchestras analyzed financial information on US orchestras from 2006 to 2014. You can find the report and analysis here in pdf form, but here’s a SparkNotes version.
1. Currently there are more than 1,200 orchestras in the US. They perform 28,000 annual concerts for a combined audience of 25 million people. They contribute $1.8 billion each year to the US economy.
2. Fixed orchestra subscriptions have remained static or slightly down, but single-ticket and flexible (choose-your-own subscrip) sales are up. People like choice! (But NB: subscriptions = more predictable revenue.)
3. Between 2010 and 2014, symphony attendance dropped 10.5 percent. During that same time, audiences for orchestra tours fell off by about half (ouch).
4. Donations stayed steady from 2006 to 2014.
5. From 2010 to 2014, the average donation by a non-trustee individual was less than $250.
6. Local governing bodies — cities, counties and states — channel much more money to the performing arts than the feds do. (Although they themselves may be flipping fed money, it’s unclear.)
7. Roughly half of every orchestra’s budget goes to player salaries & benefits. Fully 70 percent of money is plowed into performance production.
It’s not exactly boom times, but there’s room for optimism here. Let’s continue.