Riccardo Muti leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in a free concert at the Apostolic Church of God Thursday evening. I Scott Stewart~Sun-Times
Updated: November 21, 2011 10:29AM
For first time in five years, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra finds itself in the red.
At its annual meeting Wednesday afternoon, the CSO Association reported a deficit of $927,000 on operating expenses of $64.7 million for the fiscal year that ended June 30.
Riccardo Muti’s first season as CSO music director saw a record level of fund-raising success. But his two extended absences for illness, and an unprecedented number of cancellations by solo recitalists and an entire sold-out visit by the Cleveland Orchestra meant lost revenues that resulted in the CSO’s first deficit since 2006.
“We believe that it is very important not to try to hide any aspect of our circumstances,” CSO Association president Deborah F. Rutter said in a phone interview Wednesday before the meeting at Symphony Center. “And we do so in the larger context of being individually and comparatively a very strong institution and facing a very good future.”
Rutter said there had been “tremendous momentum” when Muti arrived in Chicago 13 months ago, culminating in the huge success of a free CSO concert in Millennium Park attracting some 25,000 people. “That was reflected in a surge of subscription and single-ticket sales,” Rutter said. “Then some of that momentum stalled.”
The Millennium Park concert as well as another free concert in Pilsen also added to expenses. In addition, the cancellations of 10 recitalists impacted the bottom line. Among the artists bowing out due to illness were pianists Maurizio Pollini and Murray Perahia. Because of the February blizzard, the Cleveland Orchestra, under music director Franz Welser-Möst, had to call off its sold-out concert.
But fund-raising had a marked upswing with $24.2 million raised in annual gifts, a 15 percent increase over last year. Additional gifts of $1.4 million brought the association’s total fund-raising in all categories to some $25.6 million. Total assets increased by $32 million to $455 million.
“Some recovery in the economy and increased confidence in the business community meant we saw very nice increases in corporate donations,” Rutter said.
Even with the setbacks, ticket sales were up, including a 1 percent increase in subscription sales and a 17 percent increase in single ticket sales for a record $4.8 million. Ticket income for a all CSO and other Symphony Center Presents events was $20.6 million. Additional earned income, such as that from touring and building rentals, was $6.6 million.
In the interview, Rutter said the reported and current season numbers indicate that “live concert music is thriving. Our challenge is to work with the different expectations for participation and experiencing music that today’s highly curious audiences have to keep up our mission for a very long time to come.”
Bass player Stephen Lester, chairman of the CSO players’ committee, told the gathering that this had been a year of “wild swings, tragedies and wonderful triumphs” for the orchestra. Through all of this, Muti has been not only our “great musical inspiration, constantly pushing us to improve,” he said, “but also shown himself to be a warm and caring human being with true insight and commitment to all of the communities we work with.”
Andrew Patner is critic at large for WFMT-FM (98.7).