Ression Strikes Again: Duluth Symphony to Trim Schedule

The Duluth Symphony Orchestra is not the size of the Minnesota Orchestra or financially as big as the St Paul Chamber Orchestra. Still, it was a contributor to the classical music scene in the Minnesota area which for 77 years has relied heavily on volunteers.

As many surrounding business tighten their belts with the coming recession, the symphony is expecting an endowment value of 40% less than last year. This does not include the lower corporate donations. Their annual deficit could stand at $69k, but if ticket sales also decline this number will change. Last years deficit was only $53, so something is going to have to change.

"Ticket sales generate about half the orchestra’s revenue, with the other half coming from endowment returns, grants, gifts and state funding. But investments have tanked, and season ticket subscriptions have declined 10 percent. Despite unbudgeted income from extra concerts, charity giving and other sources, expenses are exceeding income," said Executive Director Andrew Berryhill.

So, the final two programs of this season have been revised to save “tens of thousands” of dollars by requiring fewer musicians and less rehearsal time. Musicians are paid an average of about $70 per rehearsal and performance, which if you think about the skill required for an orchestral musician, this isn't very much. But when you consider that is 90 musicians on stage (not including the staff needed to support these musicians, hall rental, etc.), one rehearsal costs $6,300.

Staff is a huge cost for an orchestra. An unresolved staffing issue is the labor contract with Local 18. The previous contract expired in September, but musicians continue to work under its provisions. Payroll, which includes the musicians as well as six full-time and six part-time staffers, consumes $875,000 of the orchestra’s $1.5 million budget.

As for reprogramming of the concerts, though “a little less showy,” they will provide a more moving musical experience, said Music Director Markand Thakar. Originally, the April plan was to play the “On the Waterfront” suite of Leonard Bernstein and Sergei Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5. The May concert was to be Ludwig van Beethoven’s opera “Fidelio” with the Duluth Festival Opera and the DSSO Chorus.

The new schedule contains works for a smaller orchestra in April — Felix Mendelssohn’s “Hebrides Overture” and Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 — but will keep the Minnesota premiere of Joseph Schwantner’s “Chasing the Light” from the original program. The May program will be all-Beethoven orchestral and choral works.

There is a push for new subscribers of the 2009-10 season. A program of classical favorites and a line of credit should help when cash flow is low. The Orchestra is optimistic they can make it through the next fiscal year without resorting to even deeper cuts. However, if you live in the Duluth area you may want to contact the orchestra in terms of Individual or Corporate Giving. Their web address is


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