Columbus Symphony Emerges From Tumultuous Year

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It’s been a tumultuous year for the Columbus Symphony Orchestra. It nearly went bankrupt; lost its popular conductor Junichi Hirokami; and musicians for a time refused salary and benefits concessions.

For a time last summer it looked as if there would be no more Columbus Symphony. Negotiations between musicians and management had reached an impasse. The summer pops concerts were canceled. Two-thirds of the administrative staff were laid off. Meanwhile musicians refused wage and benefit concessions – and went unpaid. But in September, the union ratified a new contract. Tony Beadle, the symphony’s executive director, says that in spite of the chaos the orchestra has survived. “I think that the orchestra has played wonderfully this year,” Beadle says. “There’s no getting around the fact that they’ve suffered tremendously by not working last summer and not working in the fall but being the professionals they are they’ve come back and have given us some wonderful concerts.”

The orchestra’s musicians made significant sacrifices to return to the concert stage. They took a 25 percent pay cut and cuts to their benefits as well. The average salary had been about $55,000 a year. Beadle says that for the 2009 / 2010 season, salaries will be significantly less.

“Next year the annual base salary would be about $43,000,” he says.

Beadle says audience enthusiasm has not waned even with a faltering economy. He says audience size per concert has remained nearly the same from last year to this

“In terms of the audiences themselves, they didn’t go away; we’re only down about two percent. So that’s a very good sign considering the economy, considering everything else, I have to say Columbus does love their symphony,” he says.

The budget for the upcoming season will be $9.5 million. That’s a sharp drop from the $12 million that the symphony once enjoyed. But even with a 30 percent budget cut, symphony supporters worry about long term viability. Martin Inglis chairs the Symphony Board of Trustees.

“Is anything sustainable at the moment? That’s like asking how long a piece of string is in the present environment,” Inglis says. “I think that we’ve done remarkably well to hang in there this year and this year is not yet done. But I have pretty high confidence with some more hard work, and pray that the weather stays good for the picnic series that we have a shot at breaking even this year. For next year we need to start over again working with all the fantastic patrons we have here in Central Ohio.”

After this season’s classical concerts conclude, the orchestra will focus on its summer pops concerts. But for now the symphony’s budget remains extremely tight.

Orchestra management does have some confidence in the future. Nine guest conductors will be auditioning for the music director’s position during the 2009 /2010 season.