Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra to Expand After Years of Cuts

Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra to Expand After Years of Cuts

Bolstered by a successful fundraising campaign and a new contract with its musicians, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra will be hiring fourteen additional musicians over the next four years, the New York Times reports.

Unlike many performing arts organizations that have spent heavily from their endowments in the face of mounting deficits, labor strife, and dwindling audiences, the orchestra has managed in recent years to maintain a 5 percent spending rate and expects to reduce that to 4.5 percent by 2020. It's a significant turnaround for an organization that had seen its endowment shrink from $92.7 million in 1999 to $56 million a decade later. "We didn't have enough cash to make the next payroll," Trey Devey, who became the orchestra's president in 2009, told the Times.

While the orchestra has sold out many more shows in recent seasons and attendance has grown, it is still projected to average only 69 percent of capacity this season at its home, the Music Hall, which seats 3,417. A $125 million renovation of the hall planned for the 2016-17 season poses its own challenges. But orchestra officials believe the steps they have taken in recent years, such as reducing personnel costs by 15 percent in 2009, helped attract philanthropic support that has put the organization on a more solid footing. Despite an $85 million fund established in late 2009 by Louise Nippert to assist local performing arts organizations, the symphony still faced a large unfunded pension liability, which it addressed through a negotiated delay on a promised raise for musicians.

Looking ahead, the orchestra plans to add the first five tenure-track musicians next season. The orchestra's musicians, whose pay has returned to where it was before they agreed to 11 percent wage cuts in 2009, will see their salaries rise as well: the contract will offer the players 1.5 percent wage increases in each of the next five years, along with a one-time payment that the orchestra said would effectively increase their pay by 3 percent a year over the course of the agreement.

Musicians and management said they were hopeful that the recent steps taken and their good working relationship would help the orchestra thrive. Devey admitted that many of the ideas and strategies that seem to have worked were unorthodox. "I think in the world of orchestras," said Devey, "if you've got normal conversations, that's not generally a good thing."

Michael Cooper. "A New Labor Contract at the Expanding Cincinnati Orchestra." New York Times 05/07/2015.