“These are frustrating times for the players and managers of American symphony orchestras,” writes Andrew Manshel in Saturday’s (1/23) Wall Street Journal. “During the past 50 years, U.S. orchestras have experienced spectacular growth. … But the financial model for orchestras has become unsustainable, with many of the best-known groups having posted red ink for several successive years. Chicago, Philadelphia, Baltimore, St. Louis, and Detroit (among many others) all have musically excellent ensembles that have experienced serious financial difficulties. … Why is an orchestra so expensive? Because an orchestra of about 100 highly skilled professionals and the infrastructure required to support and raise the money necessary to pay for them mandates that most of the organization’s revenues go to salaries and benefits. You can’t reduce an orchestra’s expenses by firing half the players. Its product is an ensemble of a certain size. … Clearly, the survival of orchestras involves the reduction of their cost base, and for that to happen, managements across the country need to make their financial situation transparent to their musicians and make them full partners in creating fiscal viability for the enterprise.”

Posted January 25, 2010