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Chicago Symphony details pandemic losses; broad outpouring of support helps limit toll

Submitted by on Nov 11, 2020 – 6:32 am

Donations by more than 13,000 individuals helped keep the CSO afloat during a time when Orchestra Hall itself was shut down. (Todd Rosenberg photos)

Report: Cancellation of 110 events produces shortfall of $4.4 million, but 13,000 individuals join big donors in gift-giving.
By Lawrence B. Johnson

Like virtually every other performing arts organization across the country and around the world, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra reported Nov. 10 that losing almost half of its 2019-20 season to the pandemic had resulted in a bruising fiscal hit – a net operating loss of $4.4 million.

The mitigating news presented at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association’s annual meeting was that donations by more than 13,000 individuals – along with philanthropic support from foundations, government agencies and corporate partners –had generated $25.7 million in contributed revenue to help limit the losses.

CSOA chair Helen Zell praised donors for stepping up.

State-mandated shut-downs of large public gatherings at Orchestra Hall and other venues, extending from early March to the end of the season in June, resulted in the cancellation of 110 paid events on the CSOA calendar.

The CSOA’s total revenues from ticket sales, operations and contributions were $62.9 million. Operating expenses, which were originally forecast for the year to be $77.9 million, were reduced to $67.4 million through a series of company-wide cost reductions implemented in the final quarter of the fiscal year.

The Association reported the value of its endowment investments at $301 million.

“For nearly 130 years, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra has been sustained by dedicated supporters with a passion for music and a belief in its power to inspire and transform lives,” said CSOA board chair Helen Zell. “I am deeply grateful for the incredible commitment demonstrated by our supporters in this extraordinary time and look forward to all the ways we will continue to connect with audiences.”

The unprecedented,15-week interruption in public concerts and activities saw the CSO pivot to the release of a wide variety of digital offerings, including those shared on “CSO From Home,” a new digital content hub created in response to the pandemic.

New viewiing, listening now at CSO’s website

Highlights included, the new CSO radio series From the CSO’s Archives: Maestro’s Choice, curated by Riccardo Muti and presented in partnership with WFMT, as well as personal video messages and performances from musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra shared on the CSO’s social media channels that generated millions of views.

“With a spirit of cooperation across the organization, we have faced the unanticipated challenges of the pandemic and strengthened support for the cultural treasure that is the Chicago Symphony Orchestra,” said CSOA president Jeff Alexander. “The essential work of the board of trustees, members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus and CSOA administration has created solutions to retain financial stability during this unprecedented period.”

Muti credited the CSO with bringing “comfort and meaning” to listeners around the world through the pandemic. “We must remain positive,” he said, “and prepare for the time when we can share music with the public once again through live performances.”

Also at the meeting, Zell was re-elected as CSOA board chair and Mary Louise Gorno was elected to succeed her as chair-elect.

Full performances of music director Riccardo Muti conducting Beethoven symphonies and other works are available at the CSO website and on YouTube.