A Comparison of Two Major Midwestern Orchestras

Orchestrate Excellence, an independent group of community members who support the Minnesota Orchestra, is releasing a benchmarking report, A Tale of Two Orchestras, that compares the 2008 – 2012 trends experienced by two Midwestern orchestras, our Minnesota Orchestra and The Cleveland Orchestra. This report was completed last spring and distributed to MOA management, Board, the musicians’ negotiating committee and some civic leaders at that time.

Orchestrate Excellence undertook this benchmarking exercise to enhance understanding of the industry. The report was intended neither as a critique of the past nor as a prescription for the future, but an opportunity to understand strategies a similar organization leveraged to drive growth. The Tale of Two Orchestras report was prepared by financial, investment, and audit professionals based upon analysis of the two organizations’ annual reports, federal tax returns, and audited financial statements.

The Tale of Two Orchestras study focused on revenue trends. There are sufficient commonalities between Cleveland and the Twin Cities — top tier orchestras and musicians, non-coastal but culturally vibrant cities of similar size, significant business model challenges and operating deficits — to make a trends comparison relevant and potentially instructive. The trends each organization has experienced over the five years are clear: The Cleveland Orchestra has achieved growth in operating revenue, contributions and endowment over the five year period, while the Minnesota Orchestral Association has experienced declines.

The Cleveland Orchestra continues to confront significant business challenges, most notably an operating deficit that required special fundraising and revenue generation each of the last two years, but the organization has tackled the challenges with growth strategies leveraging their primary asset: music played at the highest levels of artistic excellence.

In Cleveland, all constituencies – management, Board, musicians and donors – are committed to making their orchestra the best in the world, and their financial strategies are based on this commitment.

Important Caveats

This assessment is:

  • Based on publicly available documents, and did not benefit from any additional information or input.
  • Focuses exclusively on revenue trends, and does not delve into absolute differences in size, into expense analysis or into deficit comparisons.  It does not address additional measures such as the organization’s long-term financial stability related to debt and draws on funding sources such as an endowment.
  • Confined to the 2008-2012 time-period. This report does not evaluate any future plans or business models.
  • Only one benchmarking exercise; it would probably be fruitful to undertake similar comparisons to many other orchestras.

When we provided A Tale of Two Orchestras to the MOA management and musicians last spring, we hoped the report would spur conversations between the parties and broaden thinking about a future path that would make the Minnesota Orchestra both artistically excellent and financially secure. Our Community Forum in late August brought even more ideas forward, showing the commitment of our community for the Minnesota Orchestra.

Now, despite our efforts and those of many other community groups committed to the orchestra, the scheduled recording contracts and Carnegie concerts have been cancelled and our esteemed music director, Osmo Vänskä, has resigned. After an entire year, the lockout continues, Orchestra Hall is still silent and contract talks between the Board and Musicians seem to be at a standstill.

We are releasing A Tale of Two Orchestras now in hopes that it will convey the message that there are possible solutions to the dilemma we face. Our community is at a crossroads, not the end of the road. Like any benchmarking exercise, A Tale of Two Orchestras outlines not one correct path, but a number of possible paths forward for our Minnesota Orchestra and our community. We are still hoping for a solution that will enable the orchestra to be successfully rebuilt.

Orchestrate Excellence: The Minnesota Orchestra enriches and inspires our community with a heritage of artistic excellence spanning more than a century. It has made Minnesota synonymous with musical greatness worldwide. We believe that the orchestra plays an important role in Minnesota’s rich cultural life and that it is possible to fund its musical brilliance going forward. We are concerned citizens who have come together to find ways to assure the high quality of the music that we love. Orchestrate Excellence can be found online at www.orchestrateexcellence.org.

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