Oregon Symphony idles till September 2021
It was quite a stark realization when the Oregon Symphony sent out a news release recently:
"Oregon Symphony cancels scheduled live concerts through June 14, 2021."
Not that other organizations aren't moving on from 2020 and the first half of 2021, because of the COVID-19 pandemic and government restrictions, but there is something real about seeing the news in a big headline from the Oregon Symphony.
And, June 14 really means September 2021 for its traditional staged events at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. If conditions improve, yes, the symphony could play some outdoor concerts as early as June, but we'll see.
"It's tough," said Scott Showalter, symphony president and CEO. "Our business is predicated on bringing large numbers of people together in confined spaces for a period of time. It's not what we're allowed to do.
"Like everyone, the pandemic has been frustrating for all of us."
Officially, the symphony has not only canceled November, December and early January shows, but now everything from Jan. 9 to June 14. Holiday shows by the symphony, or presented by the symphony, have been canceled. All the great classical and pops concert through the winter have been canceled. All the special guests are not coming to a Portland stage.
The symphony has been aggressive about planning virtual events, including through its Symphony Storytime and Essential Sounds series, but it's not quite the same as hearing the big and bold sounds emanating from the stage at the Schnitz.
And, all the while, the symphony still has been searching for a new music director. It appears as though Carlos Kalmar's nearly 20-year tenure at the helm will end without a signature final concert, although "this is not the last you've seen of Carlos," Showalter said. The next season, the symphony's 125th, will be announced in early 2021 and it could include an appearance by Kalmar.
"We hope we can get more classical programming out digitally (now) to help celebrate Carlos," Showalter said.
The Essential Sounds and Symphony Storytime events are free to the public online.
Essential Sounds celebrates essential workers and is a partnership with NPR. Symphony Storytime helps educate kids at home, and people around the world have tuned in.
"We want to deliver on our mission as much as we can," Showalter said. "Share, heal, unite. It's important for us to give this gift to the world with programming people can enjoy."
Showalter said the symphony received $1.75 million from the state from the CARES Act. It helps an organization with a $22 million annual budget that has been pared to about one-third, to $7 million — or roughly $500,000 per month. There have been furloughs (including of Kalmar) and pay reductions (including of Showalter).
The marketing/ticket team has been kept in place, as well as the development department.
"We are hard at work at future seasons. A lot of work still happens," Showalter said. "We're communicating with patrons and donors requesting donations, and with people about holding tickets for canceled concerts for the future."
A big cost, he added, is health care for everyone — it's about $140,000 per month.
Like others, the symphony strives to hang on. Maybe better news about the COVID-19 pandemic and government restrictions awaits in the future.
"I worry about the institution and industry and individual artists and musicians," Showalter said. "We have to get through this and be able to come back in full force."
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