The website, 24/7 Wall St. — which easily has some of the most annoying pop-up ads, anywhere — has picked the 10 (actually, 11) most cash-strapped classical music groups in America. And, of course, they announce in their headline, “The Death of Classical Music in America.”
The good news, I suppose: None of the groups is in North Texas. The Houston Symphony is, though. The bad new is that an orchestra as established, as revered, as the Philadelphia Symphony, is tops on the list. Even the big names, Jonathan Berr reports, like the Chicago Symphony and the Metropolitan Opera, “have begun to struggle.”
The fundamental reason has little, really, to do with unions or the economy or attacks on federal spending. It’s one that Kennedy Center president Michael Kaiser pointed to during his “Arts in Crisis” Tour that he brought to North Texas in December ’09.
It’s the performing arts’ “unshakable costs vs. their limits on revenue.” It still requires the same number of musicians to play a Beethoven piano sonata as it did 150 years ago. As Berr puts it, a symphony orchestra with only one violinist is not a symphony orchestra. But the musicians’ salaries have certainly increased since then as have other costs, like heat and light.
Meanwhile, the concert halls can’t keep adding more seats, selling more tickets. So costs rise while ticket sales can’t. The solution, so far, has come from increasing ticket prices. But that has had unfortunate consequences. The arts aren’t elitist, Kaiser argued. They’ve just been costing too much for many people to afford.
Also of local interest: The only opera company to make the list is the New York City Opera at #4 — that’s the company that general manager George Steel unceremoniously dumped the Dallas Opera for after only a few months here in 2008.