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St. Louis Symphony Reports Loss In Revenue During Pandemic, More Philanthropic Support

This photo shows the orchestra in a 2016 performance at Powell Hall.
File Photo
St. Louis Symphony
The orchestra's 2019-20 financial report notes that declining income during the coronavirus pandemic from lost ticket sales, fees, tours and other revenue accounted for the loss.

The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra finished its 2019-20 fiscal year with a balanced budget but reported a $3.2 million loss in earned revenues.

In a financial report released Tuesday, orchestra officials noted that ticket sales, fees, tours and other revenues accounted for the loss. They said the coronavirus pandemic caused the organization to cancel or postpone 59 shows between March and August.

“This pandemic will probably have effects over a three- year period,” SLSO President and CEO Marie-Hélène Bernard said. “The one thing we don't know right now is in terms of audiences, when are people going to be back, and when are people going to have the appetite to be back to concerts and pay for tickets? So we are truly investing in a future where philanthropy continues to have a prominent role.”

About 40% of audience members who purchased tickets and subscriptions donated the ticket value to the orchestra, Bernard said. The organization also drew from its $227 million endowment. Orchestra staff and executives took pay cuts and laid off some seasonal concert staff earlier this year. Staff will continue to take a week of furlough, and the orchestra is taking a salary reduction through early January.

“We've all worked a lot harder and our musicians took a significant salary concession,” Bernard said. “I think we want to be creative about how we see our budget, we have very high fixed expenses, which is not unusual for an orchestra, but how can we use resources and how can we use the power of a society and a community to bring about the story of the orchestra and its impact.”

The SLSO received a Paycheck Protection Program loan of $3.6 million earlier this year. Officials said that helped the organization cover salaries and benefits for its staff.

The report also highlights philanthropic support of $8.06 million, an increase of $500,000 from last year.

Bernard said philanthropy makes up about two-thirds of the organization’s approximately $30 million budget.

The report follows a year of significant changes for the orchestra. Last year was the inaugural season for music director Stéphane Denève. The orchestra introduced new strategies to grow and diversify its audience. It updated the base ticket price of $15 for classical shows, changes that allowed patrons to bring drinks into the concert hall for certain shows. The initiatives were aimed at attracting younger listeners and first-time attendees.

Bernard said those efforts were successful despite the impact of the pandemic. She said the symphony will continue to explore new options for performances.

“If you look at online, social media, other broadcasts, we touched 3 million people,” Bernard said. “So I think there will be definitely continuous exploration into how can we maximize our expenses.”

Orchestra leaders have shifted its performance strategy in recent months to perform concerts while adhering to social distancing guidelines. The orchestra launched its “On the Go” series, half-hour shows performed outdoors around the St. Louis region. The organization has also focused on more online performances. The orchestra will also host its first in-person shows at Powell Hall tonight with new safety procedures and a limit of 100 attendees.

Follow Chad on Twitter @iamcdavis

Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.