The Nashville Symphony is canceling its upcoming season and furloughing staff and musicians after a tough year caused by the coronavirus.
The move will suspend concerts and event activity until July 31, 2021, and furlough 79 musicians at the start of this July.
In April, the symphony cut staff and musician pay by 25%, before receiving CARES Act funding that allowed the organization to restore employees to their normal rates.
“This was an extremely difficult and painful decision to make,” says board chair Mark Peacock. “The Nashville Symphony’s management and board of directors have been exploring every available option to ensure the long-term sustainability of the institution.”
Previously, national health experts warned that it could take at least one to two years before it would be safe to perform live concerts in front of large audiences again.
But even if the symphony were able to resume operations before next summer, they’d still need to implement aggressive social distancing protocols.
“If we are to resume concert activity any earlier than expected, we are going to need enormous flexibility to experiment with new concert formats, social distancing in the hall and other safety measures, as we find our way into the ‘new normal,’ ” says Alan D. Valentine, CEO of the Nashville Symphony.
Valentine says the organization maintains a $1.2 million monthly payroll, and that it would be impossible to maintain due to its current loss of revenue. The Symphony was forced to cancel more than 65 concerts and events since early March — the organization projected a 30% loss in annual revenue. The Symphony says ticket holders will be able to keep their existing seats for the postponed season, and will be contacted in the coming weeks.
“Our orchestra has experienced many challenges over the years, including the Great Recession of 2008, the catastrophic Nashville flood of 2010 and a subsequent restructuring in 2013,” says Valentine. “As we re-emerged from these challenges, we have become a stronger, more resilient and innovative organization.”
Still, it’s hard for musicians to find the sliver lining in the situation.
“I’ve spent my life perfecting what I do and making Nashville my home,” says Melinda Whitley, a Symphony violinist, who is also the chair of the orchestra committee. “For COVID to do what it has done to the industry, it’s pretty earth-shattering for me.”
Whitley says there were ongoing conversations about the possibility of long-term furloughs, but the reality of suspending concerts was a tough pill to swallow. She got the news just after the board of directors voted to make the decision.
Symphony leaders say they’ll be covering the cost of insurance for employees through the end of the year, but Whitley says her financial situation is now in limbo. She’s also concerned that she won’t be eligible for the boost in unemployment benefits provided by the CARES Act.
“Like every professional orchestra around the world, we are facing unprecedented challenges due to the pandemic. Because of the nature of our industry and of our venue, we are likely to be among the last to return to work,” says Whitley.
Meanwhile, Nashville Musicians Association President Dave Pomeroy says the union will be ready to get the orchestra back to work when the time comes.
“These world-class musicians are facing enormous challenges during these unprecedented times and need all the assistance we can provide,” says Pomeroy. “This will not be easy, but we will pull together to survive this and come back even stronger with the help of our supportive community.”