New York Philharmonic cancels season because of coronavirus

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New York Philharmonic cancels season because of coronavirus
Jaap van Zweden leads the New York Philharmonic at David Geffen Hall in New York, Dec. 5, 2019. The New York Philharmonic canceled the remainder of its season on Monday, March 23, 2020, bowing to the reality that the coronavirus pandemic will silence large-scale performances in the city for months to come. Karsten Moran/The New York Times.

by Zachary Woolfe

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- The New York Philharmonic canceled the remainder of its season Monday, bowing to the reality that the coronavirus pandemic will silence large-scale performances in the city for months to come.

The orchestra said that it was anticipating a loss of roughly $10 million in revenue because of the decision, and that its endowment had declined by about 14% since the crisis began.

“There’s nothing I can compare this to,” Deborah Borda, the Philharmonic’s president and chief executive, said in an interview. “The human toll and the possible economic ramifications are simply stunning, and they’re simply not known yet. We don’t have a playbook for this. We’re inventing it as we go along.”

In canceling the season, which was to have run through the second week of June and included a European tour in the beginning of May, the Philharmonic said that its musicians’ health benefits would be maintained through the end of their current contract, in September.

But pay will be reduced in stages. The musicians will earn their full salaries through March, then receive the orchestra’s base pay (roughly $3,000 per week) in April and 75% of that amount (about $2,200 per week) in May. They and the Philharmonic will meet as conditions progress to determine compensation for June and beyond.

“We don’t know what this is going to look like,” said trombonist Colin Williams, the chairman of the musicians’ negotiating committee. “Everything changes every 12 hours. So we’re going to have to get together and reassess.”

“We’re all coming together in this unprecedented situation to make sure the institution is as insulated as possible,” he added. “But we’re very grateful for the leadership of Deborah Borda and the board that they’re trying to take care of the musicians.”

Borda said that the relatively small size of the orchestra made it possible to maintain wages, even if reduced — compared with far larger organizations like the Metropolitan Opera, which will not compensate its unionized orchestra, chorus and stagehands after this month, beyond health benefits.

“The orchestra is our family,” Borda said. “It’s 100 people. It’s a different situation than the Met, which has close to 1,000 union employees.”

She said the orchestra would be working this week on a plan to further reduce operating costs, including potential pay cuts for senior management and administrative staff. Asked about the possibility of administration layoffs, she said: “I have not finalized that plan yet. The Philharmonic will reopen, and we need to have staff to execute that and put up the fall season.”

She added that the orchestra would encourage patrons not to seek refunds for their tickets to canceled performances, which add up to about $1 million in revenue. The Philharmonic is also turning to the challenge of preserving sales for next season, which it said had been strong before the outbreak.

“We’ll do all right at fundraising,” Borda said. “Of course we’ll take some hits. But I’m more concerned about: Will people buy tickets for next fall?”

As part of their agreement with management, the musicians gave broad permission for the dissemination of archival recordings, which will be available through a new portal, NY Phil Plays On ( And every Thursday evening, a past performance will be streamed on Facebook.

Borda was pessimistic about the fate of the Philharmonic’s outdoor concerts in city parks, scheduled for June, as well as its planned tour of China in the beginning of July, though neither has been canceled. More plausible, though still uncertain, are the orchestra’s performances at the Bravo! Vail Music Festival in Colorado, scheduled for late July.

The pandemic’s economic repercussions arrive at a delicate moment, as the Philharmonic and Lincoln Center proceed with long-delayed plans to renovate David Geffen Hall, the orchestra’s home. The project is expected to cost $550 million, of which nearly $200 million remains to be raised, and construction is scheduled to begin in May 2022. Borda said that meetings about the renovation had continued this month.

“We’re going to come through this,” she said. “I don’t see a doom-and-gloom future.”

© 2020 The New York Times Company

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