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New York Philharmonic cancels 2020-21 season over Covid-19
Outside of David Geffen Hal in New York, March 12, 2020. Adding to this growing sense that the resumption of large-scale performing arts in New York, and throughout much of the nation, is still almost a year away, the New York Philharmonic on Tuesday, Oct. 13, announced the cancellation of its concerts through June. Vincent Tullo/The New York Times.

by Zachary Woolfe

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- The Metropolitan Opera will remain closed because of the coronavirus pandemic at least until September. The Broadway League’s president has likewise said “people’s bets are the fall of next year” for a reopening of theaters.

Adding to this growing sense that the resumption of large-scale performing arts in New York, and throughout much of the nation, is still almost a year away, the New York Philharmonic on Tuesday announced the cancellation of its concerts through June.

“It is really fair to say that in the 178-year history of the Philharmonic, this is the single biggest crisis,” Deborah Borda, the orchestra’s president and chief executive, said in an interview.

The halt in performances since mid-March has exposed the Philharmonic, like other arts organizations dependent on ticket sales, to a devastating drop in revenue. Borda said the orchestra would have a deficit of approximately $10 million for the fiscal year that ended in August. The orchestra, which canceled its fall concerts in June, said it anticipated losing about $20 million in ticket revenue for the 2020-21 season, and has laid off approximately half its administrative staff. Those who remain and earn over $100,000 have had their salaries cut by up to 30%.

The Philharmonic’s contract with its musicians expired last month. As negotiations on a new contract continue, the players are earning what they have since May — about $2,200 per week, or 75% of the orchestra’s base pay — but with a new wrinkle: Those who earned more than base pay now also receive 35% of their “overscale,” or amount above the base.

In the absence of a comprehensive national approach to the virus, the orchestral landscape, like most aspects of life, has been subject to the patchwork of restrictions imposed by state and local governments. For example, a significant portion of the Cleveland Orchestra has been able to gather to play indoors without an audience, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic has come together outdoors at the Hollywood Bowl to tape programs for streaming. The Dallas and Houston symphonies have appeared indoors in front of small, socially distanced crowds. But the New York Philharmonic has not been permitted to gather at anything approaching full complement to perform outdoors or create streaming content.

“We’re hopeful to see major progress in the winter,” Borda said. “If we can bring the musicians together in a sizable unit, that will be tremendous progress.”

The orchestra said it would announce a series of streamed, prerecorded small-ensemble performances at a later date. The NY Phil Bandwagon — a rented pickup truck that has appeared throughout the city for pop-up chamber concerts since August — will return in the spring.

Perhaps most tantalizing is the possibility that the enforced pause in performances at David Geffen Hall could allow the long-delayed effort to renovate the hall to be fast-tracked. The project is expected to cost $550 million, of which nearly $200 million remains to be raised, and construction had been scheduled to begin in May 2022.

“Like everything today, it’s complicated,” Borda said. “But I remain highly optimistic. The partnership between Lincoln Center and the New York Philharmonic is operating at the highest level one can imagine. If anything positive can come out of this crisis, it may be that we can move ahead on plans that have been percolating since the early ’90s. By the end of the year we’ll have an announcement.”

© 2020 The New York Times Company

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