Standing Strong

As we promote live music, hope beats fear

Volume 114, No. 12December, 2014

Bruce Ridge
CLASSICAL MUSIC ON THE RISE: The Houston Symphony recently raised over $2.5 million in one evening on the heels of consecutive years of record-breaking fundraising. Photo: Jeff Fitlow

CLASSICAL MUSIC ON THE RISE: The Houston Symphony recently raised over $2.5 million in one evening on the heels of consecutive years of record-breaking fundraising. Photo: Jeff Fitlow

In my opening address to the annual meeting of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians in Los Angeles this past August, I noted that for the first time in several years we were commencing our discussions on a day on which no orchestra was locked out. But I also noted that we didn’t know what would happen even in the next few weeks.

But, truth be told, we did know. The great musicians of the Atlanta Symphony were locked out on Sept. 1 in a move that was easy to anticipate in light of the posturing of their management. In recent years, other orchestras have faced this same destructive strategy, as the Indianapolis Symphony, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and the Minnesota Orchestra were also egregiously locked out. The Minnesota Orchestra lockout lasted 16 months in what was the most shocking display of irresponsibility on the part of any orchestra’s board and management in history.

What made the Atlanta lockout so shocking and difficult to comprehend was that it marked the second time in two years that the management deployed this reckless option. The musicians agreed to substantial cuts the first time, but the management wanted even more and they were willing to put the future of the orchestra and classical music in Atlanta at risk in order to extract more pain from their musicians.

If you listen to the pervasive din of negative rhetoric that permeates the press coverage of our orchestras, you might think that classical music is indeed doomed. That is the easy story that reporters love to write, isn’t it? Why research facts when you can copy the headlines of others, even though these reports have been proven false for decades.

A deeper look reveals that, in fact, great things are happening for our orchestras. Consider what has happened since the end of our conference in late August alone:

  • The San Antonio Symphony celebrated its 75th anniversary by moving into its new concert hall after closing its fiscal year with a surplus and receiving a $1 million gift.
  • The Chicago Symphony 125th anniversary gala raised $1.5 million even as the orchestra reported a fourth year of record sales and fundraising.
  • The Detroit Symphony reported that annual giving has surpassed the goal of $17.4 million.
  • The Grand Rapids Symphony received a $1 million gift for its endowment
  • The Lyric Opera of Chicago’s 60th Anniversary Concert and Diamond Ball raised $3.2 million.

All of this good news follows a much longer list of positive events from the past season:

  • The Indianapolis Symphony saw a 19 percent surge in ticket sales with an increase of 30 percent in subscription sales.
  • The Cleveland Orchestra announced a balanced budget, growing audiences, an increased endowment, and a record number of student attendees.
  • The Florida Orchestra saw an increase in attendance of 30 percent.
  • The Houston Symphony’s gala raised over $2.5 million in one evening for education programs on the heels of consecutive years of record-breaking fundraising.
  • The New York City Ballet’s spring gala celebrated 50 years at Lincoln Center and raised over $3 million.
  • The Milwaukee Symphony reached a goal of $5 million from new donors.
  • The Cincinnati Symphony’s endowment has grown by 43 percent and the number of gifts has increased by 94 percent, leading to a double-digit increase in attendance.
  • The Buffalo Philharmonic saw an 11.9 percent surge in contributions, endowment growth of 7.7 percent, and an increase in ticket sales with records set for subscriptions.

And as the value of the arts in education is gaining greater recognition, New York City increased funding for arts in the public schools by $23 million, and is expected to hire 120 additional arts teachers.

But serious problems continue to arise. The great musicians of the Atlanta Symphony were locked out for over two months. And internationally, our friends in Europe face similar difficulties. The Rome Opera has disgracefully fired its musicians and singers, the Ulster Orchestra fights for its existence, and additional problems face other European orchestras.

So what can we do, and what must we do? We must become the most ardent advocates for music the world has ever seen, and we must use our unifying friendships to assist our friends and colleagues as we work tirelessly to change the self-fulfilling negative messages that dominate the media. The theme of our 2014 ICSOM conference was “The Art of Advocacy,” and we must practice that art as diligently as we practice the art of music.

Here are actions that we can, and must take:


The response to ICSOM’s call to action to assist the locked-out musicians of the Atlanta Symphony was tremendous, and followed other successful calls to action to assist musicians in Jacksonville, Detroit, St. Paul, Minnesota, Honolulu, Columbus, Syracuse and Louisville since we initiated the program in 2007. As uplifting as the response to these calls to action has been, we nonetheless hope we never have to issue another. But we know we will, and we know we must remain prepared to support any musician in need.


ICSOM has a partnership with the excellent lobbying group Americans for the Arts. Its vice president of research and policy, Randy Cohen, addressed the attendees at our Los Angeles conference. You can join their Arts Action Fund free of charge by visiting This will allow you all to participate in their substantial advocacy efforts.


We just wrapped up another International Orchestra Week (Nov. 17 to Nov. 23), as proclaimed by our friends at the International Federation of Musicians. The message of fighting what they call “cultural vandalism” must continue, and we encourage you to visit There, you can sign the petition to say no to the dismantling of symphony and opera orchestras.


We all must stay in touch with developments in our field, and we invite you to follow ICSOM’s message of advocacy through several sources.

This is not a time to feel darkness for the world. This is a time for all of us to bring light to the souls who we know are burdened. It is not too trite to say, “We are the music makers and we are the dreamers of dreams.” We must not doubt ourselves, or allow negative voices to influence us.

We must never be defined or changed by those whom we do not respect. It is crucial that we all allow ourselves to recall the amazement we felt when we were learning music for the first time, and when we knew nothing of the negativity that sometimes surrounds our field.

We will greet any doubts with a unified message of hope. We will stand in favor of any positive message, and we will continue to care for each other as the united network of friends that we are.

Bassist Bruce Ridge is the chair of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians. His opening address can be found at