Memphis Symphony Prepares to 'Wind Down' Operations

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The 1950s were a musical heyday for Memphis, TN, giving rise to the careers of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Roy Orbison, among other pioneers who recorded for the legendary Sun Records and Stax labels.

But there was another musical upstart that became cultural force in the city: the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, founded in 1952. Now, the orchestra has declared that it will “wind down” its operations at the end of the season, after several years of sluggish box-office sales, a drop in giving, and an endowment hit hard by the 2008 stock market collapse.

The Associated Press reports that orchestra’s board has approved a resolution to either radically restructure or more likely, close down, barring a massive funding infusion. The symphony, whose music director is Mei-Ann Chen, has already cut staff jobs and slashed productions in recent years.

The symphony on Sunday announced that it has received a $100,000 gift, which will do much to help the organization get through the season, but the scenario remains dire.

“We look at other communities who have faced the same or similar challenges we are now facing – financial uncertainty, lower ticket sales, changing trends in how people consume music,” Memphis Symphony Orchestra President and CEO Roland Valliere told the Memphis Business Journal. “But orchestras in some of these communities have regrouped, rebuilt and re-launched classical music in ways that are both sustainable and meet the unique needs of their communities. We believe that Memphis can do this, as well."

The orchestra's struggles come less than a year after the Nashville Symphony faced a severe financial crisis.