Milwaukee Symphony Faces 'Possible Extinction' Due to Budget Crisis

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Last year, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra was riding a wave of good reviews and civic pride after it appeared at Carnegie Hall (and on WQXR) as part of the Spring for Music festival. On Friday, the orchestra painted a much gloomier picture: it plans to reduce the size of the ensemble and slash its performance schedule in an effort to address a multimillion-dollar budget deficit in its last fiscal year.

The MSO, billed as the largest cultural organization in Wisconsin, has reported a $2 million budget shortfall in fiscal year 2013, which it blames largely on declining donations. In a press release, the orchestra admitted it is "in danger of running out of money and faces possible extinction if additional pledges cannot be secured to fund the MSO's much more modest, prudent budget and business plan for the future."

The Business Journal of Milwaukee reports that the orchestra had already been downsized from 88 to about 79 members under previous cost-cutting efforts, and it will now be shrunk again by another 11 percent for next season. The MSO has also eliminated seven administration employees, and now has a staff of 30.

The orchestra characterizes the moves as the most extensive restructuring ever conducted by the MSO. The budget will shrink to $15.8 million from $17.9 million a year ago.

The Milwaukee Symphony was founded in 1959 and has had an ambitious profile. It has given more than 100 premieres, including works by Sibelius, Korngold, Glass, Adams and Roy Harris. Its radio broadcasts have been syndicated to some 180 stations nationwide. In 2005 it became the first American orchestra to offer its concert recordings for download through iTunes and other online stores.