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August 5, 2009

Houston Symphony takes its recession hits, too

Here we go again. The whole Houston Symphony Orchestra -- staff and musicians -- goes on furlough next week to save money. Various other cost-cutting measures will go into effect there as well, including the extraordinary step of leaving the concertmaster vacancy unfilled, the Houston Chronicle reports.

As you will recall, when the Baltimore Symphony announced its pay cuts and furloughs, some of the blame was placed on the drop in endowment value, caused when investment markets began their steep decline. When you lose something like $20 million in endowment value, you're talking big trouble. That's the situation being faced by the BSO, Houston Symphony and others. The change in endowment means that the annual draw (usually five percent) that nonprofits count on either yields much less than anticipated a year earlier, when the budgets are put together, or, worse, yields zero (the value of the BSO's endowment, at about $38 million, is officially underwater -- below the original dollar value of contributions -- and no draw can be taken).

It doesn't look like things are going to improve anytime soon, unless Wall Street suddenly experiences a historic boom to counter its historic descent. I imagine we'll be seeing lots of soul-searching, not to mention game- and model-changing, at orchestras and opera companies everywhere in the months ahead.

Posted by Tim Smith at 10:42 AM | | Comments (1)


Wow: _not_ selecting a concertmaster is almost a bigger problem than having no music director or principal conductor (look at the 3-headed system in Chicago for this and the last 2 seasons [post-Barenboim], though one must admit that's a pretty darn good hydra they have running the show! ;^), because stability at that position is what defines great orchestras (e.g., Cleveland, Wien, Amsterdam, NYPhil, Philly, etc.). Now that we've been graced with the exceptional Jonathan Carney (who, of course, came from the same job with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra) for a while, could you possibly imagine the BSO _without_ him??? This will have to be faced eventually, but we're darn spoiled for now!

(Houston's "rival" in football, Dallas, has the outstanding Jaap Van Zweden as their new director, and he was the chief concertmaster of the Concertgebouw for about 15 years.)

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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