Record ticket sales, strong attendance and above-average subscription renewal rates were among the highlights announced Oct. 16 at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association’s annual meeting, held at Buntrock Hall in Symphony Center. Helen Zell, chair of the CSOA Board of Trustees, and CSOA President Jeff Alexander presented artistic and financial highlights of the 2017-18 season, the orchestra’s 127th year.

Though the CSOA posted a deficit of $900,000 on operating expenses of $73.7 million, the loss marked an improvement from fiscal year 2017, with a $1.4 million deficit on operating expenses of $72.2 million.

On the artistic side, achievements and milestones included the extension of Zell Music Director Riccardo Muti’s contract through August 2022, the 60th anniversary of the Chicago Symphony Chorus, three world premieres and two domestic tours.

Also at the annual meeting, eight new CSOA Trustees were elected to three-year terms and officers of the CSOA board were re-elected, including Zell as board chair.

“The 2017-18 season was a wonderful example of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association’s profound impact as a cultural leader,” Zell said. “With artistic excellence as their hallmark, our Zell Music Director Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra continued to serve as ambassadors for the transformative power of music in the City of Chicago and on the U.S. West and East Coasts last season. In January, we were extremely pleased to announce that Riccardo Muti would be extending his contract with us through August 2022, allowing the unique artistic combination of Muti and the musicians of the CSO to reach new artistic heights and levels of influence. Strong support for this great orchestra makes it possible to continue our work to connect audiences in our community, online and across the world with the extraordinary musical resources of the CSO. I would like to express my gratitude to our music director, musicians, patrons, staff, donors and volunteers for their renewed commitment to the CSO during the past year.”

“Throughout the 127th season, Riccardo Muti and our extraordinary musicians demonstrated their exceptional artistry and deep commitment to providing access for all audiences in our community and beyond,” Alexander said. “As our orchestra engages with audiences in a variety of settings I meet individuals from all walks of life who are enriched by our wide range of programs and activities. All of these activities are accomplished through the inspired dedication, artistry and skill of our music director and musicians; the support of our trustees and loyal donors; the continued enthusiasm of our patrons and our staff. I know that this continued partnership will ensure a bright future for our great Chicago Symphony Orchestra.”

The season included 63 sold-out concerts, three world premieres of CSO commissions by Pulitzer Prize-winner Jennifer Higdon, CSO Mead Composer-in-Residence Elizabeth Ogonek and CSO Viola Max Raimi (all led by Muti), subscription concerts marking the 60th anniversary of the Chicago Symphony Chorus and special programs celebrating the 20th season of the MusicNOW contemporary music series.

The CSO’s affinity groups continued to grow, with the CSO’s Latino Alliance increasing its membership by 24 percent to 343 active members, and the African American Network boosting its membership to more than 1,800.

Through its radio broadcasts, recordings, tours and online platforms, the CSO continues to attract an international audience. Last season, digital audiences connected to the CSO via social media platforms in greater numbers. Facebook followers grew to 205,102, an increase of approximately 12 percent. Twitter followers reached 75,000, an increase of 4 percent. Instagram followers grew to more than 66,625, an increase of approximately 25 percent, sparked by a greater volume and variety of content on this popular platform.

The number of CSOA-produced videos also rose last season, expanding to more than 100. The tally included Video Program Notes, introduced last season for virtually all of the CSO’s 32 subscription programs; customized promotional videos for CSO and SCP concert programs, and original interview content with CSO musicians, as well as CSO and SCP guest artists. This expanded collection of video content attracted more than 3 million views on Facebook in 2017-18. In addition, the CSO’s 2015 performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, led by Muti, surpassed 13 million views on YouTube by season’s end.

Among other highlights reported at the annual meeting:

Ticket sales and earned revenue for FY 2o18 (ending June 30)

  • Ticket sales totaled nearly $23.3 million, marking a $1.1 million increase over the 2016-17 season for CSOA-presented events. More than 347,000 tickets were sold for 219 ticketed concerts. Ticket sales included 63 sold-out concerts and record ticket revenues for the CSO at the Movies series of $561,000, a 21 percent increase from the previous year.
  • The CSO Main series subscription renewal rate for the CSO Main Series was 86 percent, one of the highest tallies for a major U.S. orchestra.
  • Additional revenue of $10.2 million included tour fees, merchandise sales, space rentals, royalties, recording fees and miscellaneous activities.
  • Revenue from the CSO’s annual three-concert series at Wheaton College grew by 12 percent to $308,000 and attracted 1,402 subscribers representing an 4 percent increase from the previous season. The series also included a sold-out performance on March 16 led by Muti.
  • Approximately 437,000 people attended CSOA performances and presentations at Symphony Center and in other venues in the greater Chicago area last season including Edman Memorial Chapel at Wheaton College and St. Sabina Church. There were 224 free events that included CSO open rehearsals for students, seniors and community groups; All-Access chamber music concerts at Symphony Center and in three venues on Chicago’s South Side; Chicago Youth in Music Festival events; partnership events with Chicago Public Schools; and programs for at-risk and incarcerated youth as well as the annual free CSO Community Concert at Lane Tech High School in Chicago’s Roscoe Village neighborhood; Civic Orchestra of Chicago performances and chamber music performances by CSO and Civic musicians in neighborhoods across the city.

(* Figures exclude CSO concerts at Ravinia Festival or on tour anywhere outside the Chicago area.)

Contributed revenue, endowment and assets

  • Operating revenues totaled $72.7 million, with operating expenses totaling $73.7 million, resulting in an operating deficit of $0.9 million, an improvement of more than $0.5 million over fiscal year 2017.
  • Support for general operating, endowment, future-year operating support and unrealized commitments totaled $42.7 million. The value of endowment investments increased to $303 million.
  • General operating support to the CSO was $24.5 million. This total included approximately $17.3 million in gifts from individuals, more than $4.6 million from corporate sponsorships and partnerships, more than $2 million in grants from foundations and government agencies, and $500,000 from unrestricted bequests in direct support of the CSO’s operations.
  •  Total assets were $508.8 million, and net assets were $291.2 million.
  •  Nearly 11,000 individuals gave monetary support to the CSO. Of those, 9,284 contributed to unrestricted support, and 2,708 individuals contributed to the CSOA for the first time.

Attendance

  • Approximately 437,000 people attended CSOA performances and presentations at Symphony Center and in other venues in the greater Chicago area last season, including Edman Memorial Chapel at Wheaton College and St. Sabina Church. There were 224 free events that included CSO open rehearsals for students, seniors and community groups; All-Access Chamber Music concerts at Symphony Center and in three venues on Chicago’s South Side; Chicago Youth in Music Festival events; partnership events with Chicago Public Schools, and programs for at-risk and incarcerated youth, as well as the annual free CSO Community Concert, last season at Lane Tech High School in Lake View; Civic Orchestra of Chicago performances, and chamber music performances by CSO and Civic musicians in neighborhoods across the city.
  • The CSOA presented 443 programs including concerts, community events and educational activities with the number of free programs growing to 224, up from 200 last year.

Artistic achievements

In remarks that recapped last season’s artistic highlights, Alexander emphasized the impact of Muti-conducted programs featuring diverse repertoire by composers such as Bruckner, Cherubini, Copland, Dvořák, Mozart, Penderecki, Rossini, Schubert, Shostakovich and Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer George Walker (1922-2018), as well as world premieres of new music by Jennifer Higdon, CSO Mead Composer-in-Residence Elizabeth Ogonek and CSO violist Max Raimi.

  • The CSO presented the world premiere of Ogonek’s All These Lighted Things, which also was featured on the orchestra’s tour programs in Kansas City and on the West Coast in October 2017. The fall tour included the orchestra’s debut at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.
  • The world-premiere performances of the CSO’s co-commissioned Low Brass Concerto by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Jennifer Higdon in February featured the orchestra’s extraordinary  low brass section including Principal Trombone Jay Friedman, trombone Michael Mulcahy, bass trombone Charlie Vernon and Principal Tuba Gene Pokorny. These Muti-led concerts were followed by additional performances at Carnegie Hall and in venues in Florida and North Carolina as part of the CSO’s critically hailed East Coast Tour, featuring the orchestra’s first appearance in Washington, D.C., at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts since 2005. Performances in Florida marked the first of the orchestra’s multi-year commitment to return to communities in Naples and West Palm Beach.
  • To mark the 60th anniversary of the Chicago Symphony Chorus, Muti led performances of significant choral repertoire such as Schubert’s Mass No. 6 in E-flat and season-finale performances of Rossini’s Stabat mater, the CSO’s first performances of the landmark work since 1972 in Orchestra Hall. The Rossini program featured internationally acclaimed soloists including Krassimira Stoyanova, Dmitry Korchak, Eric Owens and Ekaterina Gubanova.
  • As co-curators of MusicNOW, Samuel Adams and Elizabeth Ogonek completed their three-year tenure with a special celebration of the series’ 20th season. Launching with an season-opening concert that featured works by seven of the CSO’s composers-in-residence, the series went on to present the world premiere of American composer Amy Beth Kirsten’s Savior, inspired by the life and death of Joan of Arc.

Election of CSOA Trustees, Governing Members and Officers

Eight new CSOA Trustees were elected to three-year terms: Peter J. Barack, founding and senior partner in Barack Ferrazzano Kirschbaum & Nagelberg LLP; H. Rigel Barber, executive vice president and chief executive officer of JMP Realty Corp.; Timothy A. Duffy, attorney at the law office of Timothy A. Duffy, P.C., and vice president of CeresNexus LLC; J. Bradley Fewell, senior vice president of security, regulatory affairs and general counsel at Exelon Generation; Graham C. Grady, partner at Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP; Dr. Randall S. Kroszner, the Norman R. Bobins Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business; Dr. Mohan Rao, chief executive officer of Epsilon Economics LLC; Daniel E. Sullivan Jr., managing director, head of private banking, CIBC Private Wealth Management.

  •  Two CSOA Life Trustees were also elected: Joyce Taglauer Green, philanthropist and co-founder of the Judson and Joyce Green Center for the Performing Arts, DePauw University, and David Hackett, partner, Baker & McKenzie, LLP.
  •  Seventeen Trustees were re-elected to additional three-year terms, and 43 new Governing Members were installed. Special acknowledgement was given to 30 individuals with 30 years or more of service on the CSOA Board of Trustees.
  •  Elected as officers of the CSOA were Helen Zell, chair; Mary Louise Gorno, Robert A. Kohl and Liisa Thomas, vice chairs, and James W. Mabie, treasurer.
  •  A moment of silence was observed for CSOA Trustees who died during the 2017-18 season: Cherif Bassiouni and Richard L. Gray.