Strong ticket sales, attendance and subscription renewal rates were among the highlights announced Nov. 1 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 2016-17 season, the 126th year for the CSO.

The CSOA reported a deficit of $1.4 million on operating expenses of $72.2 million during the fiscal year of July 1, 2016, to June 30, up from the previous fiscal year’s surplus of $436,000 on operating expenses of $71.5 million. (The adoption of an accounting rule change led to the CSOA’s posting of a slight surplus, instead of an originally announced deficit of $1.1 million for the previous fiscal year.)

“The orchestra’s 126th season reminded us that the language of music is universal, and the voice of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra speaks volumes,” said CSOA Board Chair Helen Zell in her prepared remarks. “[Music Director] Riccardo Muti is a leader who champions the transformative power of music. He imparts that fervor to the members of the orchestra, who in turn communicate that energy to our audiences at home and abroad. Our work continues in order to ensure that that the voice of the CSO can impact the lives of individuals, our community and the world.”

“Receiving exceptional critical accolades for their 60th international tour to seven European cities and enthusiastic applause from audiences at Symphony Center as well as venues on Chicago’s South Side and in the western suburbs, Muti and the orchestra continue to share music making at the highest artistic level, all the while maintaining a deep commitment to providing access to all audiences,” 
said CSOA President Jeff Alexander.

Among the stand-out ticketing achievements were the CSO’s new Wheaton College and CSO at the Movies series. Introduced in fall 2016, the three-concert series at Wheaton College’s Edman Memorial Chapel attracted 1,361 subscribers in its first year; the March concert with Muti and guest pianist Mitsuko Uchida sold out. The CSO at the Movies series (featuring “E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial,” “Amadeus” and “Psycho”) achieved record ticket revenue of $465,000, a 12 percent increase over the previous year. In addition, the CSO Main series recorded a subscription renewal rate of 90 percent, among the highest for a major U.S. orchestra.

Artistic highlights were many, beginning with the finale of the CSO’s celebration of its 125th anniversary with a re-creation of its first concerts in 1891. The CSO offered nine world-premiere works at its CSO Main and MusicNOW series, including Carl Vine’s Five Hallucinations for Trombone and Orchestra, Mead Composer-in-Residence Samuel Adams’ many words of love and Melinda Wagner’s Proceed, Moon. The CSO also gave its first performances of Catalani’s Contemplazione, Prokofiev’s Ivan the Terrible and the Prologue to Boito’s Mefistofele, as well as the U.S. premiere of Stravinsky’s newly rediscovered Funeral Song. Additionally, the CSO presented complete cycles of Brahms’ four symphonies and Beethoven’s five piano concertos.

In January, Muti and the CSO undertook a seven-city, 11-concert European tour (the CSO’s 60th international trip). The tour included debut appearances for Muti and the CSO at the Philharmonie de Paris, Teatro alla Scala in Milan and Hamburg’s new Elbphilharmonie in a concert that represented the first performance by a foreign ensemble in the venue’s grand-opening week. Additional stops were made in Aalborg, Denmark; Frankfurt and Baden-Baden, Germany, and Vienna.

At the annual meeting, Zell also recognized two special guests in attendance: Lady Valerie Solti, an honorary CSOA Trustee and the widow of the CSO’s eighth music director, Sir Georg Solti, and Linda Wolfe, granddaughter of Frederick Stock, the CSO’s second music director. The meeting concluded with a performance by CSO violinists Simon and Matous Michal, accompanied by pianist Patrick Godon, in Shostakovich’s Five Pieces for Violin and Piano.

Also at the meeting, the CSOA announced:

• Ticket sales of nearly $22.2 million, with more than 348,000 tickets sold for 221 CSOA-presented concerts.

• Additional revenue of $9 million from tour fees, merchandise sales, space rentals, royalties, recording fees and miscellaneous activities.

• Total attendance of 426,000 for CSOA performances and events at Symphony Center and other area venues. In addition, the CSOA offered 200 free concerts and events, many supported by the CSO’s Negaunee Music Institute, including open rehearsals, chamber-music concerts, school concerts, Civic Orchestra concerts and the annual community concert (last season, at the Apostolic Church of God on the South Side).

• Over-all contributed revenue of approximately $31.5 million.

• General operating support of $25.2 million, including approximately $17.1 million in individual gifts, $3.3 million in corporate sponsorships and partnerships, and more than $1.8 million in foundation and government grants.

• Operating revenues of $70.8 million, with operating expenses at $72.2 million, resulting in an operating deficit of $1.4 million, or 1.9 percent of operations.

• The endowment increased to $292 million, up from $271 million.

• Total assets of $500 million and net assets of $267 million, up from $489 million and $247 million.

• Charitable donations by more than 12,040 individuals, with 8,972 of that total supporting the CSOA’s Annual Fund.

• First-time donations by nearly 3,263 individuals, while 1,731 lapsed donors returned to the rolls.

Election of CSOA Trustees, Governing Members and Officers

• 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.

• Six were newly elected to three-year terms as CSOA Trustees: Leslie Henner Burns, former futures trader at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange; Christopher L. Culp, senior adviser at Compass Lexecon; Donna Kendall, philanthropist and former fashion designer; James P. Kolar, PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Central Market managing partner; Renée Metcalf, market executive of Illinois Middle Market for Bank of America, and Mary Pivirotto Murley, volunteer and philanthropist.

• Four individuals were newly elected as CSOA Life Trustees: William “Bill” Adams IV, recently retired co-president of Nuveen; Robert A. Kohl, president of Robert Kohl Co.; John F. Manley, private investor, and David E. McNeel, senior adviser at PrivateBank.

• Nine trustees were re-elected to additional three-year terms, and 38 new Governing Members were installed. Special acknowledgement was given to 28 individuals who have served on the CSOA Board of Trustees for 30 years or more.

• In memoriam: A moment of silence was observed for trustees who passed away during the 2016-17 season: Melvyn E. Bergstein, W. Robert Reum and John M. Richman.

TOP: Helen Zell, chair of the CSOA Board of Trustees, thanks donors and patrons at a reception held after last year’s annual meeting. | ©Todd Rosenberg 2016