Timeline: Nashville Symphony’s Money Ups And Downs

The NSO began raising funds to build Schermerhorn Symphony Center less than a decade after emerging from bankruptcy, and the building sustained millions of dollars in flood damage just a few years after opening. Credit: Nina Cardona/WPLN

The NSO began raising funds to build Schermerhorn Symphony Center less than a decade after emerging from bankruptcy. The building sustained millions of dollars in flood damage just a few years after opening. Credit: Nina Cardona/WPLN

Nashville Symphony’s creditors have reportedly taken the first steps toward foreclosure. In March, the orchestra’s board announced it would not renew its letter of credit, hoping instead to restructure the organization’s debt. Now, the Nashville Business Journal reports Bank of America has appointed a successor trustee for the loan on Schermerhorn Symphony Center.

The current financial problems are not the symphony’s first. Here’s a look back at previous storms the NSO has weathered:

1945 The current iteration of Nashville Symphony Orchestra is founded. An earlier ensemble had disbanded during World War II. For three and a half decades, the group was primarily made up of musicians whose main source of income came from another job, such as teaching school music classes. In the 1980s, the symphony’s board of directors decided it was time to transition into from that “nighttime” orchestra (meaning the rehearsals were held at night to accommodate player’s day jobs) to a “daytime” one (rehearsals would be held during the day, making the symphony the musician’s primary employment)

1980 Performances move from War Memorial Auditorium to the new Tennessee Performing Arts Center.

1981 Musicians and board call in federal mediator after three contract offers were rejected.

1981 24 full time musicians

1985 Musicians strike for two months before agreeing to a contract that nearly doubles musician salaries over course of four years.

 1986 47 full time musicians

 1987 Contentious union negotiations coincide with a fundraising effort that promises a slowdown of pay raises–and the stock market’s Black Monday crash

 1987 70 full time musicians

1988 – February The concert season shuts down early and and the entire musical staff (including Schermerhorn) is laid off. The symphony board contends the only other way to escape a projected $900,000 shortfall would be to slash pay by half. The orchestra’s musicians accuse the board of inadequate fundraising efforts and exaggeration.

1988 – June Symphony files Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

1988 - November The concert season opens late after a contract agreement is reached. Both musicians and the symphony’s administration take pay cuts, but none so deep that musicians can’t survive without a day job. Musician representatives are made a part of the board.

1993 Amy Grant’s first Tennessee Christmas concert with the NSO at Grand Ole Opry House raises $250,000 for the orchestra. In subsequent years, the concert tours cities on Grant’s dime, complete with double scale pay for musicians.

1995 Bankruptcy ends.

1996 73 musicians, including 56 full-time at base salary of $21,441

1998 Start of $10 million endowment campaign which far outperforms the goal, eventually raising $25.5 million.

1999 86 full time musicians

2000 First of 19 recordings for Naxos, which have netted 14 Grammy nominations and 7 wins.

2001 Start of capital campaign to raise funds for a symphony-owned performance facility. “A Time for Greatness” raises $123 million, $3 million more than its goal.

2006 Schermerhorn Symphony Center opens. In addition to the cash raised, the orchestra paid for the building with a $102 million bond issue.

2006 82 full-time musicians at base salary of $42,183

2010 5.25 million gallons of floodwaters gushes into Schermerhorn Symphony Hall, completely filling the basement where valuable pianos were stored and doing roughly $40 million in damage. All combined, insurance and FEMA funds covered $34 million.

2010 – December 31 The orchestra returns the Schermerhorn with a New Year’s Eve concert. Over the previous eight months, the ensemble continued to perform in other locations around the city, but there was a complete stop to the organization’s other source of income, renting out all or part of the building for events like concerts, weddings, and luncheons.

 2013 – March Symphony board announces decision not to renew letter of credit, instead choosing to try and restructure its debt.


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