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Thursday February 4, 2021

Minnesota Orchestra Shares Artistic Highlights and Operating Results for 2019-20 Season

In “a season like no other,” the Orchestra kept music alive, advanced innovative digital initiatives and reinvented programming to connect with audiences during the pandemic

With approximately one third of ticketed concerts canceled due to the pandemic, the Orchestra posts a deficit for Fiscal 2020

Joseph T. Green succeeds Margaret A. Bracken as board chair

View Year-in-Review Video, Impact Report and Annual Report

The Minnesota Orchestra today released its operating results for the fiscal year ending August 31, 2020, marking the milestones of a memorable season, spanning September 2019 to August 2020, in which the Orchestra shared the stage with South Africa’s Gauteng Choristers in a fall 2019 choral collaboration led by Music Director Osmo Vänskä; toured to Midwestern universities in the winter; shifted its performances entirely into the digital sphere when the pandemic struck in the spring; performed a series of outdoor, physically-distanced chamber music concerts in the summer; and struggled alongside members of the community in anger, grief and self-reflection after the killing of George Floyd.

With approximately one third of the Orchestra’s Fiscal 2020 revenue-producing concerts and its largest annual fundraising event, the Symphony Ball, cancelled due to the pandemic, the organization posted a deficit of $11.7 million, following the completion of its annual audit.

“It was a great honor for me to serve our Orchestra during this historic time,” said Board Chair Margaret A. Bracken. “Similar to performing arts organizations across the country, our Orchestra was deeply impacted by restrictions around group gatherings due to the pandemic. We are fortunate to have both the organizational resiliency and a financial plan in place to see the Orchestra through to the other side of the pandemic when we’ll be thrilled to welcome audiences back to Orchestra Hall.”  Bracken concluded her two-year term as chair at the Orchestra’s January annual board meeting; her successor is Joseph T. Green, executive vice president, general counsel and secretary for TCF Financial, who joined the Orchestra board in 2014.

“The Board is grateful that every member of the organization—musicians, staff, Music Director Osmo Vänskä, and President and CEO Michelle Miller Burns—recognize the unprecedented challenges and have taken temporary salary cuts to help protect the institution through the pandemic,” said Green. “It has also been inspiring to see our organization face this year with creativity and flexibility. Instead of being silenced by COVID-19, at each shifting stage of the pandemic, the Orchestra has identified new ways to connect with audiences and the larger community to live out its missionand this continues to be our goal in Fiscal 2021.”

Said President and CEO Michelle Miller Burns, “It is the extraordinary support of our community that is lifting the Orchestra in this time of crisis. Donors who are increasing their giving, and audience members who are donating or banking their tickets for the future are keeping our operation moving forward. This has been a season like no other, where we have grappled with and prioritized how to better work towards racial justice in our organization and sought to transform the ways in which we deliver music and connect with people. When we emerge from the pandemic, I believe the Orchestra will be more deeply connected to this community because of the ways we are transforming the organization now.”

Artistic Report

“In the 118-year history of the Minnesota Orchestra there has never been a circumstance like this pandemic,” said Music Director Osmo Vänskä. “When we look back on this time, I think we will be proud that we were able to keep the music going. I’d like to thank our board and administrative leaders for their belief in the music and their recognition of how much we need it as a society now.”

Highlights of the 2019-2020 season before the pandemic struck included sharing the stage with South Africa’s Gauteng Choristers, musical ensemble 29:11 and the Minnesota Chorale in a large-scale choral performance of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Dona Nobis Pacem, led by Vänskä; releasing three acclaimed recordings, featuring Mahler’s Symphonies No. 4 and 7 and a live-in-concert recording with singer and rapper Dessa called Sound the Bells; touring to Indiana University in Bloomington and the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor for concert performances and workshops with music students; distributing 1,500 free concert tickets to students under age 18, as part of the musician-funded Hall Pass program; and performing for nearly 23,000 students at eight Young People’s Concerts at Orchestra Hall. 

On March 13, 2020, as COVID-19 was first forcing shutdowns across the state, the Orchestra performed a final concert to an empty concert hall that was broadcast live by Classical Minnesota Public Radio, marking the beginning of a new period. At that time, the Orchestra canceled a four-city summer tour to South Korea and Vietnam—intended to celebrate the 25th anniversary of restored diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Vietnam—due to the pandemic. The Orchestra subsequently focused its operation into the digital sphere, offering:

  • More than 60 “Minnesota Orchestra At Home” performance videos inviting audiences into musicians’ personal spaces;
  • A free downloadable version of Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance for schools to use in virtual commencements that received 1,000 downloads from across Minnesota—and the world;
  • Music of power and grief for a community in pain in the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd;
  • Full Orchestra virtual collaborations with Dessa, pianist Jon Kimura Parker and the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, and;
  • A series of “let’s play a duet” videos that invited students to play alongside their professional counterparts in the Orchestra.

During this time, the Orchestra also built out the infrastructure to offer a regular series of This Is Minnesota Orchestra concerts for TV, radio and streaming audiences, which were launched in Fiscal 2021.

As pandemic restrictions slightly loosened in the summer, the Orchestra performed a month of free chamber music performances outdoors, helping to safely bring people together again and energize Peavey Plaza in downtown Minneapolis. Intended as a community thank you, the performances featured a focus on music by composers of color who were represented on each concert, a programming commitment the Orchestra is continuing into the current season. The outdoor performances were attended by 2,300 people, who followed safety measures such as participating in pre-concert health screenings, wearing masks and sitting at a physical distance each from other.

“Musicians were thrilled to be able to play music together and reconnect with our audience in person last August. We were also thankful for the tireless efforts of all the staff and stage crew to make these concerts as safe as possible,” said bass trombone player Andrew Chappell, who serves as chair of the Minnesota Orchestra Members Committee. “While we musicians miss our audience, and we miss the thrill of playing together at full force, the pandemic has only reinforced how important sharing live music is. We have been grateful for every effort to continue to fulfill our mission and bring great music to our community in whatever way we can.”


A Growing Digital Footprint

Despite the challenges of cancelled concerts, the organization’s Digital and Social teams significantly increased the Orchestra’s digital footprint during the pandemic, with followers across social media platforms up 10.5 percent over the prior year to 96,395; social media engagement up 17 percent over the prior year; and total video views across social media more than doubling over the previous year to more than 2.5 million.

Financial Report

In Fiscal 2020, the Orchestra performed 89 ticketed concerts and held 35 community and corporate events before the pandemic struck in mid-March. Subsequently, 52 ticketed concerts and 19 corporate/community events were cancelled due to COVID restrictions around group gatherings. (Sixteen outdoor chamber music concerts were later added to the Orchestra’s August calendar and performed for free.) As a result, total operating revenue—which includes revenue from ticket sales, community and corporate rental opportunities and ticket fees, as well as food, beverage and concession sales—only reached $6.8 million for the year, compared to the prior year’s $9.5 million.

Philanthropic giving remains a cornerstone of the Orchestra’s operation, despite the challenges of the pandemic. Total contributions—comprising annual fund donations, major gifts, Symphony Ball gifts and Oakleaf Trust distributions—reached $14 million, compared to $14.5 million the previous year, with the decrease due to the COVID-forced cancellation of the 2020 Symphony Ball and a decline in corporate funding.

“A bright spot in the year has been the generosity of our individual donors who actually increased support to the Orchestra’s Fiscal 2020 annual fund by $400,000 over the year prior,” said Michelle Miller Burns. “Many donors turned their Symphony Ball gifts into annual fund donations, and other donors increased those annual gifts to respond to the moment or turned back concert tickets as donations. We are enormously grateful to these individuals who are powering the Orchestra forward.”

The Orchestra’s total net assets for Fiscal 2020 were $167 million. Total expenses were $34.2 million, reduced as part of an organization-wide cost-containment strategy enacted when the pandemic hit. The Orchestra utilized federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funding to support employee salaries through early summer; the organization is currently awaiting forgiveness for the PPP loan. When the PPP funding expired, all full-time employees took salary reductions for the final two months of the fiscal year. The Fiscal 2020 reductions were tiered throughout the organization with Music Director Osmo Vänskä and President and CEO Michelle Miller Burns taking 30% reductions; musicians and administrative leadership team members taking a 20% reduction; and all other full-time staff taking reductions at a lower level. More than 190 part-time events staff positions were put on hiatus when the Orchestra halted performances in March.

“The pandemic has delayed the launch of the multi-year revenue growth initiative we announced last year to increase the Orchestra’s earned and contributed revenue streams,” said incoming Chair Joseph T. Green. “Over the last ten months our focus has naturally shifted to managing the organization through this crisis, but we continue to lay the groundwork for the growth plan so that we are ready to launch when we move beyond the pandemic. We look forward to building on the discoveries and innovations of the last ten months as we set our gaze toward a post pandemic period when audiences can once again fill Orchestra Hall.”



Directors elected to a first term: Barbara Gold, M.D., Philip Isaacson, Allen Lenzmeier, Eric Levinson, Miluska Novota, Erik van Kuijk, M.D., Ph.D., John Wilgers

Re-elected Directors (second term): Yvonne Cheek, Ph.D., Maurice Holloman, Kate T. Kelly, Mary G. Lawrence, M.D., Patrick G. Mahoney

Re-elected Directors (third term): Joseph T. Green, Laurie Hodder Greeno, Aks Zaheer

Ex-Officio Directors: Michelle Miller Burns, Mariellen Jacobson, Mary Ella Pratte

Executive Committee: Joseph T. Green, chair; Karen Hsiao Ashe, M.D., Ph.D., Douglas M. Baker, Jr., Margaret A. Bracken, Michelle Miller Burns, Roma Calatayud-Stocks, Evan Carruthers, Mark Copman, Jonathan Eisenberg, Betsy Frost, Luella G. Goldberg, Laurie Hodder Greeno, Jerome D. Hamilton, Jr., Maurice Holloman, Jay V. Ihlenfeld, Lloyd Kepple, Mary Lawrence, M.D., Nancy E. Lindahl, Michael A. Lindsay, Martin Lueck, Patrick G. Mahoney, Kita McVay, Anne W. Miller, William P. Miller, Marilyn Carlson Nelson, Brian Tilzer, Jim Watkins, Tim Welsh

Life Director: Paul Grangaard


Chair                                  Joseph T. Green

Immediate Past Chair       Margaret A. Bracken

Vice Chair                           Jerome D. Hamilton, Jr.

Vice Chair                          Nancy E. Lindahl

Vice Chair                           Kita McVay

Vice Chair                           Tim Welsh                            

Secretary                            Karen Hsiao Ashe, M.D., Ph.D.

Treasurer                            William P. Miller

President and CEO            Michelle Miller Burns