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Thursday January 27, 2022

Minnesota Orchestra Shares Artistic Highlights and Operating Results for 2020-2021 Season

2020-21 Annual Report (PDF)

The Minnesota Orchestra continued making music for audiences in the pandemic, offering the year-long This Is Minnesota Orchestra series for TV, radio and streaming audiences, as well as summer concerts for in-person audiences, once pandemic restrictions were lifting;  

Each This Is Minnesota Orchestra episode averaged 42,000 total views or roughly 21 times Orchestra Hall’s seating capacity;

A through-line across the season was a programming commitment to share music by composers of African, Latin, Indigenous and Asian descent;

Despite the challenges of the season, the Orchestra reduced the size of its operating loss and increased its net assets over the prior season.

The Minnesota Orchestra today released its operating results for the fiscal year ending August 31, 2021, marking the milestones of a singular year, spanning September 2020 to August 2021, in which pandemic restrictions around group gatherings fundamentally changed the nature of the season. Initially unable to perform for large, in-person audiences, the Orchestra partnered with Twin Cities PBS and YourClassical MPR to create the free broadcast and livestream series This Is Minnesota Orchestra, offering performances for TV, radio and streaming audiences. As pandemic restrictions lifted, the organization added summer concerts at Orchestra Hall to the season that reconnected in-person audiences with Music Director Osmo Vänskä and the Orchestra for the first time in 15 months.

Despite encountering one of the most testing years in its history, the Orchestra reduced the size of its operating loss by more than $5 million over the prior year to $6.3 million and increased its net assets by 8 percent over the prior year to reach $180 million, according to audited results.

“The 2020-21 season posed extreme challenges for the performing arts,” said Minnesota Orchestra Board Chair Joseph T. Green. “But we entered the year with a realistic fiscal plan that prioritized keeping the Orchestra playing, and we managed through adversity by enacting institution-wide expense reductions and seeking increases in contributed revenue. Artistically, this was a period in which the organization proved itself to be nimble, flexible and creative. We heard from audiences that music matters, and we resolved to embrace new ways of living out the Orchestra’s mission to keep connecting with audiences at each turn in the pandemic–and that resolve continues today.” 

Said President and CEO Michelle Miller Burns, “The Orchestra received tremendous backing from this community in Fiscal 2021. We saw support from our generous philanthropic community at all levels of giving, including the federal government through the critically important Save our Stages bill, and we saw support from concertgoers who enthusiastically tuned into our digital performances and then embraced new concertgoing safety measures when we were able to return to Orchestra Hall. The pandemic has introduced daily obstacles into our operation, but we are also experiencing a renewed sense of purpose and appreciation for the community we serve.”

Artistic Report

“Even though audiences weren’t physically with us in Orchestra Hall for the first nine months of the 2020-21 season, we still felt very connected to them,” said Music Director Osmo Vänskä. “Music is such a vital force that it must be part of how we make sense of the world, especially in hard times, and in our programming over the last year we tried to reflect the full range of the human experience and the many emotions that felt so close to the surface in a challenging year. When we experience these things together through music, I think it brings us closer together as people. I’m grateful the Orchestra was able to keep playing last season and grateful that we continue to do so now.”

When the Orchestra launched its 2020-21 season with livestreamed and broadcast concerts, it initially featured small ensembles of performers, with musicians physically distanced from each other onstage. As pandemic restrictions shifted over the course of the year, the number of musicians onstage grew and, by spring, guest artists—conductors and soloists traveling from other parts of the country and world—returned to Orchestra Hall. By June, the Orchestra returned to hosting concerts for in-person audiences, first at 25 percent and then 50 percent the capacity of Orchestra Hall, while continuing its livestream series.

A through-line across the entire season was a programming commitment to share music by composers of African, Latin, Indigenous and Asian descent with nearly every program featuring works by contemporary or historic musical voices who the organization had previously overlooked. “Widening our programming choices to showcase these composers was a very important part of the season, and I want to recognize the musician and staff colleagues who have been dedicated to helping make it happen,” said Vänskä. “We have been able to share some great works with audiences, and we look forward to sharing more in future seasons as part of our ongoing programming commitment.” Featured composers included Eleanor Alberga, Louis Ballard, Chiayu, Valerie Coleman, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Paquito D’Rivera, Philip Herbert, Devonte Hynes, Ulysses Kay, Yaz Lancaster, Jessie Montgomery, Florence Price, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, Carlos Simon, William Grant Still, Joel Thompson and George Walker, among others.     

Milestones of the 2020-21 season include:

  • Nineteen This Is Minnesota Orchestra concerts performed free to TV, radio and streaming audiences, with each episode averaging 42,000 total views or roughly 21 times Orchestra Hall’s seating capacity.
  • Educational activities that were redesigned for digital learning, including the organization’s first-ever televised Young People’s Concert in February 2021 that featured a visit to the Minnesota Zoo (Musical Menagerie).
  • The release of Mahler’s Tenth Symphony on the BIS Records label, the Orchestra’s latest release in its initiative to record all the Mahler Symphonies; Australia’s Limelight Magazine subsequently named the release its 2021 Recording of the Year.
  • The first-ever Virtual Symphony Ball streamed for free in June and chaired by W. Anders Folk, Angela Pennington, Bill Miller and Katie Miller.
  • Thirteen summer concerts—many featuring pianist and Creative Partner for Summer Programming Jon Kimura Parker—that brought audiences back to Orchestra Hall and downtown Minneapolis beginning in June.
  • A July 30 performance celebrating Minneapolis’ frontline workers with free tickets provided by Minnesota Orchestra musicians through their Bellwether Fund for education and community programming.
  • Gramophone Magazine naming the Minnesota Orchestra its 2021 Orchestra of the Year, an honor based on community input, with nearly one-third of world-wide voters choosing Osmo Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchestra for the honor.

“We probably won't see a more challenging season for the performing arts in our lifetimes, and it's a real point of pride for the musicians of the Orchestra that we were able to find a way to continue serving our community even as the pandemic dragged on,” said violist Sam Bergman, chair of the Minnesota Orchestra Members’ Committee. “We're so grateful to our tireless staff and crew for keeping us all safe and healthy on stage; to our board members for taking the long view and keeping the organization on track; and to everyone who tuned in to watch our livestream and broadcast concerts in 2020-21.”


Financial Report

In Fiscal 2021, the Orchestra was only able to perform 13 ticketed concerts for in-person audiences ranging in size from 25 to 50 percent of Orchestra Hall’s capacity and was not able to host any community or corporate rental events. 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 $662,000; in the previous season, which was partially shut down by the pandemic, total operating revenue reached $6.8 million.

“Entering into the 2020-21 season we didn’t know if we’d be able to offer any concerts for in-person audiences,” said Michelle Miller Burns. “Consequently, reaching $662,000 in operating revenue was a better result than we anticipated.”

Philanthropic giving was critically important in a season with such minimal opportunity to bring in operating revenue. Total contributions—comprising annual fund donations, major gifts, Symphony Ball gifts, trust distributions and a Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG) —rose by $4.4 million over the prior year to reach $18.3 million. The increase was partly due to federal SVOG funding through the Save our Stages Act as well as generosity from donors at all levels. Community gifts donations (those ranging in size up to $2,500), for example, grew by nearly 60 percent over the prior year.

Total expenses were $26.8 million, down from the previous year by nearly $7.5 million dollars. The decrease was largely due to deep, carefully-enacted expense reductions that saw every individual in the organization participating in salary reductions for the entire season. Musicians took a 25 percent reduction in compensation as part of a negotiated amendment to their contract that also included expanded safety measures. “It was a priority for us to keep musicians and full time staff employed through the pandemic and thanks to the generosity of our funding community and to federal support, we were able to do so,” said Joseph Green. “The Board is grateful for the shared sacrifice of every musician and staff member who faced the salary reductions and myriad challenges of the pandemic with collaboration, goodwill and ingenuity.”

The Orchestra reduced its operating loss by $5 million over the prior year to $6.3 million in Fiscal 2021. Its overall finanical position remains solid, with total net assets reaching $180 million in Fiscal 2021, an increase from the prior year’s $166.5 million.

“We are on track, despite the complications of the pandemic, to steadily continue working our financial plan to improve the Orchestra’s year end fiscal results and to increase assets in the seasons ahead,” said Green. “Artistically, the ways in which we are continuing to stretch now are ultimately bringing the Orchestra closer to our community and contributing to positive, lasting change in the organization.”



Directors elected to a first term: Mike Elliott, William S. Henak, Thomas Herr, Karen Himle, Diane Hofstede, Michael S. Jones, Michael Klingensmith, Angela S. Pennington, Abigail Rose, Jakub Tolar, M.D., Ph.D, Catherine R. Webster

Re-elected Directors (second term): Emily Backstrom, Sarah Brew, Jonathan Eisenberg, Lisa Paradis, Jim Watkins

Re-elected Directors (third term): E. Tim Carl, Paula DeCosse, Betsy Frost, Kathy Junek, Kita McVay

Ex-Officio Directors: Michelle Miller Burns, Julie Haight-Curran, Cindy Olmanson

Executive Committee: Joseph T. Green, Darren Acheson, Karen Hsiao Ashe, M.D., Ph.D, Douglas M. Baker, Jr., Michelle Miller Burns, Roma Calatayud-Stocks, Evan Carruthers, Yvonne Cheek, Ph.D, Betsy Frost, Luella G. Goldberg, Laurie Hodder Greeno, Jerome D. Hamilton, Jr., Maurice Holloman, Jay V. Ihlenfeld, Kathy Junek, Lloyd Kepple, Michael Klingensmith, Mary G. Lawrence, M.D., Nancy E. Lindahl, Michael A. Lindsay, Martin R. Lueck, Patrick G. Mahoney, Kita McVay, Anne W. Miller, William P. Miller, Marilyn Carlson Nelson, Brian Tilzer


Chair                                  Joseph T. Green

Chair Elect                    Nancy E. Lindahl

Vice Chair                     Jerome D. Hamilton, Jr.

Vice Chair                          Martin R. Lueck

Vice Chair                     Kita McVay

Vice Chair                     William P. Miller

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

Treasurer                            Evan Carruthers

President and CEO            Michelle Miller Burns