A return to weekly concerts has helped the Minnesota Orchestra shrink what was a multimillion-dollar deficit.
The nonprofit on Wednesday reported an operating loss of $656,000 in fiscal year 2022, which ended in August, after a full season of in-person performances. That deficit — the fourth in a row — is an improvement compared with the previous year, when the orchestra posted a $6.3 million loss after playing only 13 ticketed concerts to limited in-person audiences.
It's the result of "incredible generosity from donors and people coming back for concerts," president and CEO Michelle Miller Burns said in an interview.
The year included a season of celebrations for outgoing music director Osmo Vänskä, including a festival dedicated to the works of his fellow Finn Jean Sibelius and a grand finale featuring Mahler's "Symphony of a Thousand."
With its full calendar, the orchestra brought in $8.1 million in operating revenue, up from $662,000 the year before. That earned revenue made up 21% of the orchestra's income, compared with 3% the year before.
"That's a big, big jump from one year to the next," Burns said, "and that feels really good."
But that revenue hasn't yet returned to pre-pandemic levels. In fiscal year 2019, the orchestra brought in $9.6 million, a drop from 2018. That year, even before the pandemic rocked the performing arts, the orchestra posted an operating deficit of $8.8 million — a then-record that it would break in fiscal year 2020.
Expenses in 2022 totaled $39.2 million, reflecting a return to normal after a year of salary cuts for union musicians as well as administrators and staff.
The musicians are encouraged by the financial results, which were shared during a meeting Wednesday, and have great confidence in the orchestra's board and staff, said Timothy Zavadil, bass clarinetist and chair of the orchestra's members' committee.
He noted last year's signing of a four-year musicians' union contract that gives players 2.5% to 3% annual pay increases. "That was negotiated respectfully by both parties and is an investment in the orchestra," Zavadil said.
He praised the board for pushing through the pandemic, supporting a new effort to broadcast concerts when restrictions didn't allow audiences in Orchestra Hall. The return of audiences has felt like "seeing an old friend," Zavadil said.
"Those numbers show the support of our community."
In fiscal year 2022, the orchestra received a $3.7 million federal grant from the Shuttered Venues Operators Grant program, the same amount it was given the previous year. But that funding won't buoy the organization in the current fiscal year.
Concert capacity reached 79%, "not yet attaining pre-pandemic levels but indicating a steady return," according to the orchestra's annual report. COVID-19 restrictions limited food and beverage sales and hall rentals.
Burns said she expects such revenue sources to pick up during the current fiscal year.
"We're striving to ensure we have balanced operations over a series of years," Burns said. "We have had a series of deficits. But we also anticipate that we will have, coming up, some years of surplus.
"So we're really looking to balance that out."