Orchestra on stage

An update from the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

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Musicians are the heart and soul of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. We are not an orchestra without musicians.

We are all devastated by the position we find ourselves in as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The current global health situation was not something that anyone or any organisation could have planned for and we are working together and supporting each other to get through this crisis so our incredible orchestra can get back on stage performing as soon as possible.

During this difficult time, it is important that we share facts behind this heartbreaking decision and clarify the support provided for the whole team.

Our musicians and staff have not lost their jobs. Seventy-five musicians and 13 management staff have been temporarily sent home during this period of hibernation. MSO has undertaken to administer and pay these employees the JobKeeper allowance of $1,500 per fortnight. We also engaged with over 250 casual employees to ensure they are also provided the opportunity to receive this payment. We deeply appreciate the opportunity to support our people through the JobKeeper scheme.

In addition to the JobKeeper allowance, MSO permanent and casual employees will be paid superannuation and will have access their leave provisions.

Why this path and not the proposed 50% wage cut?

With venues closed and the ongoing ban on public gatherings, there is no work for the musicians as an orchestra and with ticket revenue temporarily halted, we are not in a financial position to keep paying our musicians and administration staff as normal.
The Board examined many scenarios including the 50% wage cut. As tough as it is, moving into a hibernation period gives the Orchestra its best chance of surviving this pandemic as a viable entity.

What now for our team?

The Federal Government’s JobKeeper program, which is supporting more than 370,000 Australian businesses, will provide a fortnightly salary of $1,500 for musicians and staff who have been stood down. Jobs will be waiting for our musicians and staff once our venues re-open, restrictions on gatherings are lifted and our musicians can return to the stage.

What about those who remain?

Out of 408 employees, 10% remain working with the Orchestra. A number of those are musicians who are working in curatorial and artistic roles and are core to the MSO’s online concert series and program planning.

The remaining administration staff are the baseline to the behind the scenes working cogs of an orchestra. They are vital for the MSO to continue promoting our online concerts, maintain contact with audiences, engage with Government and partners, and plan for the return to live performances in the concert hall. They have had their hours reduced by 20% commensurate with a 20% reduction in remuneration. These staff members are working harder than ever to ensure we are ready to go immediately when our venues reopen, and we are allowed to perform once again as an orchestra.

The executive team, including the Managing Director, is taking a 20% cut in remuneration but will continue working full-time hours.

What about Government Funding?

This year, the MSO will receive approximately $13.2 million in core funding from the Federal and State Governments. We are fortunate this has been preserved given we are currently unable to meet the requirements upon which that funding was granted. We are grateful for the support of our state and federal governments, but this funding alone is not enough to keep MSO buoyant. Our expected operating budget for 2020 was approximately $40 million which included salaries and wages for approximately 400 people (permanent and casual staff) as well as venue hire. Wages alone exceed the amount we receive in public funds.

How about donors and sponsors?

We love our supporters, and we have been overwhelmed by the support from our community during recent weeks. Donations right now are crucial for the MSO to survive. They will directly support the musicians of the Orchestra, providing the MSO with a baseline of funds to be able to return to the stage. Our Adopt A Musician program contributes to the salaries of our individual musicians.

How long will this situation last?

This is the biggest issue for us – we just don’t know. There will be no return to gatherings such as concerts for some time and when society reopens, it is highly unlikely that things will snap back immediately to the way they were. We need to plan for a slow recovery and expect social distancing requirements to continue to impact revenues. Audience behaviour may also change, with people initially being fearful of gathering in large groups. We will continue to support the whole MSO team during this time.

Will the MSO survive?

The COVID-19 pandemic is an extraordinary and unprecedented crisis in the modern era. The Board and management are doing their best to ensure the MSO will survive. We are Australia’s oldest orchestra and have survived two World Wars, the Great Depression and more historical challenges in our time. We will work together to get through this and come back to the stage as the musical heartbeat of Melbourne and beyond, once again.

Life is different now, but one thing remains the same – our love of beautiful music.

We will continue to share new and previously recorded content online until we can return to the stage and share our music with you in a live environment.

We thank you for your support and ask you continue to help the MSO to #keepthemusicgoing