Case study of a failing orchestra

Case study of a failing orchestra

By Dr Thomas Wolf


This in-depth case study report focuses on the San Jose Symphony Orchestra which closed in 2002 and is a cautionary tale for other cities, other symphony orchestras, for those in the entertainment industry, and for anyone connected with a nonprofit organisation. It looks at the history of classical music organisations, its market, the avoidance of the concert hall, competition, consumer preference, financial and organisational issues, leadership, economic issues and provides advice for other orchestras.

Have changes in the demographics of our communities and in the entertainment marketplace changed fundamental assumptions about the need for professional orchestras in the traditional mold? Are rising costs and falling demand clear indications that many professional orchestras simply will be unable to thrive in the twenty-first century?

Asking who really needs professional symphony orchestras and who is willing to pay for them suggests that similar questions can be asked about nonprofit organizations in other fields. When an organization’s mission, program, and operations are no longer sustainable, we ignore such questions at our peril.

Resource type: Case studies | Published: 2013