With the number of coronavirus cases down sharply in New York, the city began a gradual reopening this week. But in yet another sign that the full resumption of cultural life is still far off, the New York Philharmonic announced on Wednesday that it was canceling its fall season.
“We’re in a marathon,” Deborah Borda, the orchestra’s chief executive, said in an interview, adding: “It is possible we could lose this entire upcoming season. But we will do our best to find some way of doing some kind of performances. There must be live music for people.”
The decision not to resume performances before Jan. 6, 2021, at the earliest came the week after the Metropolitan Opera said it would not reopen before the end of December. Like the Philharmonic, the Met has been closed since March, and has furloughed its orchestra, chorus and stagehands and some administrative staff, while continuing to provide them with health benefits.
But symphonies are smaller operations than grand opera companies, and the Philharmonic has been able to continue to pay its musicians. As they have since May, they will earn about $2,200 per week — 75 percent of the orchestra’s base pay — through Sept. 21, when their current contract expires. The musicians and management plan to meet through the summer to negotiate a new contract.
The orchestra’s administrative staff, which over the past months has had pay cuts but not the widespread furloughs or layoffs of some other arts institutions, may well now be a target of cuts.
“Now that we’ve announced the cancellation,” Ms. Borda said, “we can’t sustain in our current format with the staff.” She anticipates announcing by the end of June a plan for the organization to survive the closure in what she called a “pulled-back format,” though she said she hoped to produce some form of socially distanced events for small audiences. (Even smaller-scale performance, though, will be challenging: Also on Wednesday, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center announced the cancellation of its own fall season.)
The cancellation of the Philharmonic’s fall means the loss of approximately $9 million in ticket revenue. That is in addition to a net loss of $7 million to $10 million associated with the cancellation of concerts starting in March. Ms. Borda said that the Philharmonic, unlike some other arts organizations, did not plan to increase its draw from its endowment, which at $194 million (as of the end of May) is considered small relative to its $87 million budget.
One beneficiary of the grim news could be the Philharmonic and Lincoln Center’s long-delayed effort to renovate David Geffen Hall, the orchestra’s home. The project is expected to cost $550 million, of which nearly $200 million remains to be raised, and construction is scheduled to begin in May 2022 — but Ms. Borda said that the orchestra was exploring whether it could use its unexpected absence this fall to start construction early.
“We’re looking to see if we can accelerate some of the work right away,” she said, “to move us ahead in our plans.”