Nashville – WTF?

The situation in Nashville is beginning to seem worrisome:

Foreclosure proceedings have been initiated against the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, and an auction of its landmark Schermerhorn Symphony Center has been scheduled for June 28.

Formal notice of the foreclosure was issued by Bank of America, the lead lender on the $82.3 million still owed on the concert hall.

“The bank group has been in discussions for some time with the orchestra to help it resolve its debt on an acceptable basis and operate at a sustainable level,” said Shirley Norton, a spokeswoman with Bank of America. “However, (the Nashville Symphony Association) is in default and has been unwilling or unable to repay the debt. Left with no other alternative the bank group has been forced to file for foreclosure, always a last resort . At the same time, we continue to be in discussions with the Symphony.”

The notice states that the concert hall will be sold “to the highest bidder for cash, at public outcry.”

The Symphony could forestall a sale by filing for bankruptcy protection.

I love the line about how the hall will be sold “at public outcry.” I think some public outcry is almost inevitable, although not in the form the notice meant.

This could, of course, just be a very large and public game of chicken:

“Negotiations with the bank group are continuing, and the Symphony and its Financial Advisory Committee remain squarely focused on achieving a resolution that positions the Symphony for long-term stability,” the Symphony said in a statement Thursday afternoon. “Our preferred course of action remains to reach an agreement out of court. That said, the Symphony Board understands and accepts its responsibility to act as necessary to protect the assets of the Symphony. We are preparing appropriate measures to help ensure that the Symphony continues to operate normally and pursue its important cultural and educational mission.”

Mayor Karl Dean sent a letter to Edward Goodrich, chairman of the Nashville Symphony Board, on Thursday “urging that the Symphony and its banks do everything possible to achieve a settlement without the need for litigation or a bankruptcy filing.”

But this article suggests that the Nashville Symphony may already have lost some control over the direction of their vehicle, even if they haven’t yet thrown the steering wheel out the window:

The Nashville Symphony Orchestra suffered an $11.7 million loss in the fiscal year ending July 31, 2012, as its revenue plunged by more than 50 percent to $21.5 million.

The grim figures were included in the orchestra’s Form 990 tax filing, which was made public Tuesday. A year earlier a $12.7 million surplus was recorded.

Part of the revenue decline was attributable to $18.9 million in income from flood damage proceeds that the symphony recorded in fiscal 2011.

According to the return, contributions dropped from $14.7 million to just under $10.6 million. Investment income dropped from $6.4 million to $2.2 million…

Late last week, lawyers for Bank of America named a new trustee over the remaining $82.3 million in debt. The new trustee, Nashville attorney Charles Sanger, referred questions to a Bank of America spokeswoman. Bank of America spokeswoman Shirley Norton declined to comment on the change of trustees…

“An educated guess would be that it is the first step in initiating foreclosure proceedings,” said Steven Lefkowitz, a Nashville attorney who handles bankruptcies. “I would say that replacing the trustee was the first step.”

A bankruptcy filing by the Symphony could forestall foreclosure proceedings.

There are several possible explanations for the various declines quoted in the article, not all of them apocalyptic. But there are none I can imagine that actually represent good news.

To end on a more cheerful (if completely unrelated) thought, here’s the best sentence I’ve read in a long time. It comes from the best-written orchestral blog in the universe, Matt Hovnanian’s Bass Blog:

Loren Maazel has long impressed me as the Hannibal Lecter of conductors – a veneer of erudition and utmost gentility overlies something I want to know nothing about – the uncanny precision of his gestures brings to mind something clinical, the steel gears and levers of an overdeveloped intellect conjure up something vaguely Mephistophelean.

I’d love to write a line that good before I die.



About the author

Robert Levine
Robert Levine

Robert Levine has been the Principal Violist of the Milwaukee Symphony since September 1987. Before coming to Milwaukee Mr. Levine had been a member of the Orford String Quartet, Quartet-in-Residence at the University of Toronto, with whom he toured extensively throughout Canada, the United States, and South America. Prior to joining the Orford Quartet, Mr. Levine had served as Principal Violist of The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra for six years. He has also performed with the San Francisco Symphony, the London Symphony of Canada, and the Oklahoma City Symphony, as well as serving as guest principal with the orchestras of Indianapolis and Hong Kong.

He has performed as soloist with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Oklahoma City Symphony, the London Symphony of Canada, the Midsummer Mozart Festival (San Francisco), and numerous community orchestras in Northern California and Minnesota. He has also been featured on American Public Radio's nationally broadcast show "St. Paul Sunday Morning" on several occasions.

Mr. Levine has been an active chamber musician, having performed at the Festival Rolandseck in Germany, the Grand Teton Music Festival, the Palm Beach Festival, the "Strings in the Mountains" Festival in Colorado, and numerous concerts in the Twin Cities and Milwaukee. He has also been active in the field of new music, having commissioned and premiered works for viola and orchestra from Minnesota composers Janika Vandervelde and Libby Larsen.

Mr. Levine was chairman of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians from 1996 to 2002 and currently serves as President of the Milwaukee Musicians Association, Local 8 of the American Federation of Musicians, and as a member of the Board of Directors of the League of American Orchestras. He has written extensively about issues concerning orchestra musicians for publications of ICSOM, the AFM, the Symphony Orchestra Institute, and the League of American Orchestras.

Mr. Levine attended Stanford University and the Institute for Advanced Musical Studies in Switzerland. His primary teachers were Aaron Sten and Pamela Goldsmith. He also studied with Paul Doctor, Walter Trampler, Bruno Giuranna, and David Abel.

He lives with his wife Emily and his son Sam in Glendale.

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