"This is a $14-million-a-year business," general manager Thomas W. Morris said. "Our big difference from other business is that we are not out maximize profits. Our prime objective is to maximize the quality of what we produce, and our second objective is to fanance that."
Morris is the top business executive of the world-famous Boston Symphony Orchestra [which arrives in Washington this week; see story on Page-g1]. Its product, of course, is music -- or the training of musicians.
In a sense, the Boston Symphony is a conglomerate. Its numerous activities give it the highest income of any symphony orchestra in the nation. a
"We are into everything," Morris said, referring to the orchestra's extra revenues form recording, television, radio, a gift shop, program advertising, hall rental, tuition at its Berkshire Music Center and the food-and-drink concession at the Boston Pops concerts.
"Indeed," he joked, "we are the only orchestra in the world that owns a seven-gang lawn mower." The power mower is used on the lawn at the orchestra's 300-acre facility at Tanglewood, in western Massachusetts, where each summer the orchestra performs as part of what it bills "the world's greatest arts festivals."
What's more, the orchestra could rank as a growth firm. Its "earned income" from ticket sales, concert grants, tuition, refreshments and so on has risen from $5.7 million in 1974-75 to $10.7 million in the 1978-79 season. In the same time span, endowment income has grown at a slower pace, from $898,000 at a little over $1 million.
Morris said, "Like any growing organization, we have to be more businesslike, more efficient."
In fact, as is the case for many of the nation's major artistic groups, the Boston Symphony Orchestra has been introducing more and more modern business management techniques to its operations. Two years ago it became the first symphony orchestra in the nation to acquire its own computer. It uses the machine for bookkeeping and budgeting. Financial forecasts are prepared for three years into the future.
Morris has an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
The orchestra's management structure includes a board of trustees at the top. Reporting to it directly are Morris and music director Seiji Ozawa.
"These two," said Peter Geib, assistant manager, "are supposed to balance each other out. You are supposed to have an ongoing, friendly conflict between the artistic and the administrative side."
Apparently the emphasis must be on " friendly." Said Morris: "Ozawa and I are very active partners in all decisions."
When Ozawa plans the season's programs, he must work within a budget. That means he likely will choose a mix of expensive and lesscostly guest artists. He may schedule only two major, more difficult works per season, which might involve extra reheasrsal time, and expanded orchestra, a chorus, soloist singers and other additional costs.
The members of the orchestra, whom Morris described as "the 100 best musicians in the world," nowaday are well paid. The minimum salary of the unionized musicians is $26,000 the median about $35,000 and a few receive considerably more. Timpani player Everett Firth often arrives at Symphony Hall in a Rolls-Royce Phantom Cloud. Regarded as the top timpani player in the world, he as a business on the side, Vic Sticks, which sells sticks for percussionlists.
The players work hard for their money. The orchestra has a heavy schedule of concerts in Boston in the fall and winter. There are also concerts by the Boston Pops, which includes all but about 10 Boston Symphony players, in May, June and July. Then the BSO moves to Tanglewood for the summer and a substitute group of players is hired to form the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra.
The orchestra also has the cost of maintaining its hall here in Boson and the facility at Tanglewood. But Morris is proud that the "fixed costs" of the orchestra have been rising in recent years at only about a 7 percent annual rate -- less than inflation.