Syracuse Symphony Orchestra files for bankruptcy

The Syracuse Symphony's shortened 50th anniversary season was also its last. On Tuesday night the board voted to enter Chapter 7 bankruptcy as soon as possible and will liquidate the Symphony's assets through a bankruptcy trustee.

"In plain terms, the SSO as we now know it will cease to exist," said interim Executive Director Paul Brooks.

The symphony has been struggling for years and cancelled the remainder of this season after months of aggressive fundraising weren't enough to pay the bills. Brooks said the current symphony is losing money every day and is currently not sustainable for Central New York.

"We can not spend seven million dollars to sustain a 77 member orchestra," said Brooks "When we quite frankly are only able to raise five to six million dollars."

Despite the grim news, there was a glimmer of hope at Tuesday's announcement. The symphony's board acknowledged another, more sustainable, symphony could form in the future without being burdened by $5.5 million in debt, $2.5 million in unfunded pension costs or a complex union contract.

"In plain terms, if there is to be another symphony, it can start with a clean sheet of paper," said Brooks

The board said they plan to meet with the attorney general about why they can not refund tickets for now cancelled concerts. Some Onondaga County legislators said they would consider using some of the money that was allocated to the SSO but not yet released to help with refunds.

"There is still $100,000, it will be interesting to see where that goes as well. Maybe that should be used to refund some ticket prices," said Democrat Marty Masterpole.

When the SSO enters Chapter 7, a bankruptcy trustee will be in charge of liquidating the assets and paying off debts under the supervision of a judge. The SSO is believed to owe at least $60,000 to the Oncenter for rent.

Paul Brooks said the government run Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation will take over at least a portion of the musicians' pensions after the Symphony dissolves.

Board members said Tuesday they decided to file for bankruptcy because of the orchestra's outstanding $2.5 million pension liability.

The move came just hours after state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said his office is investigating whether ticket holders can get refunds for 20 canceled concerts, including an April 27 performance by cellist Yo-Yo Ma. The board had said there would be no refunds.

Original story from Tuesday evening:

We've just learned the Syracuse Symphony Board of Trustees has filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy as the organization meets downtown to discuss its future.

Here's the written statement we obtained:

This evening, the Board of Trustees of the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra voted to proceed with the dissolution of the corporation and the orderly liquidation of its remaining assets. The SSO will enter chapter 7 bankruptcy proceedings as soon as possible, anticipated to become effective at sometime in the next week.

In plain terms, the SSO as we now know it will cease to exist. It is with great sadness that the board reached this decision. The board and management team attempted to find any and every possible means to survive. In the end, we had no choice but to recognize that Syracuse and Central New York simply can no longer support a full 77-person orchestra over a 34- or 40-week season consisting of 200 performances.

In plain terms, we cannot support a $7 million orchestra on a $5 million budget. As a result of our decision to dissolve, if another symphony organization should arise in the future, it will not be burdened with a $5.5 million debt; a $2.5 million unfunded pension liability; or a union contract that restricts its ability to configure itself to fit the times.

In plain terms, if there is to be another symphony, it can start with a clean sheet of paper.