After a particularly trying year, the musicians of the Nashville Symphony have been named the organization’s 2021 Harmony Award recipients.
Annually, the Nashville Symphony presents the award to individuals who “embody the harmonious spirit of Nashville’s musical community.” In the past the award has been given to artists such as Brad Paisley, Faith Hill, Vince Gill, Toby Keith, Kelsea Ballerini, Maren Morris and Keb’ Mo’.
In a significant change of pace, Paisley will present the award to the approximately 80 musicians during the symphony’s 75th anniversary concert, featuring Itzhak Perlman, to be held at 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 11, at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center.
“This year he’ll present the award to the musicians of our fabulous Nashville Symphony Orchestra,” symphony President and CEO Alan Valentine said during Monday’s meeting of the Rotary Club of Nashville. “I’m so proud of them.”
Valentine spoke on the trials and triumphs inherent to being a symphony in the time of COVID-19.
“It’s no secret the entire music industry were among the first industries to be shut down and among the last to reopen, and it certainly includes the Nashville Symphony,” Valentine said. “And unlike other challenges we’ve faced over the years, whether you think about the recession or the 2010 flood, the pandemic was different than those challenges in that it rendered impossible the very thing we’re here to do, to perform live music in front of a live audience.”
Musicians were forced to persevere through a situation that saw their season canceled (more than 150 concerts) and by July 2020 saw the entire orchestra and conducting staff, along with 75% of administrative staff, furloughed (while retaining their health insurance) for six months.
Due to its self-sufficiency, Valentine explained that Nashville was hit particularly hard relative to similar organizations.
“Most orchestras dream of getting to 50% of their revenue coming from earned income sources. Most of them are actually in the 35% or 40% range,” Valentine said. “We had achieved 67% of our revenues from earned income, which is extraordinary.”
That made it all the more difficult when the bottom dropped out on earned revenue sources for musicians at the advent of the pandemic.
“It was a really challenging time,” Valentine said.
Despite all that, with the help of increased contributions from the public, as well as multiple government grants, the symphony was able to begin working back toward full payroll in the summer of 2021 in time for its 75th anniversary season.
“The prolonged period of silence and separation that the musicians have endured has severely impacted the heart and soul of the ensemble,” Orchestra Committee chair and violist Melinda Whitley said in a release at that time. “The musicians could not be more eager to return to the stage and begin making beautiful symphonic music once again for our beloved audiences.”
Presumably through the worst of it, Valentine continues to have a positive outlook on the ensemble’s future.
“Those grants now have provided us with the confidence to move forward with a robust balance sheet and handle the strong headwinds we encountered,” Valentine said.
Valentine estimates the Nashville Symphony was heard by about 15 million people over the past year through various performances, broadcasts, streams and recordings.