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Melbourne Symphony Orchestra ‘not in super health’ despite government rescue cash

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The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra has posted one of its biggest profits after one of its worst years, thanks to a torrent of federal and state rescue cash and a resurgence of philanthropy, its 2021 annual report reveals.

The not-for-profit organisation ended last year with a $2.49 million surplus: $1 million more than 2020, despite the end of JobKeeper, and four times the surplus from its last “normal” year of performances (2019).

MSO managing director Sophie Galaise.Credit:Laura Manariti

And that doesn’t include another $4 million from the federal government’s emergency Arts Sustainability Fund, pledged in January and April this year.

“We’ve gone through two years of hell, but we’ll survive this one,” said managing director Sophie Galaise, who nevertheless warned the company was not out of the woods despite boasting $9 million of reserves in the bank at Christmas – compared with $5 million at the end of 2019.

“We’re not in super-good health but we’re going towards it.”

She pointed out the 2021 balance sheet would have looked very different without $3 million from the sustainability fund, $1 million from the tail end of JobKeeper, and $2 million from the Victorian government’s COVID-19 relief fund.

Ticket revenue was more than $14 million in 2019 but plummeted to $2.9 million in 2020 and $3.7 million in 2021 as the government’s pandemic response meant cancelled shows under lockdown and severe capacity caps at other times.

Even in 2022, ticket sales were significantly depressed compared with pre-pandemic demand, Galaise said.

“There is a real reluctance to come back to the symphony,” she said, an effect felt around the country not just in Melbourne, which she attributed to older patrons being “a bit more careful” about perceived health risks. Events aimed at younger audiences were seeing much more healthy sales.


The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra has posted one of its biggest profits after one of its worst years, thanks to a torrent of federal and state rescue cash and a resurgence of philanthropy, its 2021 annual report reveals.

The not-for-profit organisation ended last year with a $2.49 million surplus: $1 million more than 2020, despite the end of JobKeeper, and four times the surplus from its last “normal” year of performances (2019).

MSO managing director Sophie Galaise.

MSO managing director Sophie Galaise.Credit:Laura Manariti

And that doesn’t include another $4 million from the federal government’s emergency Arts Sustainability Fund, pledged in January and April this year.

“We’ve gone through two years of hell, but we’ll survive this one,” said managing director Sophie Galaise, who nevertheless warned the company was not out of the woods despite boasting $9 million of reserves in the bank at Christmas – compared with $5 million at the end of 2019.

“We’re not in super-good health but we’re going towards it.”

She pointed out the 2021 balance sheet would have looked very different without $3 million from the sustainability fund, $1 million from the tail end of JobKeeper, and $2 million from the Victorian government’s COVID-19 relief fund.

Ticket revenue was more than $14 million in 2019 but plummeted to $2.9 million in 2020 and $3.7 million in 2021 as the government’s pandemic response meant cancelled shows under lockdown and severe capacity caps at other times.

Even in 2022, ticket sales were significantly depressed compared with pre-pandemic demand, Galaise said.

“There is a real reluctance to come back to the symphony,” she said, an effect felt around the country not just in Melbourne, which she attributed to older patrons being “a bit more careful” about perceived health risks. Events aimed at younger audiences were seeing much more healthy sales.

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