“While this outcome does not fully resolve our difficult financial situation, these reductions make a significant contribution to our solvency and financial sustainability prospects in the short and medium-term,” Mr Arcus said in a statement.

“Our revenue losses as a result of COVID-19 will be unprecedented, as they will be for many organisations.

“However, for us, they will be compounded by the problems caused by our displacement from the Sydney Opera House for 2020 and 2021, when the Sydney Symphony is performing fewer concerts in a substantially smaller venue.”

Sydney Symphony Orchestra chief executive Emma Dunch.

Sydney Symphony Orchestra chief executive Emma Dunch.Credit:Wolter Peeters

Mr Arcus said the orchestra’s best path towards recovery was “a resumption of performances in venues and locales where our audiences feel safe to return.”

The SSO’s troubled position demonstrates how vulnerable major arts companies are to the pandemic-led economic downturn. On Monday, Carriageworks became the first Sydney arts company to call in voluntary administrators but many others are staring down similar financial peril.


The orchestra’s exile from the Opera House was last year assessed as costing “north” of $10 million over the two years it was away from its home, according to sources familiar with the company who are not authorised to speak publicly.

In 2018, SSO generated $21.1 million in box office receipts from 221 domestic and international performances.

Government sources, who asked not to be identified because they are not authorised to comment publicly, said Create NSW is looking at assistance for several troubled arts companies, on a case-by-case basis.

The SSO staff agreement, negotiated with the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), effectively avoids redundancies and protects the salaries of the orchestra’s lowest-paid staff.

It also allows the orchestra to be ready to return to the stage as soon as restrictions on public gatherings are lifted.

MEAA Musicians director Paul Davies said the agreement represented a best practice model for other Australian cultural organisations to follow and would protect musicians’ livelihoods into 2021.

“This agreement gives musicians an important measure of input into sustaining the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in order to return to a full program of concerts and performances when conditions permit,” he said.

By contrast, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra stood down its musicians without pay.

The SSO agreement was certified by the Fair Work Commission on Monday and took immediate effect. The arrangement will remain in place until December 31.

In addition, 20 vacancies across the company will not be filled until 2022, with administrative staff absorbing new responsibilities.

The orchestra expects financial hardships to continue with a reduced concert season in 2021. A salary floor was also agreed to protect the salaries of the lowest-paid staff.

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