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Sweet sound of success

Florida Orchestra ends its season in the black, using the surplus to reduce debt.

By JOHN FLEMING, Times Performing Arts Critic
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 9, 2002


TAMPA -- In a difficult financial environment for symphony orchestras, the Florida Orchestra has bucked a trend. In the fiscal year that closed at the end of June, the orchestra reported a surplus of $480,000 in a cash budget of $7.8-million at its annual meeting Tuesday.

The Florida Orchestra didn't have the weakened ticket sales that many other orchestras did after the terrorist attacks of last Sept. 11.

"The industry as a whole suffered shock as the result of Sept. 11," executive director Leonard Stone said. "Many orchestras took weeks to recover, some took months to recover and some did not recover, with red ink all over the place. Our sales held the line and even increased. Somehow, we didn't experience anything from which we had to recover, and contributions moved along at a steady pace."

The surplus was used to pay down debt. The orchestra had a $600,000 deficit in the previous fiscal year.

Nationwide, bad news has been piling up for symphony orchestras, with many feeling the pinch from an anemic economy. The San Jose Symphony folded in June. The Pittsburgh Symphony warned it might wind up in bankruptcy.

The Cleveland Orchestra reported a $1.3-million deficit, its biggest in nearly a decade. The Houston Symphony posted a $1.6-million loss last season. The Dallas Symphony had an $850,000 loss.

"It would appear the Florida Orchestra has had a very positive, constructive year in a difficult year to have such a year," said Jack McAuliffe, vice president of the American Symphony Orchestra League. "I think we are going to see more orchestras than normal posting some form of deficit this year."

Before last season began, the Florida Orchestra cut $650,000 in order to balance the budget. "It helped that we stuck very closely to that reduction budget," Stone said.

Ironically, one of the best-attended concerts, with three virtually sold-out performances, had initially been part of the reductions because of the soloists' fees and other extra costs. "The Verdi Requiem had been cut from the budget, but a group of private individuals who felt that that should be maintained raised the money to reinstate it," Stone said. "People obviously wanted to hear the Verdi."

The bottom line was also helped by about $103,000 from Arista Records, royalties owed the orchestra for backing Whitney Houston in her recording of the Star-Spangled Banner from the 1991 Super Bowl in Tampa. The orchestra filed suit against the company to recover royalties from re-release of the record in the wake of Sept. 11.

This season, the budget has been increased to about $8.4-million, with about half that amount projected to come from donors.

"I'm nervous," Stone said. "On the basis that very few people, if any, are going to give more, we have to have more people giving less to equal what we need."

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