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Playing in the black - for now

A Times Editorial
Published November 13, 2005

Beautiful symphonies are made when the talents of dozens of individuals are melded into a seamless whole by an insightful and inspiring leader. Successful orchestras are made the same way.

After a number of difficult years, the Florida Orchestra has emerged from its financial troubles. The turnaround occurred thanks to the energetic efforts and generosity of hundreds of donors, board members, staff and volunteers who care deeply about this precious cultural asset. But at the helm was effective leadership. Leonard Stone, the orchestra's executive director, and James Strenski, the board chairman, led a campaign to reverse the orchestra's foundering fortunes, a campaign so successful that at the close of its 2004-2005 season in June, the orchestra not only met its $8.1-million budget but enjoyed a surplus of more than $300,000. This, after having to cut musicians' pay by 16 percent in 2003-2004 to help cover a looming deficit of $650,000.

What a tremendous relief this should be to lovers of live classical music, and to those who may not partake regularly but who enjoy the artistic energy and enhanced cultural standing that comes with having a major symphony orchestra in town. Now in its 38th season, the orchestra has reason to preen. Its music director, Stefan Sanderling, is an internationally renowned impresario known for drawing out the best in his musicians. His keen understanding of today's realities has led to a broadening of the orchestra's appeal with more accessible offerings during the season. Yet he is beloved by traditionalists. Associate Conductor Susan Haig is an ambassador for the next generation, exposing Pinellas and Hillsborough fourth- and fifth-graders, nearly 40,000, to symphonic music through her Youth Concert program.

Still, there is nothing certain about the continuation of our orchestra. Other cities have had to say goodbye to orchestras they thought were local institutions. Bankruptcy has recently struck in San Jose, Calif., Savannah, Ga., and in South Florida where the Florida Philharmonic folded in 2003. To continue on firm financial footing, the Florida Orchestra will have to build on last season's success. It will need to substantially increase its endowment and secure its donor base.

The Tampa Bay area's cultural offerings are ever-expanding, and the orchestra is one of our centerpieces. It is comforting to know that the institution currently resides in so many caring and competent hands.

[Last modified November 11, 2005, 21:37:03]

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