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Maryland Symphony Orchestra still in black

February 13, 1997


Staff Writer

The Maryland Symphony Orchestra's financial future is looking more upbeat thanks to belt-tightening, an increase in single ticket sales and rising contributions, officials say.

Instead of facing the first deficit in its 15-year history, the MSO will end the year in the black, officials said.

"We expect to break even for the year," MSO President J. Emmet Burke said Wednesday.

MSO officials had projected a $61,400 deficit in the orchestra's fiscal 1997 budget. A revised balance sheet anticipates a $790 surplus.


The MSO will save $28,055 because of a reduction in staff, Managing Director Marc Levy said. For about half the year, the orchestra has had three full-time equivalent staff members, down from five, Levy said. Staff size will stabilize at four, he said.

Well-received performances - including Barry Tuckwell's final French horn performance in Hagerstown - boosted single ticket and holiday concert sales to 62 percent above projections, providing an extra $12,000. And the Maryland Symphony Orchestra Guild's annual fund-raising banquet brought in $22,000 more than expected.

MSO officials had blamed a $40,000 drop in government grants and stagnant subscription sales for the projected deficit.

"One can only be happy about being in the black," Tuckwell said.

The MSO has been awarded about $30,000 in grant money from the Washington County Gaming Commission since last May, Levy said.

About $10,000 of that was spent this fiscal year - on capital improvements related to the cost of moving into the MSO's new office next to The Maryland Theatre - and was not included in the operating budget.

Burke said the next two years look even better financially for the MSO. The 1997-98 season will be Tuckwell's last with the MSO, and Tuckwell has put together a program of audience favorites from the past 15 years.

In 1998-99, four finalists to replace Tuckwell as music director each will conduct a Saturday/Sunday concert series, and feedback from audiences and the musicians will help determine who gets the job, Burke said.

The organization plans to launch a year-long search for the four finalists this spring. Burke said he expected a large number of applicants, especially since orchestras elsewhere have been going out of business.

Despite the improving financial picture, Burke said that the MSO, like other orchestras across the country, faces an aging audience. Subscription sales have remained flat for many years.

"Everybody across the country has flat sales," Burke said.

Burke said MSO directors have searched for ways to increase the number of youth- and family-oriented events, and probably will hold another free outdoor pops concert in late summer.

Tuckwell, who has had his differences with the MSO board of directors in the past, said Wednesday the MSO should continue to expand its efforts to attract new audiences and enlarge its base throughout the Cumberland Valley. Tuckwell, who was rehearsing with the orchestra for performances this weekend, said the MSO should regularly perform in Frederick, Md., and Cumberland, Md.

Burke said the MSO must have continued support from the community. Ticket sales account for less than a third of the budget; contributions, grants and endowment earnings make up the rest.

"We start each year having to raise $400,000," he said.

"You can't really live on ticket sales," Tuckwell said. "It's labor intensive and there's nothing you can do about that."

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