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Deficit forces MSO cuts

March 26, 2009|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN -- The Maryland Symphony Orchestra isn't canceling concerts or programs this year, but is cutting costs to counteract a slumping economy, orchestra officials said Thursday.

MSO Executive Director Andrew Kipe said the symphony, which has a budget of almost $1.3 million, is projecting a record $200,000 deficit at the end of this fiscal year, about twice its typical level.

The MSO, a nonprofit organization, expects to make up about $100,000 in various ways.

Salaries of top employees, including the executive director, are being cut by 5 percent. Employees will pay a larger share of health insurance premiums. A black-tie dinner to thank donors will be toned down.

Kipe said the MSO will play pieces that don't require extra performers and will invite guest musicians who don't have to travel great distances.

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The MSO will use earnings from investments to fill in the other $100,000, as it usually does, Kipe said.

The symphony was founded in 1982 and has a concert series at The Maryland Theatre. Its biggest event of the year is the annual Salute to Independence at Antietam National Battlefield.

The symphony has six full-time and three part-time employees.

The MSO's financial openness at a press conference Thursday comes as other musical organizations have faced money problems in recent months.

The Baltimore Opera Company recently switched from Chapter 11 bankruptcy, a reorganizational tactic, to Chapter 7, meaning the company will dissolve.

The Baltimore Chamber Orchestra canceled two concerts and asked musicians to play for free at another concert, according to The (Baltimore) Sun.

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra laid off five employees and eliminated several positions to save $500,000, the Baltimore Business Journal has reported.

Comparatively, the MSO's finances are in good shape, Kipe said.

The recent economic slump, however, has hurt.

Kipe said the symphony lost 25 percent to 30 percent of its endowment in the last nine months. The endowment now stands at a little less than $2 million.

Single-ticket sales fell 8 percent and corporate underwriting is nearly $73,000 below budget, according to the MSO.

The symphony's deficit reduction plan is based in part on concessions it expects musicians to make in the next contract.

The current two-year contract between the MSO and its roughly 70 musicians expires June 30. Kipe said the symphony wants a new three-year contract.

Kipe and April Dowler, the MSO board's president and wife of John League, The Herald-Mail's publisher and editor, wouldn't say what percentage of the $200,000 deficit they hope to recover in contract concessions.

The musicians have offered concessions, MSO French horn player Jim Vaughn said in a phone interview Thursday afternoon. He declined to name them.

Vaughn is the chairman of the MSO Players Committee, which represents the musicians.

Financial problems in Baltimore and arts cuts statewide worried musicians, many of whom travel a few hours to play in Hagerstown, said Vaughn, who lives in Montgomery Village, Md.

Kipe said it's important to reassure musicians and the public since the MSO is part of the community and the downtown economy.

MSO Music Director Elizabeth Schulze said the symphony is integral to the area's culture and education, joining with Washington County Public Schools to reach thousands of children.

"This is an institution that cannot die," she said.

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