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Putting It in Perspective: The Philadelphia Orchestra’s 2015 Annual Meeting

October 21, 2015

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The words “annual meeting” in most organizations constitute a review of the events of the past 12 months. It is necessarily a much broader review when you are The Philadelphia Orchestra and you are only a few years removed from what will long be remembered as our nadir—a declaration of bankruptcy.

Elizabeth Hainen plays her new harp, Stoki.The Annual Meeting on October 20 opened, as is fitting, with music. Principal Harp Elizabeth Hainen performed the third movement of Handel’s Concerto in B-flat major on her new instrument (nicknamed “Stoki”), funded by Sandra and David Marshall. At the meeting there was much discussion about the challenges still ahead in the Orchestra’s long-term strategic plan but there was equal evidence of the extraordinary progress being made both financially and artistically.

It has been some time since the language spent on discussions of the Orchestra had that dire tone often connected to the rescue of a civic treasure. Instead, the artistic achievements of the past year are a remarkable testament to the fact that the “Philadelphia Sound” remains a palpable presence capable of thrilling audiences worldwide.

      Photo: Chris Lee

It was a year when the name “Yannick” grew into a household recognition of excellence for tens of thousands of Philadelphians and hundreds of thousands worldwide. Only recently Yannick was recognized as the 2016 Artist of the Year by Musical America, joining previous honorees (and former Philadelphia music directors) Leopold Stokowski and Eugene Ormandy.

It is also a year that saw Pope Francis give an enthusiastic thumbs up following the Orchestra’s performance during the historic papal visit to Philadelphia, seen by millions of the faithful and lauded by all.

That notion of faith, accompanied by joy, has been a hallmark of today’s Philadelphia Orchestra, as seen in Bernstein’s MASS performed this past April-May and accompanying discussions of the role of music in religion through the Dialogues Institute of Temple University.

 

Papal Visit. Photo: Chris Lee

That connection to faith and community will be enhanced further in November with the world premiere of One Land, One River, One People, an epic story by the composer Hannibal about the quest for unity in times of injustice—concerts that will be augmented by additional chamber performances in local schools, museums, and community venues.

It was just one of the ways mentioned at the Annual Meeting that illustrated the Orchestra’s commitment to community and music education. Further afield—sometimes much further afield—it was a year or so with appearances in Saratoga, Vail, Europe, and China, as well as both broadcasts and recordings that further built global audiences.

      Bernstein's MASS. Photo: Pete Checchia

An annual meeting, though, must be about finance as well as romance. Here, too, there was great progress, even if tempered by some specific realities. In very tangible ways the Orchestra has made fiscal progress that would be the envy of many American ensembles.

In the past six years The Philadelphia Orchestra has raised more than $70 million in critical transformation funding. In 2015 more than 7,200 donors provided $47 million in gifts and pledges, more than $20 million toward the endowment fund.

 

Vienna's Musikverein. Photo: Jan Regan

Since 2011 contributions by members of the Board are up 35%, individual giving is up 25%, and foundation support is up 33%. Board contributions to the Annual Fund are up 92% since fiscal 2011. The Annual Fund has increased by 41% in just the fiscal years 2010 to 2015, while earned revenues increased from 30% to 37% of total revenues since 2011.

These are remarkable achievements given how close the Orchestra was to real tragedy not long ago.

 

 

      Flute PlayIN. Photo: Jeff Fusco

No annual meeting recognizing this kind of achievement is complete, though, without recognizing the challenges that still lie ahead. The overall summary for fiscal year 2015 is that the Orchestra had revenue shortfalls when compared to our budgeted goals, and as a result the institution has made expense adjustments in fiscal year 2016 so that, when the budget is achieved, the organization will come quite close to meeting the financial targets set forward in 2011 for the period 2011-16. As fiscal year 2015 is completed, the Association has achieved 39% growth in our total operating revenue over our fiscal year 2012 actuals, and 85% growth in our total fundraising revenue over the same period. Unto itself—amazing growth. In the context of our plan, our revenues plateaued in fiscal year 2015 and the collective bargaining agreement just ratified with the musicians has not brought them to parity with peers at other great orchestras.

CD signing. Photo: Jessica Griffin

Yet no presenter at the Annual Meeting lacked confidence that The Philadelphia Orchestra’s next phase of strategic planning would bring more progress in the years to come. In that way it was an annual meeting about more than just one year in the past or just one year in the future. It was an annual meeting that recognized sacrifice but was also a celebration.