Harsh financial notes at the symphony

Kansas City residents will not be going to their music hall this fall to hear their local orchestra. The Kansas City Philharmonic is disbanding because of a lack of funds.

When the new orchestra season opens in San Diego, it will be managed by an administrative staff of nine full-time employees. Until a recent spurt of budget cutting, the orchestra had a full-time staff of 21.

And come September, paychecks for members of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington will not contain the $50-a-week raise their contract called for. Orchestra players recently voted to postpone their pay hike to keep the organization's deficit under control.

Across the United States, symphony orchestras are feeling a financial pinch. Federal aid has already been cut and more reductions are in sight. At the same time, some corporate donors are tightening their purse strings and ticket buyers are spending less freely.

To cope, the musical organizations are trimming budgets, trying to boost subscription ticket sales, raising ticket prices, and looking for new donors.

''There is a growing problem that stems from decreased federal support,'' says Henry Fogel, executive director of the National Symphony Orchestra. ''But it's broader than that. The decrease in government spending in other social areas is putting an increased burden on the private sector . . . which tends to dry up a bit our other traditional (funding) sources.''

''There are a number of orchestras that are quite vulnerable . . . as a result of the economy and the situation with government support,'' adds Catherine French, chief executive officer of the American Symphony Orchestra League.

During the federal budget year ending this September, the National Endowment for the Arts set aside $8.75 million for grants to orchestras, down 10.8 percent from the previous year's $9.81 million. In the fiscal year beginning in October, the endowment's total budget is slated to be cut 30.1 percent from $143 million to $100 million, triggering further and deeper reductions in orchestra aid.

The funding bind promises to get worse. ''The real cuts haven't been made yet ,'' notes Jan Stunkard, a program specialist with the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

While federal orchestra aid has never been huge, it is a catalyst for other sources. In order to receive federal money, orchestras have to raise matching funds locally. And winning an NEA grant is a useful stamp of approval in selling local donors on the organization's merit, orchestra managers say.

Even with a federal grant, orchestras are not finding it easy to get corporate donors to increase their giving. ''Corporate charitable giving for basic support is becoming tougher to get,'' notes Albert Webster, managing director of the New York Philharmonic. ''Things are being looked at more and more carefully.''

Gifts for specific purposes - like a special tour - also are not easy to come by. But corporations show an increasing awareness of the promotional value of such gifts. ''More and more corporate support is starting to come from marketing (departments),'' Mr. Webster notes.

Although times are tough, the corporate community can still rally behind an orchestra. For example, businesses have played a key role in keeping the Detroit Symphony on a firm financial footing. Despite the problems local firms face, corporate contributions were up 2 percent in the 1982 budget year, says Oleg Lebanov, the orchestra's executive vice-president.

Meanwhile, ticket buyers also are watching their pocketbooks carefully. ''There has been a slight lessening in renewals (for subscription seats) . . . and new subscribers appear to be harder to come by,'' says New York Philharmonic executive Webster. ''There has been a slight softening '' in the pace of individual ticket sales, as well, adds Thomas W. Morris, general manager of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Of course, not all symphony orchestras are feeling the pinch to the same degree. Major organizations with relatively large endowments are in the best position. With a signficant endowment, temporary shortfalls in operating revenue can be made up from endowment income.

One of the main reasons the Kansas City Philharmonic closed ''was that it never established an endowment,'' says orchestra general manager Mark Walker.

But even organizations with substantial assets, like the Boston Symphony Orchestra or New York Philharmonic, are not feeling overconfident. ''I wouldn't say there is no danger,'' says New York executive Webster. ''(Well-endowed orchestras) tend to feel the effects later than smaller institutions.''

To cope with financial stringency, orchestras are employing a variety of tactics. Perhaps the most dramatic method was the agreement reached between players and management at the National Symphony Orchestra. Members agreed to postone the effective date of salary increases they were due in the final two years of a three-year contract, saving the orchestra $600,000 in the first year alone. The players also agreed to postpone the effective date of a raise they will receive in the first year of a new contract.

In return, management pay was frozen and executive director Fogel promised that an additional $3 million would be raised for the orchestra's $5 million endowment by Jan. 1, 1983.

More commonly, orchestras are trying to expand their base of support. For example, the Detroit Symphony has raised $400,000 by soliciting donations over the telephone. And to spur greater corporate interest, the Boston Symphony this year launched a ''presidents' night at the Pops'' program when corporate executives were invited to spend several thousand dollars for a group of seats at a dinner and Pops concert.

''Everyone is trying to understand their own community better and trying to design fund-raising efforts in response to what the community can and is willing to do,'' the American Symphony Orchestra League's Ms. French says.

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