Delaware Symphony Orchestra on road to financial recovery

 (DSO Facebook photo)

(DSO Facebook photo)

The Delaware Symphony Orchestra is ready to kick off another season of symphonic “greatest hits,” hidden gems and some surprises.

Bolstered by improving finances, the symphony has announced a somewhat larger season for 2014-15, which will include six classics concerts, four chamber concerts, a children’s concert and collaborations with local arts organizations.

Among the season’s highlights:

Sept. 19 – the DSO’s opening concert will feature performances of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade and Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 (“Emperor”) with Venezuelan pianist Gabriela Martinez
Feb. 13 – the DSO will partner with OperaDelaware for a Valentine’s Day-themed program of selections by Puccini, Verdi and Bizet
May 15 – marks the beginning of a partnership between the DSO and the Delaware Theatre Company; a small group of DSO musicians will accompany the DTC for four performances of Sondheim’s “Putting it Together”
Dec. 20 and 21 – the DSO will rejoin First State Ballet Theatre’s production of “The Nutcracker”

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The orchestra also tuned up its finances. Plagued by deficits for years, the orchestra closed this fiscal year with a $100,000 budget surplus. Next fiscal year, the board hopes to re-establish the cash reserve.

The DSO also has a restricted endowment of $600,000, thanks to a gift last year from the Albert Beekhuis Foundation.

Fiscal restraint remains key

Recent financial gains notwithstanding, DSO officials said the key to a favorable future lies in fiscal restraint and a conservative, common-sense approach to growth and development.

“We’re still coming back and I think the process of convalescence is a long one and one that needs to be done thoughtfully and in a measured and planned way lest we end ourselves back in a position we don’t want to be in,” DSO Music Director David Amado said.

In 2012, the DSO found itself on the brink of extinction forcing it to suspend the 2012-13 season. With support from philanthropist and former board chairperson Tatiana Copeland, the DSO was able to present an abbreviated season. 

“We have the greatest gratitude towards Mrs. Copeland who is a nationally prominent philanthropist,” said Charles Babcock, chairman of the symphony’s board. “She and Mr. Copeland literally saved the DSO.”

The first concert of the new season, “Heroes and Heroines,” is dedicated to Copeland who resigned from the board in April.

Cost-cutting measures

The orchestra responded to its financial crisis by implementing new fiscal controls and traditional cost-cutting measures. Wages were cut for DSO administrative staff and musicians and fees for soloists were reduced.

This year, the DSO has canceled the expensive New Year’s Eve performance. The orchestra also recognized the need to reconcile its desire for larger seasons with market and economic realities.

“If I had the power, I would offer a 40-week season and compensation to equal the New York Philharmonic,” said Babcock. “But we’re working as hard as we can, and as well as we can, to pursue growth.”

The DSO now has a part-time education coordinator, an administrative coordinator and a new development director. Barbara Cairns, former managing director of VIP relations for the MidAtlantic Wine + Food Festival, replaced previous development director Ellen Roberts.

The DSO has also resurrected and reassembled its committees.

“It may mean that things happen at maybe a slower pace because you’re involving all the people you need to be involving and that takes time,” Amado said. “People have voices that need to be heard.”

Amado said the orchestra’s “near-death” experience allowed it to pursue opportunities it might not have otherwise considered. In addition to establishing relationships with venues outside of the city of Wilmington, the DSO is featuring more of its own musicians as soloists. This season audiences will hear principal bassist Daniel McDougall in Koussevitzky’s Bass Concerto and principal clarinetist Charles Salinger in Finzi’s Clarinet Concerto.

“These are our superstars not someone else’s,” Amado said. “And it’s great to be able to shine the spotlight on them.”

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