The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra has taken risks: Naming a musician as chief artistic director, rather than a conductor. Starting a $5-a-month membership that allows unlimited concert attendance. Letting children and high school and college students in for free.
On Tuesday, the organization reported that these and other risks resulted in a number of highs. The number of households that attended a concert during the fiscal year that ended June 30 topped last year’s record, reaching 12,900. The amount that individuals donated to its annual fund rose almost 8 percent, to about $2.7 million. Its net ticket revenue also hit a high: $1.5 million in fiscal 2016.
The annual report, presented at a Tuesday evening meeting, shows that the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, or SPCO, balanced its $10 million budget in fiscal 2016, with a surplus of about $245,000.
“Our strategy of broad accessibility, especially through our affordable ticket prices, is working,” Katie Berg, director of development, told the board members and donors gathered at the Ordway Center for Performing Arts in St. Paul.
The chamber orchestra, like other orchestras across the country, relies more on donations than ticket sales — adding urgency to its fundraising. In fiscal 2016, about 61.5 percent of the SPCO’s income came from contributions and other support. About 20.7 percent was earned, a category that includes ticket sales. The endowment provided the rest.
The year, which included the ensemble’s first full season in the new, $42 million Ordway Concert Hall, was “transformational,” said Jon Limbacher, the SPCO’s managing director and president. Concerts there filled 95 percent of the seats.
Limbacher stepped into his role in January, returning to an organization he knew well, having served as its vice president and chief operating officer from 2000 to 2012. He helped lead the SPCO’s move to lower prices and performing in more neighborhood and suburban venues.
In 2012, the SPCO began offering a $5-a-month, Netflix-style membership. This year, it announced that children and college students could order tickets for free.
The annual report also marks momentum for an organization that three years ago grappled with a labor dispute that led to a six-month lockout of musicians. Last fall, the SPCO announced that violinist Kyu-Young Kim would become its artistic director — the first time a player took that role, generally performed by a conductor, in a major U.S. orchestra.
Since then, the orchestra has worked to become an “unconducted” ensemble, performing frequently without a conductor.
In 2016, Kim said Tuesday, the SPCO has trekked to the East Coast and Europe, earning a few rave reviews during its first 12 weeks of concerts. “And we have yet to have a conductor on the podium for a program.”