Thanks to vigorous cost controls, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra ended its 2009-10 fiscal year with a balanced budget, despite small declines in both audience numbers and donations.

The organization announced its financial news at Wednesday’s annual meeting.

This marks the seventh straight balanced budget for the SPCO, with expenses totaling just more than $11 million. That figure was down 9.3 percent from fiscal 2008-09 and resulted from layoffs and salary cuts made in February 2009. Sarah Lutman, president and managing director, said no additional cuts were necessary during the fiscal year that ended June 30.

"We are excited about our financial performance," Lutman said Tuesday. "We worked hard to make it happen, with everyone pulling together."

Lutman noted the SPCO has no accumulated deficit and no external debt, which favorably positions the organization once the greater economy stabilizes. The endowment rose slightly to $35.1 million, a figure that reflects a 5 percent budget draw -- common practice among nonprofit organizations. Lutman said the orchestra made no additional draws to balance the budget.

Funding, attendance decline

The SPCO raised $7 million from donors, off 3 percent from the previous year. However, there was some good news. Not included in the 2009-10 figures, the Mellon Foundation announced two grants in the past year for upcoming projects involving digital media and archiving. One is a four-year, $1 million initiative.

Paid attendance during 2009-10 was 94,500 (81 percent capacity), down 4.7 percent and matching a decline in season subscriptions. Lutman anticipates slight growth in subscribers in the current year.

Ticket pricing has been a key strategy in recent years, as the orchestra has sought to reposition itself as broadly accessible. The result is that 84 percent of SPCO tickets are now available for $25 or less, with children's prices at $5. Ticket sales account for about 15 to 20 percent of the organization's budget.

Artistic highlights for the year included a Stravinsky festival last January that culminated in a collaboration with the Minnesota Orchestra for "The Rite of Spring." After canceling a European tour, the SPCO used that March slot to mark the 200th birthday of composer Robert Schumann, performing all four of his symphonies.

While Lutman heads the administration, the SPCO has four Artistic Partners: conductor Roberto Abbado, conductor and pianist Christian Zacharias, conductor and violinist Thomas Zehetmair and soprano Dawn Upshaw.

Graydon Royce • 612-673-7299