The margin was as thin as the U.S. Senate election, but the Minnesota Orchestra reported a balanced budget for the second straight year.

After several years of deficits, the organization remained in the black in fiscal 2008, posting a $15,000 operating surplus on a budget of $31 million. That budget makes the orchestra the largest producing arts organization in the state. The report was released at Friday's annual meeting.

The results owe much to tight fiscal discipline. Expenses were held to an increase of 1.3 percent over the previous year. Earned revenue dropped about $650,000 to $10.1 million. Net contributions, however, increased by 6.3 percent over the previous year, to $14.4 million.

Michael Henson, concluding his first year as president and CEO, told the meeting that the current economy will challenge the orchestra, "but we remain firm in our efforts to meet those challenges and to operate in a fiscally responsible manner."

Artistically, the orchestra board celebrated the release of the last two CDs in its Beethoven Symphony cycle. The final disc was recorded in January on the BIS label with music director Osmo Vänskä. There was no European tour (that comes in February) but the musicians did get out into the fresh air of southwestern Minnesota and to Lincoln Center in New York, where they featured Mahler's Symphony No. 1. Last summer, the organization announced that trumpeter Irvin Mayfield would be the orchestra's first artistic director of jazz.

As was the case last year, the orchestra drew only 6 percent from its endowment to help address the budget. The $191 million endowment was down 11 percent because of stock-market performance. The board is allowed to draw up to 7 percent, but spokeswoman Gwen Pappas said the organization has been very firm about avoiding that method.

Total attendance was 394,000, down 10,000 from 2006-07. Pappas attributed that to a drop in crowds for the Day of Music event in September.

"There was a big storm on Friday night of that event, and the attendance fell from 20,000 the previous year to 10,000," she said.

Classical ticket sales reached 72 percent of capacity, up 2 percent. Additionally, 85,000 people attended free events over the year.

In other financial notes, the 2008 Symphony Ball, chaired by Theresa Davis, netted $828,000, the most in orchestra history.

Graydon Royce • 612-673-7299