The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra will report a significant deficit for the fiscal year ended in June, according to a letter that board chairman Dobson West sent to patrons on Tuesday.
West’s newsletter introduced audiences to the season-opening concerts this weekend and reported some financial information on the organization. Despite having cut $1.5 million in annual expenses since 2008, West said, “the work we’ve done to date has not been sufficient to solve our financial challenge, and we will have a deficit of up to $1 million for the fiscal year that ended in June. If nothing changes, we will face even larger deficits in the years to come.” The SPCO's annual budget is just under $11 million.
Publicly stating preliminary end-of-year figures is highly unusual for a nonprofit arts organization and West’s letter goes on to say that the future of the SPCO depends on “aligning our expenses with our predictable, sustainable revenues.” Those expenses are largely tied to musicians’ salaries and benefits and West notes that the SPCO is now in contract talks with the union players.
West dismissed what he called rumors about the board’s intentions in these negotiations. The SPCO, he said, “Does not intend to reduce the number of orchestra concerts we offer to this community. We do not intend to cut musician compensation in half, create a part-time orchestra or move to a freelance model.”
Board proposals, summarized on the SPCO website last spring, detailed substantial reductions in compensation and guaranteed work weeks. West said at the time that he viewed as “semantics” any attempt to describe the proposal as cutting the SPCO to a part-time orchestra. The two sides have continued to meet through the summer and officials have said “we heard” the musicians’ reaction to the first proposals.
West's letter also reported that the SPCO has sold more than 2,500 memberships in an initiative that was announced last spring. For $5 a month, patrons can attend an unlimited number of concerts. SPCO's low ticket pricing has resulted in an increase of 20,000 in annual attendance over the past decade, West wrote.
The SPCO opens with a free concert at 7 p.m. Thursday in Mears Park. The official opening is Friday at Ordway Center with Edo de Waart conducting Stravinsky and Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony.