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Orchestra cuts concert to cut costs

Chamber Choral series removed as Philharmonic deficits climb

The Fort Wayne Philharmonic’s Chamber Choral series has been eliminated for next season as part of the organization’s efforts to save money.

The Philharmonic is facing a deficit of more than $2.3 million, according to President and CEO J.L. Nave III. The organization has a deficit of about $670,000 for this season, which ends Saturday, adding to the more than $1.7 million in accumulated deficit from the previous year, Nave said Thursday.

The Philharmonic will not present the Chamber Choral series to offset the cost of paying musicians for the accompaniment of performances. Instead, the chorus will be merged with the Masterworks series. Nave said the move has been discussed internally for a few months, and the decision was made to increase sustainability.

The volunteer chorus members were notified of the decision Saturday by email.

“The orchestra has been running on a deficit for over a decade now, and this is something the board is obviously taking very seriously. That’s why we’re looking at changes to move forward on a more sustainable path,” Nave said.

Nave said that a $4.6 million budget was set for the 2012-13 year, and since the orchestra continues to run on a deficit, it is important to make the best use of public funding. He said the numbers could change as the Philharmonic begins to forecast its budget for the rest of the year and solicit annual fund donations, which he says will positively impact the year-end results.

Karen Allina, president of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic Chorus board and a Philharmonic board member, sent out an email to chorus members Saturday about the changes. Chorus member John Moore said the email came as a surprise.

“It was a triumphant season,” Moore said. “I was astonished and appalled.”

For the 2013-14 season, the chorus is scheduled to perform with the orchestra for the Holiday Pops series in December and the Masterworks concert of “Beethoven’s 9th” in May.

“The Chamber series have been traditionally much lower in attendance and support. These concerts are fairly expensive to put on,” Nave said. “What we’ve done is use the resources the public has entrusted us with to stay true to putting on the best concerts that we can. We’re finding a balance.”

Although the contracts for the Philharmonic’s unionized musicians end in August, Nave said the ongoing contractual talks are independent from the funding used for programming.

He said he remains positive a resolution will be reached to sustain the orchestra, which he says is the most important aspect.

“One of the things we’re tying to do is keep most of our programming consistent. Combining the Chamber Choral concert and Masterworks was the biggest change,” Nave said.

Allina said that as a Philharmonic board member she was aware of the impending changes. She said even though all three of the Chamber Choral concerts this season sold out at First Wayne Street United Methodist Church, she understands the need for the orchestra to reorganize for next year.

“The expense of the venue is relatively inexpensive and there’s no expense in having the chamber chorus. The expense comes from having a chamber orchestra, and this year, they’re really watching their budget,” she said.

Allina said there is still a possibility for the Philharmonic chorus to design its own choral-only concerts with the Philharmonic’s support.

The chorus has been trying out choral directors at each of its concerts this past season, and once a decision has been made by Andrew Constantine, musical director and Philharmonic conductor, the choral director will be able to design programs for the chorus.

Allina said the chorus will possibly use a small organ or quartet to accompany their choral-only concerts.

“It’s actually kind of exciting that we’ll be in the Masterworks series and we’re going to do the Holiday Pops,” Allina said. “Then we will (be) able to have chorus-only concerts that we can design and do the things we have wanted to.”

Chorus member Moore says he is concerned with how the chorus will stay intact if there are only two confirmed performances for next season. He is undecided on whether he will participate.

Nave said no permanent decisions have been made. They will try the arrangement for next season before discussing it further.

“We’ve put a lot of energy into the chorus,” Nave said, “and I think I can speak for Andrew (Constantine), as well, when I say none of us have any intention on reducing our attention on the chorus.”