Officials with the Tampa Bay-based orchestra estimate last season's losses at $250,000-$300,000; exact audit numbers for the fiscal year are not yet available. The 80 member-orchestra ended its previous season $505,000 in the red.
Struggling with dwindling donations a year ago, the orchestra's board of trustees cut its operating budget by nearly $1 million, shortening the season to a 31 weeks and trimming musicians' base pay by 17 percent, to $24,000: thereby forcing an exodus of some key players.
The 2004-05 season is set to begin with a private concert September 18, and the first subscription performance is scheduled for October 2. But because orchestra musicians are currently working without a contract, much depends on whether management and musicians reach a labor agreement before the October concert series begins. There are no guarantees that the season will run its full 36 weeks, or that musicians' salaries be spared further cuts.
Speaking to the St. Petersburg Times, the orchestra's executive director Leonard Stone blamed an unpredictable stock market and competition with other non-profits for the dwindling donations. While the actual number of individual donations has risen in recent years, the size of those donations continues to fall. Ticket sales, which account for 55 percent of the annual budget, have been on target.
Operating with a deficit is not uncommon territory for American symphony orchestras. According to the American Symphony Orchestra League, nearly 80 percent of American orchestras operate in the red. Florida orchestras, though, have had an especially tough time lately: Last year, the south Florida-based Florida Philharmonic closed. And in 1993, Orlando's Florida Symphony Orchestra folded.