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For CSO, good and bad news on deficit

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While contributions and ticket sale revenues reached an all-time high at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 2012, the boost was not enough to keep the orchestra from running an operating shortfall for the second year in a row, according to documents released at the organization’s annual meeting Wednesday and statements from CSO officials.

CSO Association President Deborah Rutter attributed the record revenue increase to “the incredibly positive reactions our patrons have to the music-making and vision for the CSO, both here in Chicago and around the world” and to enthusiasm for superstar conductor Riccardo Muti.

The CSO also announced at the meeting that it has extended Yo-Yo Ma’s contract as creative consultant through June 2015. Muti’s five-year contract runs through August of 2015.

Gifts to support CSO operations increased to $28 million in 2012 from $25 million last year. Operating revenues — boosted mostly by an increase in CSO concert ticket sales and performance fees — rose to nearly $33 million from $27 million, helping the orchestra avoid an even bigger deficit.

Running the CSO cost a total of about $73 million in 2012, about $8 million more than last year. But the organization reported an operating deficit of about $1.3 million, compared to its 2011 figure of $927,000.

"While we have a strategic plan to address the imbalance in the growth of revenues and expenses, it will take some time to resolve," Rutter said. "We continue to have a strong balance sheet and healthy engagement from our patrons."

The value of the CSO’s endowment, which fluctuates with investment returns, dropped to $233 million this year from $242 million in 2011. Pension funding levels also dropped, despite the organization’s upping its contribution to its two pension plans to almost $4.2 million this year from $3.3 million last year.

A statement from CSO officials noted that market forces cause the pension funding status to fluctuate from year to year and that “many pension plans, including ours, suffered significant investment losses in recent years that have yet to be made up.” CSO board members also elected not to make several years of pension contributions in the early 2000s — after paying additional money into the fund in prior years.

For musicians, the meeting came a few weeks after a 48-hour strike that was resolved just in time for a tour that included stops at Carnegie Hall and in Guanajuato, Mexico, and Mexico City. Bass player Stephen Lester, who chairs the musicians’ negotiating committee and who spoke at the annual meeting, said musicians remain concerned about how financial priorities will affect “the future of this institution, and its commitment to excellence.”

"Clearly, the level of trust and understanding (between management and musicians) is at a very low point," he said.

Rutter said in a statement to the Tribune earlier this month that protecting the CSO’s "artistic standards and vision" is the organization’s top priority.

Despite two years of shortfalls, the CSO is in an enviable position relative to many of its peers. In the wake of the recession, orchestras across the country have been plagued by financial problems and labor disputes.

This week the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra ended a lockout that canceled more than a month of concerts.The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, saddled with debt approaching $20 million, ratified a contract late last month after contentious negotiations. The Minnesota Orchestra has canceled all concerts through November after its contract expired Oct. 1 amid an ongoing labor dispute.

Ma, the famed cellist whose contract extension was announced Wednesday, has served as the CSO’s first creative consultant since the post was created in 2010, supported by funding from CSO trustee Joyce Green and her husband, Judson, former president and CEO of the digital mapping company Navteq.

Ma remains the catalyst behind Citizen Musician, a movement that enlists musicians, teachers and institutions to bring people closer together, create community and inspire and transform lives through music.

Since its launch in 2011, Citizen Musician has expanded its purview from area prisons, schools, hospitals, train stations, community centers and other public spaces to locations around the world. During the CSO’s most recent tour, orchestra musicians performed at a medical center and school in New York City, a children’s rehabilitation center in Mexico City and schools in Guanajuato. On Monday the cellist accompanied students at Manuel Perez Jr. Elementary School in Pilsen as they sang “It's a Small World” in English, Spanish and Mandarin.

In a statement released by the orchestra, Ma said he was proud of the work he, Muti and the musicians of the Chicago Symphony and Civic orchestras have been able to accomplish over the last few years.

"This work is all about responding to need and serving the community through music — not art for art’s sake, but art for life’s sake," the statement read. Joyce and Judson Green “are as passionate as maestro Muti and I are about . . . the importance of going beyond the walls of Orchestra Hall to share music throughout the city."

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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