Hitting all the high notes

Celebrating its 25th season, one of the city's most successful arts groups - the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society - could be forgiven for getting uncharacteristically loud, and trumpeting its success.

After all, it's that unheard-of arts organization that has never run a deficit; one that offers a steadily growing number of concerts, and one that somehow keeps ticket prices south of $25.

Anthony P. Checchia has a reputation as smart and thrifty. When he began the series in 1986, he says, "I couldn't believe a region of 3 million people couldn't support this."

There are master classes and educational programs, and giveaways of tickets to hundreds of students. The typical year involves more than 100 events at venues around the city, from the Seaport Museum to the Convention Center, Art Museum and, of course, the Kimmel Center.

But apart from a March 9th gala anniversary concert at the Kimmel, the society plans to go about its business during this silver-anniversary year in the usual way - pretty much operating like a well-tempered clavier.

As it has from the beginning, the society benefits from the thrifty oversight of founder Anthony P. Checchia, who established an enduring link with the Marlboro School of Music and Festival that he also headed. Capitalizing on Marlboro's sizable endowment and a board boasting of the longevity of people like its 20-year chairman, businessman Jerry G. Rubenstein, Checchia, day-to-day manager Philip Maneval, and a small staff have polished the society into a gem that would be prized in any city, large or small.

The society's concerts feature top-notch talent from around the world. Yet, because the society seeks out affordable venues, patrons get to enjoy these performances in less formal settings at churches, galleries, and lecture halls.

While the Kimmel's Perelman Theater is the signature setting for society performances, it's more costly than other venues. Still, it's a sign of the Chamber Music Society's success that its promoters would like to set up at the Kimmel on more nights each year. That's contingent on making the numbers work under terms negotiated with the Kimmel - a deal that would seem to be in step with increasing the city's draw as a performing arts mecca.

There's no better time to elevate the chamber society's profile than during this notable anniversary season.