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No hard feelings: Philadelphia Orchestra musicians give $74K to help employer reach fund goal

Peter Dobrin, Classical Music Critic

Updated: Friday, August 18, 2017, 2:45 PM

The Philadelphia Orchestra performing in Verizon Hall during last season’s Rachmaninoff Festival with pianist Nikolai Lugansky and conductor Stéphane Denève.

After a dissonant start in the fall, musicians of the Philadelphia Orchestra are ending the season in unison, contributing a total of $74,000 to the organization that employs them. The donation represents 100 percent participation by the orchestra’s 96 members, according to leaders of the Philadelphia Orchestra Association.

“I don’t remember another occasion in my nearly 40 years with the orchestra when the musicians have made such a significant financial contribution to the POA,” said orchestra cellist Gloria dePasquale. “We believe that this demonstrates our true partnership with the board, administration, and generous patrons in securing our great orchestra financially so that it can continue to grow and thrive.”

Longtime violinist Barbara Govatos noted that “certainly many members of the orchestra have donated individually over the years, but this is the first time in my memory that the entire orchestra has come together to make a financial contribution beyond the countless services donated over many decades.”

Orchestra president Allison Vulgamore called the gift an expression of “strong faith” and a “coming together” for the organization.

Nonprofits strive for 100 percent participation in campaigns and annual funds because, beyond the money itself, the gesture signals unity — an institutional quality in short supply at the start of the orchestra’s season. The concert portion of the opening-night celebration Sept. 30 was canceled when musicians went on strike at the last minute, leaving the audience bereft of any show except the sight of violinists and wind players walking through the Kimmel Center lobby with picket signs in hand.

The strike, plus a concert in Mongolia canceled later in the season for unrelated reasons, led to some unexpected losses in revenue, Vulgamore said. The orchestra sent out an appeal June 30 stating that it was $3.8 million shy of its fund-raising goal and would seek to close the gap in the weeks before the end of the fiscal year on Aug 31.

Vulgamore declined to say how much the campaign had raised since the appeal, though she said, “I am personally confident that we are going to get there.” Not reaching the goal would result in a deficit for the year.

The association has not yet reached 100 percent participation from its own staff and board. Every year, a “handful” of board members wait until the last minute before making their gifts, said Matthew Loden, orchestra executive vice president for institutional advancement.

The $74,000 from musicians includes individual gifts as well as a collective gift made through a payroll deduction and decided on during their stay in Colorado, where they play the Bravo! Vail music festival each summer. Vulgamore and music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin have made donations to this year’s annual fund — $75,000 and $100,000, respectively.

The announcement of the players’ gift comes as the orchestra leverages two others. Orchestra board member Robert Rechnitz and wife Joan made a $500,000 challenge grant to be matched in new, increased, or additional gifts from the orchestra’s board or emeritus directors, musicians, and staff by Aug. 31. The Neubauer Family Foundation issued a challenge grant contingent upon the match of new, increased, or additional gifts from any donor, also by Aug. 31.

The fall strike lasted only a weekend and a new labor contract was signed, but the episode left some donors and volunteers feeling resentful. The strike resulted in the orchestra’s bringing in $15,000 less in concert-only ticket revenue than projected, and $85,000 expected from donors did not materialize, a spokeswoman said.

The orchestra hopes a visible gift now from the musicians will help turn the page.

“We want to show and exemplify what we are asking our community to do in support of us, and I am very proud of the musicians for this significance,” said Vulgamore. “It’s important for the message it sends and the appreciation it sends to our donors, our community, and our audience members.”

Peter Dobrin, Classical Music Critic

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