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A six-figure financial turnaround in three years will allow the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic to give its 80 musicians their first pay raise since 2008.
The improved budget also will allow the ensemble to begin thinking about programming bigger pieces it had trimmed before because of budget challenges.
Philharmonic Music Director David Bowden called the orchestra’s recently announced $62,000 net profit from the most recent season “unbelievable.” Three years earlier, the orchestra had entered the 2010 season with a $47,000 shortfall because of a loss of sponsorship revenues.
Bowden attributed the financial change to a $20,000 boost in ticket sales the past season, continued trimming of expenses, including guest support musicians for concerts, and stronger fundraising. Plus, he said a 25 percent jump in the number of students enrolled in the orchestra’s education programs provided an added boost.
“We are experiencing a big resurgence,” Bowden said.
He understands the orchestra landscape that has included a number of metro orchestras folding in recent years. Bowden has been a presenter at national orchestral gatherings and also is the music director of symphonies in Terre Haute and Carmel.
By comparison, he said the local orchestra climate is strong.
“We are definitely something of an anomaly (among orchestras),” Bowden said.
Philharmonic Executive Director Margaret Powers said an influx of new grants, including a $30,000 gift from the local Haddad Foundation, made a big difference.
“There have been a lot of smaller grants, too, that have really added up,” Powers said.
Powers understood the seriousness of the organization’s financial picture as much as anyone. She served as the orchestra’s accountant before accepting the chief front-office post last fall.
“I wasn’t sleeping nights when I first took the new job,” she said.
Two specific concerts last season boosted overall ticket sales as much as anything, Powers said.
One was the season-opener last September with the world-famous Canadian Brass, mixing creative tunes with comedy.
In February, the orchestra registered its first sellout of 1,100 seats in several seasons at North High School’s Judson Erne Auditorium with Columbus-born Broadway singers Marja and Chasten Harmon and Columbus native and nationally touring saxophonist Cam Collins.
Columbus’ Bill Harter, a season-ticket holder since the orchestra’s opening season in 1987, can relate to the importance of the ensemble’s bottom-line health because of his accounting background. He gives credit to both Powers and Bowden.
Harter worked with Powers several years ago at Cummins Inc., and said: “She always has been a good bottom-line manager.”
He said the orchestra probably would have to pay more to find another music director to match Bowden’s talent, lauded by such music experts as Charles Webb, former dean of the top-ranked Indiana University School of Music.
“There is no doubt that the philharmonic is a big part of the quality of life here,” Harter said.
Powers said she is realistic enough not to necessarily expect another $62,000 profit for the upcoming season, beginning Sept. 21 with popular internationally touring pianist Di Wu, who drew healthy-sized audiences in the past.
“We’ve already heard it’s been a tough year for our sponsors,” Powers said.
But Bowden said he and the staff will remain upbeat.
“I’m very optimistic about the future,” he said.
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