BSO finishes its fiscal year in the black

The Baltimore Sun

After five years of red ink that led to an accumulated deficit of almost $19 million in 2006, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra successfully balanced its books last season.

Its $26 million budget, covering the 2006-2007 season, even ended up with a modest surplus of $4,000, according to an audited financial report announced yesterday.

The BSO's financial turnaround started with a bold initiative by the board of directors in March 2006 that called for the transfer of $27 million from the orchestra's $90 million endowment to retire all debt and provide a cash reserve for the 2006-2007 season. The remainder of the endowment was placed in a separate trust to be managed by an independent board.

Last season, the BSO posted a 35 percent increase in contributions over the previous fiscal year; the $12.3 million in contributed income set a new record for the orchestra. A $1 million challenge grant from the Joseph and Harvey Meyerhoff Family Charitable Funds also helped with the bottom line.

"That was the primary vote of confidence," BSO President Paul Meecham said yesterday.

The two-year grant was announced in November 2006, a couple of months after the orchestra's new leadership of Meecham, board chairman Michael Bronfein and then-music director designate Marin Alsop was firmly in place. The Meyerhoff challenge generated $1.65 million last season.

Meecham, noting more than $600,000 in new ticket sales during Alsop's inaugural 2007-2008 season, said "there is a very good chance to balance this year's budget as well."

The BSO also announced a $550,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to underwrite Alsop's programming initiatives and audience development projects during the current and 2008-2009 seasons. The foundation's most recent grant ended in 2005.

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