N.C. Symphony gears for growth

By Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — The North Carolina Symphony has hired counsel to help it map the steps needed to become “America’s next great orchestra,” a goal that symphony officials say could require raising at least $50 million over the next 10 years.

That effort will involve increasing the size of the orchestra by nearly one-third, boosting musicians’ pay, touring abroad, producing award-winning compact discs, and capturing national media attention, says David Chambless Worters, president and CEO.

“A widely misunderstood notion is that this campaign is about raising money,” he says. “The campaign is actually about transforming the organization.”

With advice from Hartsook Companies, a consulting firm in Wichita, Kan., the symphony aims to develop a strategy for its transformation, a statement of its “case” for financial support, and a plan to take that case to the public, Worters says.

The campaign will include funds for programs, endowment and capital projects, and will begin with a quiet phase that could begin in a year and a public phase that likely will not begin for “many years,” Worters says.

Critical steps the symphony needs to take, he says, include adding 20 new full-time musicians over the next 10 years, bringing the total to 82.

“We’re going to have to be recruiting musicians at the absolute highest level, and retaining them,” he says.

That will require an increase in the $1,097 minimum weekly scale for members of Local 500 of the American Federation of Musicians under a four-year contract that expires in the summer of 2007, Worters says.

“We want to pay the musicians a lot more so we are attracting the best musicians and retaining the best musicians,” he says.

In September, he says, the symphony added three new chairs, all violins, at an annual cost of $60,000 each.

On the strength of growth in ticket sales and its annual fund, Worters says, the symphony will pay for those three new chairs by increasing its annual permanent operating expenses by $180,000.

But John Mitterling, vice president for development, says adding 20 chairs will require securing special gifts to the symphony’s endowment, which now totals $8 million.

The strategy for raising those endowment funds could include pursuing matching gifts and expanding endowed chairs’ role beyond musical performance to include service to the state.

“I think the environment calls for that,” he says. “People who give endowment money want to make sure they’re really making a change in people’s lives.”

The symphony calculates it would need $1.25 million in endowment to generate investment income to cover the annual cost of a new chair.

The symphony in September issued a compact disc, entitled “Sketches,” that features the first recordings of live concerts led by Grant Llewellyn, who was named music director in 2004.

And in a recent visit to Denmark, Worters met with the U.S. ambassador, Jim Cain of Raleigh, to talk about a cultural exchange, possibly in the next two years.

International touring and award-winning recordings can help raise the symphony’s profile with the national media and help boost North Carolina’s economic development, Worters says.

The state’s economy is focused on “intellect,” he says, and will require “exactly the kind of workforce that is going to demand cultural opportunities at the highest level.”

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