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Sunday, December 18, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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All local groups must play the bottom line

The Northwest Chamber Orchestra (NWCO) players, unlike those of comparable midsize groups, are represented by a union, the International Guild of Symphony, Opera and Ballet Musicians (as are the players of the Seattle Symphony, Seattle Opera and Pacific Northwest Ballet).

Probably the closest midsize music group to the NWCO in terms of size and activity is the Northwest Sinfonietta (NWS), a Tacoma orchestra that also plays its concerts in Seattle's Town Hall. With a budget of around $400,000, the NWS pays its players a per-service fee and contracts its core members for the season.

"We are challenged financially, like all groups," says executive director Paul Gjording. A 10th-anniversary campaign a few years back helped bring in new grants, but after those have run their course, "it's tough to keep up."

Meanwhile, the two biggest music groups — Seattle Opera and Seattle Symphony Orchestra, both posting shortfalls as of fiscal year 2005 — have each made hires to help the bottom line.

Seattle Opera has a new chief financial officer, Katherine Anderson, an experienced CPA with nonprofit credentials. The company's annual budget of about $20 million had been successfully balanced for 12 years until this past June, when a shortfall of approximately $280,000 was announced.

Kelly Tweeddale, executive director, reports that the August "Ring" came in ahead of budget, and the company has met its forecasts so far this season, though subscriptions are down. "We have very high goals trying to compensate for the downturn in subscriptions," Tweeddale says.

Former development director Nan Garrison is returning to the Seattle Symphony, whose annual budget is $22.7 million. The symphony posted a 2004-05 season shortfall of $196,000 and an accumulated deficit of $1.05 million.

But there is reason for optimism. Executive Director Paul Meecham notes that the Seattle Symphony musicians "signed a modified extended contract in September that laid the groundwork to eliminate the deficit over the next few years. General sales are on track this season, including the Holiday Festival events, as are contributions."

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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