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Florida Orchestra faces money challenges head-on

Financially, this has been a good-news, bad-news sort of season for the Florida Orchestra. On the plus side of the ledger, the orchestra has more than 1,000 new subscribers. On the negative side, single ticket sales have been off 40 percent from the orchestra's projections.

"Single ticket sales started to flatten in August, which was about the time the economy started to go really bad,'' president Michael Pastreich said. "But we also think our sales were affected by the Rays being in the World Series and everyone being focused on that. Since then, our single ticket sales have started coming back.''

The orchestra's strategy to boost single ticket sales is to concentrate its marketing on programs with widespread appeal. The three that are shaping up as the most popular are the all-Russian program Jan. 23-25, the Strauss waltzes and Mozart program Feb. 20-22 and the John Williams movie music program March 27-29.

The orchestra also faces its perennial problem of cash flow at this time of year. Pastreich recently met with management staff and musicians to warn that a weekly payroll could be missed, or partially made, at some point from now until February, when the orchestra starts getting an infusion of subscription renewal revenue.

"We are confident that payrolls through the end of the year are going to be made,'' Pastreich said. He added that if a payroll is missed neither he nor music director Stefan Sanderling "will accept any pay for a week during which any other employee has received less than 100 percent.''

Last season, the orchestra issued a similar warning about its cash flow problems, but it made all its payrolls.

Orchestras everywhere are suffering lagging ticket sales in the recession. Last week, California's Santa Clarita Symphony canceled its 2009 season. The Las Vegas Philharmonic, the Orchestras of Pasadena, Calif., the Virginia Symphony and the Charleston, S.C., Symphony have all reported problems.

Pastreich is taking a realistic approach. "We're not pretending everything is okay,'' he said. "We're looking the tiger in the eye.''

Bach and Vivaldi for the holidays

Baroque music is on the agenda Thursday morning when violinists Nancy Chang and Sarah Shellman headline the Florida Orchestra's coffee concert, conducted by Alastair Willis. Chang, the associate concertmaster, and Shellman, the principal second violin, will play Bach's evergreen two-violin concerto in D minor. Each will also play a winter section of The Four Seasons of Vivaldi (Shellman) and Piazzolla (Chang). The program also includes excerpts from The Nutcracker, Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on Greensleeves and Suite No. 2 of Handel's Water Music. The concert is at 11 a.m. Thursday at Mahaffey Theater. $24-$40.

Guest gigs for the maestros

Coffee concert conductor Alastair Willis is the conductor for a new recording on the Naxos label of Amahl and the Night Visitors, with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra. … Music director Stefan Sanderling has a prestigious guest conducting engagement next season. He'll make his debut with the Minnesota Orchestra Oct. 15-16 in one of his trademark pieces, Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony.

Notable appearances

Miami choreographer Heather Maloney brings a program of solo dance to the Studio@620 in St. Petersburg Saturday at 7:30 p.m. $10, $15. … Postell Pringle will play the title character in King Hedley II, the August Wilson play opening Jan. 23 at American Stage in St. Petersburg. Pringle replaces Ranney, who was previously announced in the role. … Richard Chamberlain will be playing King Arthur when Spamalot comes to Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, Tampa, March 3-8.

John Fleming can be reached at fleming@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8716.

Florida Orchestra faces money challenges head-on 12/15/08 [Last modified: Monday, December 15, 2008 8:58pm]
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