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Tuesday, September 19, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM


Mixed financial outlook for Seattle Symphony

Seattle Times music critic

The Seattle Symphony's 2005-06 season ended $2.15 million in the red, contributing to an accumulated deficit of $3.2 million.

That's a tough deficit on an annual budget of $21.3 million, though it could have been worse (the budget was reduced $500,000 during the course of the season).

Symphony board chairman Ronald B. Woodard blames the shortfall on a number of factors, including "surprisingly soft" ticket sales for July concerts.

Woodard says the board is looking long and hard at the coming season, with the possibility of eliminating programs that "don't present a product that is absolutely necessary and may be high-risk in terms of audience turnout."

One big change this year: It was the third year of a three-year gift from the Charles Simonyi Fund for the Arts and Sciences, which gave $2 million for each of the two previous seasons. This past season's gift was $1 million, half of the previous season's gift.

Woodard warned that the 2005-06 deficit will not be the last. Next year's budget is "still up in the air," but the Symphony is not projected to turn around the financial picture until 2008-09, when the orchestra will start reducing the accumulated deficit.

The good news: The Symphony just received a $5 million anonymous pledge toward its endowment, which has risen from $12.3 million to $29.3 million since 1998. The orchestra's rate of ticket sales as a percent of the budget is high, at 58 percent, and attendance and subscriptions are strong.

The mixed news from Monday's annual meeting follows unrest among musicians, who took an in-house survey in June said to be critical of director Gerard Schwarz's leadership. The survey has not been publicly released.

"There is no doubt that one of our major tasks is to get the players, board and staff aligned to focus on our common goals and desires," Woodard said. "We are all dedicated to getting these issues resolved. ... Everyone is rowing together."

Woodard continues as board chairman through 2006-07, with Mary Ann Champion as president; Robert L. Collett, secretary; Michael J. Cave, treasurer and vice-chair, finance; Marlys Palumbo, vice-chair, development; Kathleen Wright, vice-chair, governance; Marco A. Abbruzzese, vice-chair, audience development.

Melinda Bargreen:

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