Montgomery County

National Philharmonic to Remain Open With New Leadership After Fundraising Efforts

Two maestros and the new interim president agreed to work up to 12 months without compensation to help the orchestra save money moving forward

After raising half a million dollars, the National Philharmonic will stay open — with new leadership, the orchestra announced.

The National Philharmonic, which performs at The Music Center at Strathmore, raised more than $200,000 from a crowdfunding campaign by the National Philharmonic Board and president, and more than $300,000 from cash pledges to an independent group run by businessman and philanthropist Jim Kelly.

The orchestra plans to remain open through its 2019-2020 season and continue its programs in the upcoming years.

Kelly, who is a violist with the National Philharmonic, co-owner of Potter Violins and orchestra administrator with the National Philharmonic and other classical music organizations, will now assume the role as the organization’s interim president. 

He said he was "very excited" about the role. 

"The game-changer that underpins the way forward is that now we have money to invest wisely in our future," he said. 

Kelly will perform his role as interim president for up to 12 months without any compensation, a move that could save the orchestra $95,000 a year, he said.

Two of the National Philharmonic’s maestros, Piotr Gajewski and Stan Engebretson, decided to join him in the decision.

"With the financial problems, many needed to step up," Gajewski, the National Philharmonic’s music director and conductor, said. "I thought it was important to step up and do that to save the organization."

Leanne Ferfolia, who has been the Philharmonic’s president since 2016, will be senior consultant to the president. She will work closely with Kelly to get him up to speed with the position, Kelly said.

"[Ferfolia] achieved significant successes in a short three-year period, temporarily relieving the Philharmonic of its debt pressures," Kelly said in a statement. "Unfortunately, the organization couldn’t withstand a downturn in ticket sales or expand its donations quickly enough to counteract losses that ultimately surpassed its limited financial reserves."

The National Philharmonic was prepared to close due to insufficient funding from the Montgomery County government after the Arts and Humanities Council decreased the orchestra's funding by more than $150,000 since 2011.

Several changes made it harder to cover operational and performance costs, which nearly doubled in that time. Construction on the Strathmore caused ticket sales to decline, and the 35-day long government shutdown and changes in charitable contribution tax laws also played a role in a loss of funds.

The orchestra cut its performances by 30 percent to cope with the financial issues. Although it has raised enough funds, the National Philharmonic will continue into the new season with the reduced performances as designed, Kelly said.

There will be some changes, though.

"My first objective is to hire a full-time development director and really focus on fundraising and major gifts, which is something the institution hasn’t focused on in years past," Kelly said.

The orchestra relied too much on ticket sales when it should focus more on donor funding, Kelly said. He said that symphony orchestras should work on a model where ticket sales support them by 40 percent.

Kelly wants to focus on all areas of opportunities rather than only its relationship with county council funding, he said. It took about three weeks to raise the $314,000 from residents of the Montgomery County and D.C. area, an act that shows there are community members willing to support the orchestra, he said. 

Other new leadership will include board member Harris Miller, who will replace outgoing board member Todd Eskelsen.

"Moving forward, the board understands that raising money is Job no. 1, even with the windfall of the last few weeks. We will be able to build upon our successes to date, and together reach ever greater heights," Miller said.

The first concerts for the 2019-20 season are Sept. 21 and 22 and will begin the all-Beethoven season to celebrate the 250th birthday of the composer.

"I hope the community comes together the third week in September so that we all can celebrate the rebirth of the National Philharmonic," Gajewski said.

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