Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Charlotte Symphony and the wolf

Deep in a speech about the Charlotte Symphony's state of affairs, the orchestra's executive director sums up the situation: "The wolf remains at the door -- and in fact never left." 

That was the most dramatic comment that Jonathan Martin, who said it, or anyone else made Monday night at the orchestra's annual meeting. The runner-up came earlier in Martin's address, when he surveyed the challenges facing the orchestra business in the United States.  

"We need transformational change," Martin said, "not incremental change."

Even though he was talking about the national perspective, that persistent wolf signals that those words could apply to the Charlotte Symphony, too. 

It has been in financial straits for nearly a decade, starting with the post-9-11 downturn. The situation has worsened since the big recession, which set off a plunge in corporate sponsorships and a $1 million cut in Arts & Science Council funding. The orchestra's "constant and urgent" challenge, Martin said, is the week-to-week one of matching the cash coming in with the checks that need to go out to pay the bills. 

The orchestra has a turnaround plan. As Martin described the progress, though, it sounded a lot like incremental change -- on an upward course, but incremental nonetheless. Ticket sales and donations are gradually improving. The orchestra's music director, Christopher Warren-Green is becoming more prominent in the community -- though he was absent Monday. 

Brainstorming for new tactics wasn't on Monday's agenda, though. The main order of business was to vote on a slate of three new and five returning board members, and all won approval. The new ones are Francisco Alvarado, president of Marand Builders; Laurie Readhead, Bank of America's chief information officer; and Reginald White, president of Toran Enterprises. Do they have some fresh ideas for shooing away the wolf?