Cash-starved Philly Orchestra asks public to help

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The financially troubled Philadelphia Orchestra is kicking off a new campaign aimed at rallying both classical music devotees and novices to support the ensemble by attending concerts and making donations.

The “Listen with Your Heart” initiative announced Wednesday will include public events, fundraising and public awareness campaigns in the city’s restaurants, hotels and shops. A key message of the effort is that the orchestra, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization last month, is essential to the city’s vibrancy and everyone — music lovers or otherwise — has a stake in its success.

“The orchestra is not just for those of means or those who may have a particular appreciation for classical music or a trained ear,” said Mayor Michael Nutter, who joined orchestra officials at a press conference inside the Ritz-Carlton hotel’s soaring marble lobby. “It’s actually for every citizen.”

Former concertgoers, lapsed season-ticket subscribers and those who have “somehow, some way” never attended a performance or made a donation can help the orchestra and the city as a whole, he said.

“In addition to its inherent cultural value, the orchestra and the businesses its supports are truly a force in the local economy,” Nutter said.

The orchestra, among the world’s most renowned symphonies and the ensemble behind the soundtrack to Walt Disney’s 1940 film “Fantasia,” became the first major U.S. orchestra to seek Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Management said it was facing a $14.5 million shortfall on a $46 million budget and would run out of cash by June.

It has struggled with dwindling attendance and donations, shrinking endowment income, pension costs and rent prices at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. Some officials also have blamed the economic recession and an aging audience. A federal Bankruptcy Court judge has allowed the orchestra time to reorganize its finances and map its short- and long-term future without canceling the current concert season.

Orchestra president and chief executive officer Allison Vulgamore said the new initiative seeks to reconnect Philadelphians with the orchestra and to drum up awareness by displaying “Listen with Your Heart” posters and buttons in local businesses.

“We join all who believe that the Philadelphia Orchestra is a legacy that must continue,” she said. “We are deeply rooted in regaining our financial stability, but not losing the incredible musical excellence of this institution, and we must remain a destination orchestra not just for our musicians ... but also for our audiences.”

She reported “brisk sales” of subscriptions for the 2011-2012 season and $2.6 million in donations from 1,200 people, both in the month since the orchestra’s April 16 bankruptcy filing.

“With the end of the 2010-11 season, we will now have a season on which we have balanced: We are no further declining in our sales this year,” she said. “Thank you, Philadelphia, for getting us ready to build sales moving forward.”

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Online:

Listen with Your Heart campaign: http://www.philorchtoday.org

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