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STRATEGY AIMS TO SHORE UP PHILHARMONIC; BUT PROGRESS STILL HINGES ON OBTAINING EXTRA $150,000 FROM COUNTY THIS YEAR

Behind closed doors, the groundwork has been laid at the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra for a broad-based effort to put the organization on a solid financial footing once and for all, ending its painful history of limping from crisis to crisis.

The management strategy includes:

Appointing a "stabilization committee" to help chart the organization's course.

Summoning a team of experts from the American Symphony Orchestra League to assess the Philharmonic's financial needs and submit recommendations.

Soliciting additional advice from Richard Cisek, the Minneapolis consultant who helped find a way out of the most recent crisis.

Reaching a long-term agreement with Philharmonic musicians, based on the orchestra league's and Cisek's findings.

But still another infusion of public money -- in this case, a $150,000 emergency grant from Erie County -- will be required to set the process in motion. Since reaching agreement with the musicians Nov. 10 on a short-run plan to stabilize the ailing orchestra, which ended a stalemate that had delayed the start of the concert season for seven weeks, the Orchestra Society has remained silent about both the settlement and its pledge to establish a long-term planning process as a condition of receiving additional county money this year.

Orchestra leaders submitted those proposals to County Executive Gorski and have been holding their breath waiting for his reaction, said sources close to orchestra management.

But Gorski, who included 22 percent more funding for the Philharmonic in next year's budget, has been preoccupied, first with winning legislative approval of that spending plan and now with the possible effects of expected state budget cuts on the county.

As a result, the Philharmonic's request for an extra $150,000 before Dec. 31 has gone unanswered.

"Without the county money in place, there is no deal with the musicians," one source said, and by extension no long-range plan.

If Gorski provides the $150,000, as has been recommended by Richard M. Tobe, county commissioner of environment and planning, and the County Legislature approves the grant, the following will occur:

The county money would combine with up to $150,000 pledged so far to the Committee of One Thousand, a private fund-raising initiative and an extra $200,000 the Philharmonic aims to collect during its current annual giving campaign, to balance the orchestra's 1990-91 budget.

This would put the Philharmonic back in the good graces of its bank syndicate, which shut off credit to the beleaguered organization last summer when it faced what then was projected as a $1.3 million deficit for 1990-91.

Although details of the settlement with musicians were not made public, The Buffalo News has learned that management agreed to pay the musicians what they were scheduled to earn over the full season, spread over 39 weeks instead of the scheduled 46.

The Orchestra Society also adopted Cisek's recommendations that it work with the orchestra league to draw up a long-term survival plan patterned after successful orchestras, and solicit additional short-term funding from com-munity and government sources.

The Philharmonic secured a $300,000 to $500,000 interest-free loan from the Margaret L. Wendt Foundation, contingent on extra funding from the county, and embraced the outside fund-raising assistance of the Committee of One Thousand.

For their part, the musicians agreed to drop a grievance filed after the Orchestra Society canceled the last two weeks of the 1989-90 season, to give up their insistence that they be paid for those weeks, to perform for now at the present strength of 82 musicians, leaving five positions vacant, and to convert a vacation week into a playing time, which gave management more calendar space to reschedule concerts postponed during the seven-week impasse.

With the books balanced for 1990-91, the orchestra could deal with its long term needs.

The process would follow this approximate timetable:

A stabilization committee, presumably independent of the current orchestra leadership, would be set up to oversee long-range planning.

The Washington-based orchestra league would be contacted before year's end about sending a review team to Buffalo, the source said.

Along with Cisek, the team would assess the Philharmonic's finances and the "revenue atmosphere" in which the orchestra operates -- how much money it is capable of raising, and its funding sources.

Among the pressing questions would be how to eliminate the Philharmonic's $2 million accumulated deficit.

Cisek would finish his job by March 31, and a five-year financial plan would be completed by May 31.

The orchestra would seek to wrap up a long-term agreement with the musicians by Aug. 31, the end of its fiscal year, based on the Cisek and American Symphony Orchestra League recommendations.

"Everyone, the society and the musicians, wants long-term stability," the source said. "What has happened over the last 25 years is that no one has been willing to address putting the organization in continuing budget balance.

"This is a chance not to make those mistakes again. Some people might say it's the last chance."

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