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After dramatic weeks, BPO anticipates smooth sailing

The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra has been making a lot of noise lately, and not just the kind from the stage at Kleinhans Music Hall.

At the Sept. 17 season-opening gala, the festive crowd cheered the news that the musicians had signed a record-breaking six-year contract.
Days later, on Sept. 22, BPO board chairman Louis P. Ciminelli was arrested in a public corruption probe.

These changing fortunes made waves in global classical music circles.

“It’s all hopping and popping in Buffalo,” British author and influential classical music chronicler Norman Lebrecht wrote dryly in his blog, Slipped Disc.

But it appears calmer seas are ahead.

• At the annual meeting of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra Society Inc. on Sept. 27, the orchestra elected Stephen Swift as its new chairman of the board. Officers routinely rotate every few years and the BPO had explained that the decision to elect a new chairman had been made in July, well before Ciminelli’s arrest. Swift, the chief financial officer of HealthNow, has served on the BPO’s board since 2010. Ciminelli served two terms as chairman and is leaving the board after 10 years of service.

Besides the new chairman, the board was slightly reconfigured. Angelo Fatta will continue to serve as vice chair. James Beardi, a former executive vice president at M&T Bank, will become treasurer. Nicole Tzetzo, newly named vice president, finance and administration for the Ralph C. Wilson Foundation, will continue as secretary. New to the board are Amy Habib Rittling and Karen Sperrazza. Violinist Megan Prokes, who serves as chair of the Orchestra Committee, joins the board as an ex officio member. Current board members Peter Eliopoulous, Roger Simon, Michal Wadsworth and Gary Szakmary were elected to additional terms.

• The orchestra celebrated the sixth consecutive season with a balanced budget and the 11th balanced budget in the last 12 years. Revenues over the last fiscal year totaled $11.5 million. Government support made up only 8 percent of this money. The bulk came from ticket sales and earned revenues (35 percent), contributed revenue (43 percent) and endowment income (14 percent). The orchestra cited $10 million in pledges secured for the Crescendo Campaign, including a new $1.5 million pledge from the Cullen Foundation and another $1 million pledge from an anonymous patron, both coming in August at the close of the season.

The BPO’s fiscal health is noteworthy when a number of orchestras are struggling. At the Philadelphia Orchestra’s opening gala Sept. 30, the orchestra walked out. That same day, the musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra went on strike. In Texas, the musicians of the Fort Worth Symphony are on strike, and concerts have been canceled until November.

• In contrast to these impasses, the contract recently reached between the BPO’s management and its 73 musicians ensures stability. It is the longest contract in the nation between an orchestra and its musicians. The American Federation of Musicians Local 92 celebrated that at the recent BPO Society meeting. Jim Pace, president of Local 92, presented the BPO with a plaque in recognition of the longstanding relationship between the orchestra and the union.

“We’re thrilled it came out the way it did,” Pace told The News.

Asked how the BPO’s musicians were able to succeed where other musicians were failing, Pace credited the personalities involved.

“We’re lucky we’ve got real good labor/management relations,” he said. “I think that’s a good part of it. We have little issues that crop up once in a while, grievances and such -- that’s normal. But generally, I think everyone’s working toward the common good.”

Pace noted that the contract was the swan song of the union’s longtime chief negotiator, Nathan Kahn.

“He has done this for decades, and now he’s retiring. This was his last contract,” he said. Kahn received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the American Federation of Musicians’ most recent convention, held in June in Las Vegas.

At the orchestra meeting, BPO Executive Director Dan Hart and Music Director JoAnn Falletta noted highlights of the past fiscal year. Falletta was especially proud of the Finnish festival that opened the 2015-2016 season and commemorated the 75th anniversary of Kleinhans Music Hall, whose architects were Finnish. She called the concerts “the artistic highlight of the whole decade.”

Other high points included the East Coast premiere of Byron Yasui’s Ukulele Concerto with celebrated ukelele soloist Jake Shimabukuro; the collaboration with the Colored Musicians Club for “Orchestra Meets Jazz”; the sixth biennial JoAnn Falletta International Guitar Concerto Competition held in partnership with WNED-WBFO; and the release of five new recordings on the Naxos and Beau Fleuve labels.
The orchestra scored a success with a three-city tour of Florida, its third tour in six years. On the home front, too, it worked on expanding its audience. Its educational programs served 42,000 at 158 schools.

“When people ask we are doing about the younger generation and who will take our place in the concert hall, one can see we are clearly doubling down on our focus in this important area and the success of our programs shows in the numbers,” Hart said.


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