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Editorial: JoAnn Falletta and the talented BPO are one of the region’s cultural gems

The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra has been performing at such an exceptionally high level for so long that it’s almost easy to take it for granted. But we shouldn’t; the region is fortunate to have an orchestra that enjoys a worldwide reputation for excellence.

So it is with that in mind that news of a six-year contract agreement with the BPO’s musicians hits a high note. It is the longest contract in the orchestra’s history and even more notable considering the troubles at other orchestras: The Philadelphia Orchestra endured a brief strike and the Fort Worth and Pittsburgh orchestras are still on strike.

The BPO’s labor peace is a tribute to the tremendously talented musicians, who have shown how much they appreciate being part of an orchestra that continues to impress at home and around the world.

The orchestra’s success is also due to the continued stewardship of Music Director JoAnn Falletta and Executive Director Dan Hart, along with the efforts of its volunteers, staff and board of trustees.

Continuity at the top plays a major role. Falletta has been with the BPO since 1999, making her the orchestra’s longest-tenured music director. In February 2011, she renewed her contract a year in advance. Last year, her contract was extended for five more years. She explained her preference for early renewals to News classical music critic Mary Kunz Goldman: “It’s so good because now I can really plan for the future.”

As important as its musical success is the orchestra’s solid financial footing. The $11.5 million budget for the 2015-16 season was balanced, the fifth balanced budget in a row.

Another sign of the BPO’s financial success is the growth in its endowment. The endowment is important because ticket sales account for little more than a third of the budget. Grants, fundraising and income from the endowment make up the rest.

The endowment was just $7 million in 2004. Since then it has grown to $38 million, and the Crescendo Campaign, launched 2014, is expected to take the endowment past $50 million. The campaign has raised more than $26 million of its $30 million goal, and will enter its public phase next year. That will give all Western New Yorkers a chance to support this community jewel.

The orchestra is working hard in another way to secure its future by reaching out to the next generation of concertgoers. A couple of dozen concerts were held for schoolchildren, along with many programs in schools. And concerts featuring rock music aim to interest a wider audience in the symphony.

Falletta and her colleagues take seriously their role as ambassadors, which can result in unexpected opportunities. That is exactly what happened last year when she, Hart and about 30 Buffalonians visited Poland, where Falletta conducted the orchestra in Krakow, as she has in the past. Because of those contacts in Poland, distinguished Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki is scheduled to conduct the BPO on Dec. 3.

The community enjoys a shimmering cultural scene, including the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Burchfield Penney Art Center, Shea’s Performing Arts Center and a host of theater companies. JoAnn Falletta and her wonderful musicians are a key element in that scene.

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