CSO scores fourth straight year of record ticket sales, contributions

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Deborah F. Rutter’s last season as president of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association saw a fourth straight year of record ticket sales and financial contributions to the CSO parent.

Jay Henderson, board chairman of the association, announced the figures Monday afternoon at the CSOA annual meeting at Symphony Center. The PriceWaterhouseCoopers LLP executive has been acting as a sort of interim CEO until new president Jeff Alexander arrives from Vancouver to take the helm here in January 2015.

Henderson also reported a technical operating deficit of $1.4 million, or 1.8 percent, on a 2013-2014 operating budget of 76.6 million, up $3 million, or four percent, from the preceding year.

Ticket sales increased by $100,000 to a record $22.4 million. Fundraising yielded $400,000 more than the last year for a highest-ever total of $30.2 million. Rutter’s models for presenting, marketing and fundraising successfully continued apace and together with music director Riccardo Muti’s artistic leadership boosted special gifts and showed current subscription renewals up two percent to 90 percent. Individual gifts totaled $20.6 million, corporate underwriting $5.9 million, and foundation and government grants $3.7 million. More than 13,000 individuals contributed to the orchestra and related activities, up from 10,400 the prior year.

Major gifts to the endowment from trustee-related entities included June gifts from the Zell Family Foundation for $17 million to support and name the music director position and $15 million from the Negaunee Foundation to support and name the department of community and education projects. An additional pledge of $2 million from Randy and Melvin Berlin will support core repertoire programming. Together these gifts helped push overall contributed revenue to $57 million for the year, up from $52 million. The association’s endowment grew from $257 million to $288 million.

Some 240 ticketed events accounted for 386,000 tickets sold. With only one orchestra tour last season (the Canary Islands and two European stops) and without the Hollywood recording project of the previous year (John Williams’ soundtrack to Stephen Spielberg’s “Lincoln”), earned income from tours, recording and merchandise was down from $9.9 to $7.3 million. In addition,185 free events including Civic Orchestra of Chicago concerts, chamber music, education programs and open rehearsals for students and community groups, and a season-launching community performance in Cicero, just west of Chicago, drew another 70,000 people.

Last year’s technical deficit was only $169,000 with those of the two previous years showing as $1.3 million and $927,000 respectively, essentially the same percentage of their operating budgets as this year’s, following a number of years of steady structural surpluses. A year ago, Rutter, now heading the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., said “It’s a tough advance game to get to exactly zero.”

Total institutional assets were up by $56 million to $529 million. Investment income showed a high return of 18 percent with strategies over the past 15 years putting the CSOA in the top seven percent of comparable funds.

Student attendance remains high and the average age of audience members held at 49, the youngest of any major American orchestra.

Officers, including Henderson, a vice chairman of now in his third year as CSOA chairman, were re-elected, with two new members succeeding fellow trustees whose officer terms had ended. The association also elected its first transgender trustee, local investor and philanthropist Jennifer N. Pritzker.

Andrew Patner is a local freelance writer and critic.

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