Charlotte Symphony Starts 80th Season on Shaky Ground
The Charlotte Symphony opens its 80th season tonight with a performance of classics from Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich and others. The season is critical for the symphony creatively and financially. For a city the size of Charlotte to have a symphony that's 80-years old is no small feat, says music director Christopher Warren-Green (pictured -right). "I mean if you consider the London Chamber Orchestra - my orchestra in London - is the oldest chamber orchestra in Britain and that's in its 90th season," said Warren-Green, who's entering his second season as music director of the Charlotte Symphony. On Charlotte Talks this morning, he gave a frank assessment of the symphony's future. "I'm not a great mathematician, but I have to say we have to put on a huge push for the Symphony, otherwise, Charlotte won't have a symphony for much longer," said Warren-Green. "That's a fact." The Charlotte Symphony has been running an annual budget deficit of about $2 million since 2009. Bridge funding and emergency donation drives have managed to plug some of the gap, but Charlotte Symphony President Jonathan Martin says the ongoing deficit situation is not sustainable for an organization with an operating budget of $8.5 million. Part of the plan to save the symphony is offering a season that will attract a broader audience. Tonight it's classics. Later in the season it's the music of Pink Floyd. Warren-Green freely admits he's "playing to the masses." "I'm trying to lead the audience by the hand as well," said Warren-Green. "Everything I program - hopefully there is something there for everybody." Martin says donations to the symphony have fallen off sharply in recent years, ticket sales have actually increased by about 10 percent. In a controversial move over the summer, the Symphony began charging a $10 fee for its formerly-free summer pops concerts in South Park. Martin won't say how much the Symphony made on the series, but says it has a better chance of becoming sustainable than it did collecting voluntary donations from the crowd.