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With $1.5 million deficit, Pittsburgh Symphony at 'critical crossroad'

| Monday, Aug. 29, 2016, 10:27 p.m.
Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony
Pittsburgh Symphony
Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony

Pittsburgh Symphony is at a “critical crossroad,” said President Malia Tourangeau on Monday as she urged approval of more than $1.4 million from the Regional Asset District.

Despite exceeding budget goals for the 2015-16 season in earned and contributed income, the orchestra will post a $1.5 million deficit for the season ending Aug. 31, she said.

The symphony requested grants of $1.4 million for operating expenses and $150,000 for capital expenses.

Although Tourangeau expressed confidence the symphony could get back to black ink, she said it faces two challenges this season that will cost it $1.2 million: the expiration of its agreement with Pittsburgh Cultural Trust for the Broadway Series and contributions from a donor.

Cultural Trust President Kevin McMahon, who was present for the RAD meeting at the Koppers Building, Downtown, said the expiration of the Broadway Series contract with the symphony doesn't indicate the relationship is ending. Four shows will be presented at Heinz Hall in the coming season as planned, but there will be no guarantee of how many shows will be booked in future seasons.

Tourangeau noted the symphony's pension fund needs at least $10.4 million over the next five years.

In documents submitted for its RAD application, the symphony projects a deficit of $1.56 million for the upcoming 2016-17 season, with expenses of $31.8 million and revenue of $30.2 million. The projection includes receiving the full requested amount from RAD.

Symphony projections are limited, Tourangeau said, because it is negotiating a new contract with musicians to replace the one that will expire Sept. 4.

In answer to a question from board vice chairman Dan Griffin, she offered no defense or explanation of musician compensation. Instead, she asserted that 70 percent of Pittsburgh Symphony's expenses areartistic and 30 percent administrative and for operating Heinz Hall. For most other major orchestras, the relationship is reversed.

The symphony's $150,000 capital grant request is to partially fund installation of a fiber optic cable infrastructure for HD video and other multi-mode digital information, flat screen interactive signage to replace current static poster board signs around the hall, and creation of an additional storage area. A $250,000 Allegheny County grant request for the capital improvements is pending.

The RAD documents reveal that symphony board chairman emeritus Dick Simmons has restructured the remaining portion of his family trust's $29.5 million gift to be paid out in annual $1 million amounts for 12 years — half of which may be used for immediate expenses.

Mark Kanny is the Tribune-Review classical music critic. Reach him at 412-320-7877 or

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