TAKOMA PARK – A National Philharmonic violist announced that he had raised more than half-a-million dollars to allow the orchestra that plays at The Music Center at Strathmore to hold its 2020-2021 season.
But first, Jim Kelly announced before a crowd of instrumentalists and chorale singers who have been furloughed since the National Philharmonic announced its closing last month that he must be named interim president of the NP and the current management must change, including the stepping down of the current chair of the board of directors.
Kelly also announced that he would serve as interim president while collecting no salary for one year, which would save the orchestra about $100,000. He would step down from his current job as co-owner and vice president for operations and sales of Potter Violins, where Kelly made his announcement.
Also agreeing to work for a year at no pay, if Kelly is named president, are Piotr Gajewski, music director and conductor of the NP, and Stan Engebretson, chorale artistic director.
That would save an additional $140,000, Kelly said.
Kelly claimed to have received $275,000 in pledges, although he would not name the 12 donors.
Meanwhile, in a show of support, the musicians agreed to extend their contract for one year with no increase in salary, which amounts to an additional $5,000 in savings, Kelly said.
“Jim has our unanimous vote behind him,” said Leslie Silverfine, who represents the musicians.
She criticized the board, saying that during negotiations for a three-year contract, they decided to abruptly end the talks and shutter the orchestra without letting on how dire the financial situation was.
Board Chairman Todd Eskelsen strongly denied that characterization and wondered why the musicians, and Kelly in particular, did not inform the board of these possible donors earlier.
“There is nothing like the threat of imminent execution,” he said.
The board has been focused for years on trying to keep the orchestra going, Eskelsen said.
He called Kelly’s proposal “an interesting one,” but wondered, “why have we waited, and what are we going to do going forward?”
He said he expected the 20-member board of directors to call a special meeting within a week to discuss the proposal and reply “as quickly as we can, but we cannot do this is a rush manner.”
Eskelsen said, “I think we have the basis of going forward, but you did this in secret, and you are interfering with other people’s work.”
The management of the National Philharmonic has also been seeking new money and turned to crowdfunding. It has raised about $100,000. Its goal was to raise $150,000 by July 31.
If his proposal is approved, Kelly said he would spend the coming year auditing every department while seeking new, long-term donors.
He said his goal is not just to save the upcoming season but to make the National Philharmonic solvent for years to come.
The orchestra can no longer count on Montgomery County to bail it out, he said. The NP receives funding from the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County, although those funds have been decreasing annually.
About 100 musicians gathered at Potter Violins and listened closely to Kelly’s proposal, clapping loudly in support several times.
Under the proposal, Harris Miller, a saxophonist and boardmember, would serve as interim chair of the board until a permanent replacement is found.
Julie Pangelinan, who has a background in accounting, would be vice chair and treasurer.
“It seems like we are always barely hanging on with a fingernail,” Miller said, adding the orchestra must think long term.
Right now, he said, the message should be, “The NP is open for business.”
Kelly agreed, adding, “We are in Montgomery County. It’s the richest county in the nation. There’s a lot of money here.”
The orchestra can thrive, Kelly said. “We all need to work together,” he said. “There has just been a big disconnect.”
He said if his proposal is adopted, he, along with a team he hopes to work with, will decide which staff members will be asked to return. They currently are furloughed.
Following the hour-long meeting, Bob Hazen, who played trumpet with the NP for 30 years, had been a boardmember and called himself a major donor, said he was very happy with Kelly’s proposal.
“I feel Jim’s doing something really extraordinary here.”
Hazen said the board has been working to keep the orchestra going, “but to be frank, they failed and they kept the orchestra in the dark.”
He hoped the NP would continue to perform at Strathmore. “Montgomery County deserves this group. This is a great orchestra.”
Now, with Kelly, “It’s great to have a path forward.”
Several days prior to Kelly’s meeting, Leanne Ferfolia, NP president, said both the musicians and the board have been working to revive the orchestra, but “There is not really a coordinated effort, and that is unfortunate.”
She added that a coordinated effort “would only make our organization stronger.”
Meanwhile, ticket sales have stopped. A note on the website states that the system is down and that patrons should try again later.
Besides performing at Strathmore, the NP holds a concert for every public school second grader in the county and offers free tickets to children between seven and 17 years to all its concerts.