SILVER SPRING – A unanimous vote by the National Philharmonic board of directors on Aug. 10 paved the way for a bright future for the National Philharmonic under new management but with the same musicians and conductors.
The orchestra and chorale, which perform at The Music Center at Strathmore in Bethesda, will open its season on Sept. 21, only two months after the board announced it had closed due to a lack of money.
Violist Jim Kelly, who is vice president of Potter Violins in Takoma Park, raised $314,000 and has a total of 19 donors committed to funding the orchestra, not all who have done so yet, he explained.
Those donors agreed to write their checks only if National Philharmonic President Leanne Ferfolia and board chair Todd Eskelsen step down from their roles.
During the Aug. 10 special board meeting, the board agreed with the terms. Kelly now is president, and Harris Miller is board chair. Both men agreed to take on their positions with no pay for the first year.
Eskelsen, along with two other board members, left the board “on their own accord,” Kelly said.
While Ferfolia is no longer president, she will remain as senior consultant to Kelly.
Kelly would not discuss Ferfolia’s salary. He did say there may be other changes to the staff as time goes on.
When Kelly first proposed his plan to rescue the orchestra, most board members listened quietly. “There were a few feelings; there was a lot to process,” he said.
Several days later, at the Aug.10 meeting, “Everyone was unanimous in voting,” Kelly said, adding, “I think it’s difficult initially to grasp all the concepts.”
Following the board’s vote, “We are all working together in a positive way to make sure the National Philharmonic succeeds,” Kelly said.
Besides the new donors Kelly gathered, the board raised more than $200,000, so the National Philharmonic has more than $500,000 of new money to work with.
Kelly plans to use the money to build a long-term future for the orchestra and vowed to audit all aspects of the orchestra carefully in the coming year, seeking ways to make it more financially feasible.
“I do think if we are able to be thoughtful about programming,” the future will be a good one, he said.
He also intends to create a focus group to learn what patrons want to hear.
Currently, the orchestra plays mainly classical music but does deviate from that.
Leslie Silverfine, who heads the players’ committee, was excited the board agreed to Kelly’s plans, noting that the musicians had agreed to continue playing only if the board did.
Ferfolia also supported Kelly’s plan. “Todd Eskelsen and I recommended this outcome to the board. The National Philharmonic is bigger than all of us. It’s bigger than the musicians. It’s bigger than the conductors,” she said.
She believes the National Philharmonic is structurally sound and has a road map for the future, she said.
“Now it may have a chance with the combined raised funds, so I can walk away knowing the National Philharmonic is stronger than when I took the lead for it,” Ferfolia said.
Kelly praised Ferfolia’s contributions to the orchestra. During her tenure, she relieved some of the orchestra’s debt. However, he noted, with ticket sales dropping and donations not rising fast enough, the orchestra was unable to continue.
Under the new leadership, Piotr Gajewski will continue as orchestra conductor. He agreed not to receive a salary for the upcoming season. Chorale artistic director Stan Engebretson also agreed to forgo his salary for one year.
In a statement, outgoing chair Eskelsen wrote, “I wish the National Philharmonic continued success. Montgomery County is blessed to have such a wonderful homegrown orchestra and chorale ensemble that allows local residents access to the stage of The Music Center at Strathmore as participants in making great music.”
Saxophonist Miller, the new chair, acknowledged that raising money would be the board’s most important job, “even with the windfall of the last few weeks,” he wrote in a press release.
Before the board’s vote, County Councilman Tom Hucker had written a letter urging board members to support the “rescue plan” proposed by Kelly.
“We all believe the National Philharmonic is a treasure that needs to survive and succeed,” he stated in the letter.
Concert tickets are back on sale now and can be purchased on the orchestra’s website.