A rescue plan created by businessman Jim Kelly would net $515,000 for the National Philharmonic orchestra. Credit: PHOTO VIA NATIONAL PHILHARMONIC

A businessman and self-described philanthropist says he has rounded up enough money to rescue the National Philharmonic orchestra, but only if the organization appoints him president and removes its current board chair.

Jim Kelly, a violinist and co-owner of Potter Violins in Silver Spring, announced his proposal to save the financially struggling orchestra to a group of nearly 100 National Philharmonic fans, supporters and employees at his violin shop Monday night.

Kelly said he has gathered $275,000 from 12 donors to put toward saving the orchestra, which announced last week it needed $150,000 by July 31 to maintain operations. The orchestra put forward the fundraising plan one week after it declared that it lacked the funding to continue and would shut down.

He did not name the donors.

Kelly, who performs with the orchestra, said Monday that his proposal is contingent on him taking over as interim president of the organization and current board member Harris Miller ascending to interim board chair. National Philharmonic subscriber and supporter Julie Pangelinan would become vice chair and treasurer.

The current board chair, Todd Eskelsen, would have to step down.


Eskelsen attended Monday’s meeting and said the board will consider the proposal. He invited Kelly to a board meeting for further discussion and asked for the opportunity to speak with the donors committed to the plan.

“Collectively, with you and I and other people who want to participate, we can come up with the best plan to move forward,” Eskelsen said.

Kelly said he would take a one-year leave of absence from Potter Violins and work for free. He added that National Philharmonic Music Director and Conductor Piotr Gajewski and Chorale Artistic Director Stan Engebretson would continue in their positions and have agreed to also work without compensation.


The leadership moves would save the orchestra $240,000, Kelly said, for a total gain of $515,000 for the organization.

“I am presenting an independent, comprehensive plan to ensure that the National Philharmonic keeps its doors open and moves forward on solid financial footing,” he said.

Kelly said he met with the orchestra’s musicians earlier in the evening and the group unanimously voted to extend their contract, which ended in July, for another year at the same rate if the plan is enacted.


Musician Committee Chair Leslie Silverfine attended the meeting on behalf of the musicians and reiterated that Kelly had their full support.

Kelly asked the National Philharmonic board, which learned of the plan at the same time as the rest of the audience did Monday, to “act swiftly.” He said the board needs to appoint leaders in accordance with the plan, so funds can be deposited and the orchestra can resume work and be ready in time for the season opener in September.

Eskelsen spoke following a round of questions from supporters, pushing back against the prevailing notion that current board members were not able to or hadn’t tried to raise funds as Kelly has done. He said that if donors had stepped forward like they have for Kelly, the orchestra might be in a different situation.


“There’s nothing like the threat of imminent execution to focus the mind,” Eskelsen said.

He added that board members were kept in the dark about the details of Kelly’s rescue plan. Eskelsen said that when he asked Kelly for details, “he called me to tell me that he couldn’t talk to me.”

As the meeting wrapped up, Miller was asked whether the orchestra was officially on schedule to open its season on Sept. 21 at the Music Center at Strathmore. He replied that with the overwhelming support there seemed to be toward keeping the organization going, he believed the season would proceed as planned, though he couldn’t speak for the board, directing the question to Eskelsen.


Eskelsen said he also couldn’t speak for the entire board, but he agreed with Miller’s sentiment that the new momentum makes him optimistic about a solution.

Charlie Wright can be reached at charlie.wright@bethesdamagazine.com