National Philharmonic To Close
President says more than 130 musicians and staff will lose their jobs
PHOTO VIA NATIONAL PHILHARMONIC
After more than 40 years of operation, the National Philharmonic orchestra is closing.
The orchestra, which according to its website is the largest Montgomery County-based producer and presenter of classical music concerts, announced in a media release Tuesday afternoon that it will cease operations and that more than 130 union musicians and staff will lose their jobs.
The orchestra had suffered financial troubles in recent years. President Leanne Ferfolia said in the press release that the organization was “hamstrung” when the County Council did not approved the orchestra’s request of $150,000 in additional funds.
“We have been an important and integral part of the community and a service to Montgomery County residents, especially the thousands of young people who were able to attend our concerts with their families for free. We are disappointed that the County Council doesn’t value the Philharmonic as its own professional community orchestra and chorale for the citizens of Montgomery County,” she wrote.
In a statement issued Tuesday night, County Council President Nancy Navarro said the local government has given National Philharmonic more than $2.5 million in recent years to support the orchestra, but “as the county begins to look at equity across all our investments, this level of investment isn’t sustainable for one organization over the long term.”
“It’s disappointing that the organization wasn’t able to leverage these investments into a financially sustainable model,” Navarro wrote. “… My hope is that these artists will reach out to our Arts and Humanities Council to help cultivate new artistic endeavors that will continue to enrich our community.”
Council member Craig Rice, chair of the Council’s Education & Culture Committee, echoed Navarro’s statements and said he is “disappointed” National Philharmonic has decided to close, but understands orchestras across the country are facing similar budget issues.
The National Philharmonic is based at the Music Center at Strathmore and annually plays about 30 shows there. It is also a major contributor to Strathmore’s finances. The orchestra’s concert season was supposed to start in September.
Last week, National Philharmonic officials announced they had furloughed most of the orchestra’s employees in an effort to save money and pay off its debts. In a letter to vendors, Ferfolia said the organization had operated with a budget deficit for the past 90 days.
In 2016, The National Philharmonic also faced budget problems, recording a $200,000 shortfall. The orchestra received $400,000 in county funding that year and agreed to revamp its operations, including restructuring its artistic and marketing functions to find more diverse audiences for its performances.
As a condition for receiving the additional funds, leaders of The National Philharmonic were required to report quarterly to the County Council on their efforts to cut costs and increase efficiency.
But despite their best efforts, Ferfolia said in Tuesday’s announcement, construction at Strathmore and the 35-day federal government shutdown earlier this year “crippled” the organization and contributed to a decline in ticket sales.
Todd Eskelsen, chair of the National Philharmonic’s Board of Directors, said in a statement “losing National Philharmonic means that the county’s substantial investment in the hall is not being realized by county residents.” He said National Philharmonic and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, also facing an uncertain future amid budget issues, make up 40% of Strathmore’s annual musical performances.
“For a beautiful performing hall with world-class acoustics, the impending financial difficulties in the county-owned facility do not disappear but will now be home by the county more directly,” Eskelsen wrote.
Strathmore officials did not respond to repeated requests inquiring about the financial impact of National Philharmonic’s closure.
In a statement sent to Bethesda Beat by a public relations staff member, Strathmore President and CEO Monica Jeffries Hazangeles said she is “saddened that the National Philharmonic Orchestra has announced it will close.
“At this time, we are working with the National Philharmonic as it prepares for this transition,” Jeffries Hazangeles wrote. “We are confirming the details of the process and will ensure clear communication with our combined patrons.”
Montgomery County Council Member Andrew Friedson, who serves as a liaison for the Council on Strathmore’s Board of Directors and represents the district that includes North Bethesda, said he is concerned about the impact the loss of National Philharmonic will have on the community.
Along with providing employment for county residents, Friedson highlighted Philharmonic’s initiative over the past 15 years to allow all Montgomery County Public Schools second-grade students to attend a free performance.
“For me, this is a question of what this means to the community. It’s a huge disappointment and upsetting to a lot of people,” Friedson said. “Obviously, the arts is such an important part of quality of life in Montgomery County, and nobody wants to see National Philharmonic fail, especially me.”
This story will be updated.