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A few clouds in a sunny Minnesota Orchestra report

Read anything bad about the Minnesota Orchestra recently? Last week, orchestra officials announced — cue the opening fanfare of “Also sprach Zarathustra” — that its budget has been balanced for the second consecutive year.

But there were a few clouds to be found in the sunny report.

The balanced-budget news capped a season that included a rave-reviewed Lincoln Center appearance, the release of two highly touted CDs to complete a Beethoven symphony cycle, the launching of three new concert series and a Grammy Award nomination.

Moreover, Music Director Osmo Vanska seems to have a Midas touch. “The critic who gives him a bad review would risk being run out of town,” quipped composer Dominick Argento — a little enviously, I thought — during an interview last summer. He agreed that the orchestra is enjoying a golden era.

And now about those clouds: The Minnesota Orchestra is the state’s largest performing arts organization, with a budget last year of $31 million. Yet it finished the year just $15,000 in the black. Total attendance at concerts and revenue from ticket sales actually declined slightly, while expenses inched up by a modest 1.3 percent.

Donors and “pre-crash” investment income made up the difference. Total contributions increased by $850,000, or about 6.3 percent for a total of $14.4 million. The society-binge Symphony Ball set an income record of $828,000. You can read the full press release on the financial report here.

Ah, but those investments! The orchestra, which has a policy of drawing out no more than 7 percent of its investments in any given year, took advantage of the market bubble and kept its draw-down to only 6 percent, the same as the previous year. But with the impact of the recent crash factored in, the value of the orchestra’s endowment took a $20 million hit, for a decline of about 11 percent.

Though the orchestra has weathered one year of recession, who knows what the 2009 financial report will look like?

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