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Orchestral manoeuvres paying off

The West Australian Symphony Orchestra’s financial acumen may have enabled it to dodge downsizing. According to several newspaper reports, a Federal Government-commissioned inquiry into the financial viability of Australia’s six state symphony orchestras, headed by former Qantas chief James Strong, has recommended that about 40 musicians be cut from the Tasmanian, South Australian and Queensland ensembles to reduce losses. It is understood those three orchestras all made losses last year. WASO, meanwhile, has shored up about $2.5 million in corporate support for 2005 and combined funding from both the state and federal governments of about $6.5 million. It is anticipating a $14 million turnover this year. These events include the concerts from earlier this year at Sandalford Wines that featured the orchestra teamed with Harry Connick Jr and the recent two-night stand with Ben Folds at Kings Park. WASO chief executive Keith Venning said the orchestra’s entrepreneurial events were starting to show dividends. The Sandalford concerts were the WASO’s first major step into running its own shows. Mr Venning said the Harry Connick Jr event turned in a strong profit while the previous year’s Dionne Warwick shows did slightly better than break even. The WASO’s other major entrepreneurial shows for this year – the Ben Folds shows and the staging of a mega-orchestra formed by its collaboration with the WA Youth Orchestra – have also returned profits. “With the Ben Folds events we’ve sold out two concerts for about 13,000 people. That’s quite a feat,” Mr Venning said. He said there were many ways orchestras could ensure their financial viability. “In WA we’ve taken a reliance on the corporate dollar," Mr Vennings said. “That too can have its disadvantages if you have a downturn.” While WASO has raised $2.5 million from the corporate sector this year, it was drawing barely one fifth of that back in the late 1990s. The move towards building the orchestra’s finances was sparked by a decision in the late 1990s to incorporate the six state orchestras as subsidiaries of the ABC. The idea of the incorporation was to make the orchestras more entrepreneurial. WASO was taking legal action against ABC over more than $1 million in funds from that incorporation period. It has since dropped the action. “What we’ve resolved to do, following discussions with the ABC, is to work together in a harmonious relationship. We are still a subsidiary of the ABC,” Mr Vennings said. The incorporation also sparked a major restructure of the WASO. That involved reducing the number of musicians in the orchestra and also reconstructing its administration that resulted in it employing some specialised marketers.

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