ST. PETERSBURG, FL — When The Florida Orchestra’s new Music Director Michael Francis takes the podium October 2, it will be the crowning moment of a decade of bold moves and hard work to put the orchestra on solid ground. For the first time in more than 20 years, the orchestra is out of debt.
But this is not a story about money. The orchestra also has changed creatively, with expanded programs, community involvement and accessibility. It has hired four new musicians, with more auditions scheduled. And it is rolling out a more modern look, with a redesigned logo and website that signal a fresh vibe in line with the orchestra’s new direction.
“Michael Francis has become the symbol for a new beginning for The Florida Orchestra,” said Thomas H. Farquhar, Board Chairman. “We’ve been setting the stage for just this moment for the past several years. It’s been ‘Ready, set …’ and now it’s time to go.”
New music director launches
The orchestra has been without a music director for three seasons, and the launch of young, dynamic British conductor Michael Francis has re-energized the entire organization. The rising star, 39, is only the orchestra’s fourth music director in its 48 seasons. He brings more than high artistic standards. His charm and natural ability to communicate with audiences, combined with his desire to present music to the entire community, paint a clear picture of how the orchestra is transforming for the future. His wife is from Lutz, and they have a home there with their baby daughter. Click for more on Michael Francis.
In 2007, the orchestra was $3 million in debt through a line of credit, following several financially rocky years. This season it is debt-free, after an aggressive plan to reduce expenses and increase revenue. That same bold plan rattled its Board of Directors, and by 2008, all but three had resigned. Now the rebuilt board is a robust panel of 37 community leaders throughout Tampa Bay.
On July 1, TFO posted a surplus in its $9.8 million operating budget, for the seventh time in nine seasons.
Since 2007, the orchestra has raised nearly $45 million for its Annual Fund, Endowment and other campaigns, even in the face of a tough recession. Its Endowment now stands at an all-time high of $17.8 million. It successfully completed a major fundraising campaign this summer, reaching its most ambitious goal ever: $25 million over three years in its Music for Life campaign.
In 2010, TFO made some bold moves to be more accessible, including diversifying programming, simplifying ticket packages and lowering ticket prices: $15, $30 and $45 for all concerts in the Masterworks and Pops series. Since then paid attendance has increased 34%. For better accessibility, TFO has targeted three main areas:
- Michael Francis strongly believes in taking the orchestra out of the concert hall to bring music to all. Before he was officially onboard last season, he conducted “pop-up concerts” in unexpected places such as International Plaza, All Children’s Hospital and Moffitt Cancer Center. More of these concerts will be announced this season.
- One of Michael Francis’ highest priorities is to make sure every student has a quality music education. The orchestra’s youth and education programs now reach more than 21,600 students each season. Those programs will expand this year.
- Of the 170,000 people TFO performed for last season, about 40% heard the orchestra for free.
- To make concerts more affordable for families, TFO offers free Classical Kids tickets for ages 5-18 for Masterworks concerts.The program was a huge success in its first season (2014-15), with more than 1,100 kids tickets distributed. That number is expected to grow this season.
- To introduce young children to classical music, TFO last season started Family Concerts, which combine a Florida Orchestra chamber group of musicians with interactive story time, for just $5. These include an Instrument Petting Zoo for kids to try out being a musician on a variety of instruments.
- This season the orchestra continues to offer multigenerational programming, including the perennial Holiday Pops, video game concert Distant Worlds: music from FINAL FANTASY and rock concerts that honor the music of Led Zeppelin, U2 and The Police.
With the new music director in place, the orchestra has filled four musician openings, reinvigorating the orchestra artistically. Included are the key principal oboe position, as well as two violins and a second trombone, with more auditions in the spring and fall.
New look and logo
This summer The Florida Orchestra’s marketing department started rolling out a redesigned logo and other promotional materials. The logo – the first redesign since 1999 – was produced in house and has a clean, contemporary feel.At the center is a large scripted “f,” which stands for both Florida and the “forte” symbol in music, meaning strong and forceful.It fits perfectly with the orchestra’s renewed vision, mission and artistic direction under Maestro Francis. The logo will appear in brochures, ads, banners, marketing materials and the orchestra’s redesigned website, www.floridaorchestra.org, which is expected to launch in September with a new, easy-to-navigate format. A new mobile app is planned for the fall, and the staff is ramping up its social media and video efforts.
To keep The Florida Orchestra vibrant and healthy, it has set several goals:
- Grow the Endowment to 5 times its annual budget (now it is about 2 times).
- Build cash reserves equal to 10% of annual budget (now it is about 5%).
- Become a 38-week orchestra (up from 27.5 weeks a year).
- Continue to evolve creatively and increase involvement in the community.