The Columbus Symphony aims to secure its future, shed past instability.
Bassoonist Betsy Sturdevant is reluctant to say exactly how long she's been with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, vaguely allowing that she arrived during a growth spurt in the 1980s. Suffice it to say she's been around long enough to see it go through ups and downs, including a financial crisis that nearly killed the ensemble in 2008.
Now, Sturdevant says there's reason to believe the CSO is as stable as it has been in decades. The only problem: “I don't think the public realizes that.” She worries that too many people in Columbus still retain the old memory of an organization that nearly canceled an entire season due to red ink and stalled contract talks with musicians.
“Actually, the budget has been balanced for 10 years, and I'm pretty sure that's not common knowledge,” says Sturdevant, who knows such things because she chairs a committee that serves as a liaison between CSO management and the musicians.
Orchestra officials hope two recent developments will help reinforce the image of a strong CSO. First, music director Rossen Milanov accepted a new contract that will keep him wielding the baton through the 2024–25 season, making him the longest-serving maestro since the beloved Alessandro Siciliani. Second, the ensemble announced in December that, with help from a record $8 million bequest from the late Anne Melvin, it's raised nearly $13 million toward its goal of amassing a $50 million endowment.
CSO leaders say these developments are good for the orchestra's image and operations. “I think any well-run organization strives for signs of stability and signs of longevity,” says Sturdevant, “and certainly engaging the music director for such a long-term contract is a great way to do that.” The Bulgarian-born Milanov has earned the group's trust, she adds, describing him as someone who knows how to “focus on details when necessary [while] always thinking of the grand picture.”
Meanwhile, Lisa Barton, who chairs the CSO board, describes the endowment as “an insurance policy” that will help the institution survive even during tough economic times. The musicians evidently agree. Despite having taken multiple salary cuts since 2005, Sturdevant points out, they allowed their wages to be frozen for the past four years while management started building the endowment under the auspices of the Columbus Foundation.
Maestro Milanov says his contract extension will help him plan ahead. “It actually allows me to continue what I came here to [do], which was to really stabilize the symphony and chart the path into the future.”