Steamboat Symphony Orchestra music director Ernest Richardson leads a rehearsal in August at Strings Music Pavilion. The orchestra is struggling financially and is in danger of canceling its December Holiday Concert.

Nicole Inglis/file

Steamboat Symphony Orchestra music director Ernest Richardson leads a rehearsal in August at Strings Music Pavilion. The orchestra is struggling financially and is in danger of canceling its December Holiday Concert.

Steamboat Symphony Orchestra's future in danger

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How to help

The Steamboat Symphony Orchestra is seeking sponsors for its Dec. 1 and 2 holiday concert. Contact Lou Mathews at 970-870-3223 or lmathews@steamboatorchestra.org.

— Every December, the Strings Music Pavilion fills with holiday cheer, and a few lucky young audience members get the chance to jingle along to “Sleigh Bells” sharing the stage lights with professional classical musicians.

Not only is the tradition of the Steamboat Symphony Orchestra’s annual Holiday Concert at risk, but the entire organization also is in danger of dissolution. With a sharp drop-off in donations, orchestra officials said that they will have to decide by the end of the month whether to cancel the holiday performance and perhaps disband the orchestra.

The orchestra has raised only a quarter of what it typically requires this time of year.

“To really say why, who knows,” said Jeffrey Wolf, the recently appointed president of the orchestra’s board and a patron of the orchestra.

Right now, the reality matters more than the reason.

“We could lose the orchestra,” said Lou Mathews, executive director.

Mathews and Wolf said Thursday that the severe drop-off in donations means the orchestra will have to cancel the Dec. 1 and 2 Holiday Concert, and likely the remainder of the season, if it doesn’t raise $40,000 by Oct. 30.

If the orchestra does raise the needed funds, Wolf said there would have to be a re-evaluation of the organization’s sustainability. In its 21st year, the nonprofit has a budget of about $160,000, according to Mathews. A spring fundraiser usually carries the organization through the summer and the first concert in August. Fundraising through the fall supports the holiday and spring concerts.

“We’ve never had any great reserves,” Wolf said. “And we haven’t gotten a lot of response" this year.

It’s not as if the orchestra hasn’t been trying to head off a crisis like this one. Mathews said her pay has been cut, along with some administrative expenses, marketing budgets and concert costs.

It’s important to the orchestra to keep the concerts affordable at $35 per ticket as well as offering free admission to seniors, hospice patients, music teachers, music students and youths. So the ticket prices cover less than one-fifth of the cost of putting on a concert.

Between pay and travel expenses for Music Director Ernest Richardson as well as pay for the local and regional musicians, the support just isn’t there this year.

Teresa Steffen Greenlee, violinist and concertmaster for the orchestra for nearly its entire history, was emotional Wednesday at the thought of losing the orchestra because with it goes the orchestra’s education program, which reaches out to the community to put together ensemble concerts of local classical music students and professional musicians.

“It’s immeasurable,” she said about the orchestra’s communitywide impact. “You can’t count how that spreads out in their life and into the world. The zest we have for living has something to do with what we see and what we hear.”

Oct. 26 could be the last of the ensemble concerts. Greenlee said a string ensemble and a cello ensemble will be performing classical selections with a Halloween theme. Tickets are $10 ($1 for children 12 and younger) and the performance starts at 7 p.m.

It could be a last chance for Greenlee to show how important the orchestra is in the classical music community.

“We have to get through this crisis right now, or we die,” she said. “It doesn’t mean we won’t have another fight. We have to keep fighting for our arts.”

To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email ninglis@ExploreSteamboat.com

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