Pittsburgh symphony turns to Kickstarter to help fund NYC show


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It's going to take more than practice for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra to get to Carnegie Hall this year.

The PSO on Monday afternoon launched its first campaign on the crowd-funding website Kickstarter. Over the next 47 days, the symphony hopes to raise at least $30,000 to support its participation in the Spring for Music festival, which takes place in May at New York's Carnegie Hall.

"It's definitely the wave of the future, so we're excited to try it," said Jodi Weisfield, vice president of development.

Symphony officials thought Spring for Music would be an ideal time to experiment with Kickstarter, as the campaign would showcase hometown support for the orchestra at a festival that presents groups from across the continent.

"We wanted to try crowd-funding, but we just hadn't found the right project," said Ms. Weisfield.

Since 2009, Kickstarter has made an enormous impact on arts funding. In fact, the website was responsible for more arts-related giving in 2012 than the National Endowment for the Arts, according to the Washington Post.

Last year, 3 million donors from all seven continents pledged $480 million to Kickstarter projects, according to the website.

The symphony is not the first professional orchestra to launch a Kickstarter campaign. Last year, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra successfully raised more than $13,000 to support digitization of its archives, and the Nashville Symphony generated more than $15,000 to record an album of music by Joan Tower.

In the Pittsburgh area, 340 projects have been funded, according to the Kickstarter website. Local chef Kevin Sousa made waves last week by raising more than $300,000 to start a restaurant and training facility in Braddock.

Spring for Music is an annual festival that aims to showcase the quality and creativity of North American orchestras. In addition to the PSO and New York Philharmonic, the festival will feature orchestras from Cincinnati; Rochester, N.Y.; Seattle; and Winnepeg, Canada. The PSO's performance, which will go on regardless of the campaign, would close out the festival, which is ending after its fourth year due to its own funding issues.

As with all Kickstarter campaigns, the PSO will receive funding only if it reaches its target amount. And donors receive incentives at different levels of giving.

For this project, those chipping in $10 or more will receive an emailed note of thanks from PSO music director Manfred Honeck and a photograph of the PSO's performance. Along the way, donors will attend a PSO rehearsal, collect recordings, receive a copy of the 1984 movie "Amadeus" signed by actor F. Murray Abraham and more.

Mr. Abraham will be the speaker in the PSO's performance of "Mozart's Death in Words and Music," an arrangement of the composer's "Requiem" by Mr. Honeck. Fans who fork over $5,000 will be able to meet Mr. Honeck and Mr. Abraham, who played Antonio Salieri in "Amadeus," following the concert.

The orchestra committed long ago to play in Spring for Music, but "Kickstarter is an important piece of the puzzle to help fund the tour," Al Jacobsen, senior manager of corporate and tour sponsorship, wrote in an e-mail.

The total cost to tour is $300,000, said Mr. Jacobsen. By contrast, this past summer's European festivals tour cost an estimated $1.5 million.

The symphony has an official policy of not using money from its operating budget on tours. For this trip, the symphony will draw on the festival's artist fee and corporate sponsorship, in addition to the potentially successful Kickstarter campaign. So far, Lanxess Corp. has signed on to sponsor the Spring for Music concert.

The orchestra has no announced plans for an international tour before 2016. Orchestra officials have said they are keen on eliminating the organization's deficit, which stood at roughly $1.5 million at the end of the 2013 fiscal year.

To give to the PSO's Kickstarter campaign and see a video featuring symphony musicians and Mr. Honeck, visit www.kickstarter.com/profile/pittsburghsymphony.


Elizabeth Bloom: ebloom@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1750 or on Twitter @BloomPG. First Published January 13, 2014 2:19 PM

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