Musical support : The PSO receives backup on the hard notes

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Behind every great orchestra is a committed audience — a supportive crowd that shows up not just in the concert hall but also in the group’s financial ledger.

The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra has benefited from this dual audience over the years, most recently as it works to reduce its budget deficit. The PSO ended the 2011-12 fiscal year with $2.9 million in red ink, then cut the deficit to $1.475 million in 2012-13.

It didn’t hurt that the musicians, in the contract that ended last season, took a 9.7 percent pay cut and donated $200,000 to the orchestra’s annual fund, a sacrifice that triggered a $1.2 million donation in July to the PSO from Michele and Pat Atkins of Point Breeze.

Besides the sheer accomplishment of balancing its books, the world-renowned symphony, which completed a European concert tour in September, has other incentives to get the red out. A $5 million grant awaits from the Heinz Endowments if the PSO can eliminate the shortfall by 2015, plus $12 million from the Simmons Family Foundation if the budget stays balanced for three straight years.

Now the symphony will receive some extra help to get there. EQT Inc. and the Giant Eagle Foundation are offering a $600,000 challenge grant to wipe out the deficit. They’ll match 50 cents on every new or increased dollar that is given to the orchestra in the next two fiscal years.

That is powerful support for the region’s most high-powered musical organization. EQT and Giant Eagle rate a standing ovation.

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