WILKES-BARRE — The stage will soon go dark — temporarily, organizers hope — for the Northeastern Pennsylvania Philharmonic.
While fans of the regional orchestra will still be able to hear the tunes composer John Williams created for the “Star Wars” movies during an Oct. 7 “Pops” concert at Lackawanna College in Scranton, the rest of the 2017-2018 season has been suspended due to budgetary constraints, executive director Nancy Sanderson announced Friday.
“It’s time for the community to really figure out if they want an orchestra. It has to be everyone’s orchestra,” Sanderson said in a telephone interview. She described the decision by the Philharmonic Society of Northeastern Pennsylvania as “heart-breaking” yet necessary.
The 45-year-old philharmonic, which divides its performance time between the Wilkes-Barre and Scranton areas, faces a deficit of $235,000 and would need $1.1 million to stage a full season of six large concerts and four smaller chamber appearances.
“So many loyal donors have invested emotionally as well as financially,” Sanderson said.
At this point, though, it’s not enough. She explained that even a sold-out concert provides only 35 percent of the production costs.
“The board and staff have cut expenses, received unwavering support from all parts of the region, introduced new marketing and relocated to new venues, but are still unable to remain solvent,” the Philharmonic Society announced in a prepared release. It noted that administrative staff, including music director Lawrence Loh and executive director Sanderson, have not received a salary in months.
In another attempt to help the budget, the board of directors asked the musicians to consider a 30 percent pay cut which, according to the prepared statement, would have made their salaries “comparable to similar-sized orchestras such as Binghamton, Allentown, Reading and Symphoria.”
While the orchestra declined the board’s request, Sanderson said, “No one is angry with them. We understand they’re making a living by playing in orchestras and /or teaching music. While we understand they want to protect their wages, there was nothing left to cut in the budget.”
“There have been so many reports about bitter fights in other orchestras around the country,” she added. “It’s not been that way here. It’s not been contentious.”
The planned 2017-2018 concert season would have included Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”; music of The Beatles in a Pops concert called “Imagine”; a Masterworks concert billed as “music of Mediterranean composers”; the traditional December holiday concert; as well as music of Vienna, music of Brahms and a grand finale devoted to Beethoven.
Loh, the music director, said he is most disappointed not to be able to conduct the Beethoven concert, which had been planned for May 11. “I was really excited about Beethoven’s Sixth,” he said. “It’s one of his most poignant and contemplative. It shows how music exists in nature as naturally as birds sing.”
Philharmonic fans will have a chance to bid farewell to Loh at the Oct. 7 concert. As announced at the end of May, the maestro is leaving the Northeastern Pennsylvania Philharmonic to become music director of the West Virginia Symphony, a position for which he had begun the audition process two years earlier.
Loh has fond memories of performing in Wilkes-Barre and Scranton and said he is hopeful the orchestra will make a comeback. “It fulfills a deep artistic mission for the community and makes it a great place to live.”
Acknowledging “there are so many other kinds of entertainment competing for attention,” Sanderson said, “There’s something pure about symphonic music. I would hate to see something so aesthetically important disappear from Northeastern Pennsylvania and reduce the quality of life.”
During the upcoming year, Sanderson said, the Philharmonic board will “take a breath” and work on developing a new business model.
“Then we fully expect to come back in 2018,” she said.
Anyone who wants to help the orchestra accomplish that goal can make a donation through its website, nepaphil.org, or contact its Wilkes-Barre office at 570-270-4444.