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The Florida Orchestra, moving forward: ‘All options are on the table’

Bill DeYoung



The Florida Orchestra's operating budget is $11 million; 40 percent comes from ticket sales. TFO photo.

The Florida Orchestra’s first chair executive, President and CEO Mark Cantrell, has been face to face with crisis management before. As a trombonist with the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra, he performed in New York City just after 9/11. He was CEO of the Boston Philharmonic in 2013, when the Boston Marathon bombing took place; the orchestra was halfway through a hometown run of Beethoven’s greatest hits.

“The amount of healing an orchestra can help the community do is tremendous,” he believes.

In between gigs, Cantrell “mushed” sled dog teams, alone, over hundreds of miles of treacherous Alaskan wilderness. A licensed pilot, he flew shuttle planes out of New York’s LaGuardia Airport between 2006 and 2010.

Exactly one year ago, he was hired by The Florida Orchestra.

Coronavirus precautions have temporarily shuttered all performing arts venues, including the three main halls (Straz Center, Mahaffey Theater and Ruth Eckerd Hall) in which the orchestra performs.

All TFO events – even those outside the big venues – have been cancelled through April 5. The changing nature of the coronavirus reports and recommendations necessitate a certain decision-making fluidity.

“We’re assessing it day by day, and making decisions as we go,” Cantrell says.

Florida Orchestra President and CEO Mark Cantrell. Photo by Bill DeYoung

Forty percent of the orchestra’s $11 million annual operating budget comes from ticket sales. “I would be a fool to say that the income is not an issue,” he adds. “As non-profit organizations we depend on the community we serve for support.

“And it’s not just ticket sales, it’s also the economy. What’s happening with the stock market is alarming. So it’s uncertain economic times. We need the support of our community so that we can be there in the future to support them.

“Each week that we don’t have concerts deeply impacts the orchestra, and our patrons.”

As to the right here, right now: “All staff and musicians are being paid through April 5. We are hopeful we’ll be able to do something going forward. We just don’t know what. And honestly, I can’t even begin to guess what April 5 looks like. Next week, we’ll have a better picture of that.”

That 40 percent from ticket sales, he adds, “is money we can’t recover, so that’s why we’re going to rely on donations and the help of our community as best they can.”

Over-reacting, he’s learned, never solved anything (for the record, he agrees that federal, state and local governments are not over-reacting, not at all.)

“The most important thing to do,” Cantrell believes, “is assess the situation as thoroughly as you can, and take advantage of all assets available in solving your problems. Making sure your actions are responsible, in the present and for the future.”

Mark Cantrell does not panic. “This is what I learned by being an airline pilot: When you have a problem with your plane, all options are available to you, and you start eliminating the ones that are no longer useful, or don’t work any more.

“Then you come up with a plan. And if you work the plan hard enough, you get to continue. That’s what we’re doing right now.”

Cantrell and his team are working on ways to reach their audience without being in the same room with them. “The worst thing we can do is disappear. We can’t gather crowds together, which is one of the great things about live music, but how else can we help bring the community together and heal?”

In other words, restore some form of normalcy in these abnormal times.

Beginning March 26, WSMR 89.1 and 103.9 FM radio, and online, will stream recorded TFO Masterworks concerts Thursdays at 7 p.m. The inaugural broadcast will feature music director Michael Francis conducting this season’s opening night performance of Gershwin, Grieg, Ravel and more.

Periodic calls for donations will be part of the broadcasts.

Additional outreach efforts, including some sort of live-streaming, are being discussed. “Unfortunately, we can’t gather in large groups of people,” Cantrell says. “But these crisis times are when arts organizations come together and help support the community emotionally.”

TFO’s symbiotic relationship with the bay area is being tested. “All options at this point are on the table. Yes, there is potential for us to do something online. A lot of that depends on having a venue and a space to do that.

“I’m not saying we will – there’s costs associated with doing that. Can we afford it? Can we not?”















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