#NYSCASuccess: How the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra Hit Its Stride

#NYSCASuccess is a new feature created to share our grantees’ stories – as well as five lessons from each to help all of us build stronger organizations and a stronger community.


Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra at Kleinhans Music Hall, Courtesy of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra

Invitation to perform at Carnegie Hall? Check.

Editorial in regional newspaper celebrating a “cultural gem?” Check.

Balanced budget? Drama-free contract negotiations? GRAMMY Award? Check, check, and two checks on that last one.

The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra has hit an undeniable stride. This year, the orchestra signed a six year contract, and music director JoAnn Falletta is contracted until 2021. In 11 of the past 12 years, the orchestra has balanced its budget. For 30 years, the orchestra has been a NYSCA grantee, receiving funds through our Music and Regional Economic Development Council Programs.

Yet, like many – if not all – arts organizations, the orchestra has had its share of high and low notes.

The orchestra faced fiscal challenges throughout the 90s and at one point was even “for sale” according to a classified ad. While the orchestra’s turnaround has been multifaceted, there’s one clear indicator of how it founds its current path: In 1998, JoAnn Falletta joined the orchestra as music director. She is now its longest-serving maestro.

“Maestro Falletta’s role in shaping the orchestra’s current position cannot be overstated,” says Executive Director and NYSCA panelist Dan Hart. “Since her arrival, she has continued to deliver exceptional programming and drive the orchestra to new artistic heights. During her tenure, the organization has achieved unprecedented community visibility and support, regained public confidence and expanded audiences.”


Note:  Since this video was created, the BPO’s Board Chair and Concertmaster have changed. The Chair is now Stephen Swift and the Concertmaster is now Dennis Kim. Photo Credit: JoAnn Falletta leads the BPO with pianist Lang Lang, photo by Enid Bloch.


In 2004, the BPO created a plan to grow its endowment, and in 2011, the BPO’s management and Board of Trustees developed a long-range financial plan that focused on controlling costs and creating new programs and repositioning programs to increase earned revenue.

Today, the orchestra performs programs ranging from masterworks to family concerts, new commissions and collaborations with local theater, dance, rock and visual artists. Through a partnership Falletta developed with the Naxos label, the BPO regularly records, and in 2009, earned two GRAMMYs for a recording of John Corigliano’s Mr. Tambourine Man.

Hart singles out three qualities key to Falletta’s leadership: civic investment, vision to move the organization forward through innovation and collaboration, and ambition to realize that vision and inspire others to work toward a common goal – such as engagement with the orchestra’s home city.

“Many of our programs are designed with Buffalo at the core. Programs for our Youth and Family concerts have focused on local history, such as the Erie Canal, the Underground Railroad and our burgeoning immigrant population,” said Hart. “We also have a CD of commissioned works called Built for Buffalo. We are very eager to continue to feature this region’s rich culture, architecture and history whenever possible.”


Do you have a #NYSCASuccess story to share? Let us know in the comments or at public.affairs@arts.ny.gov.


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