Oscar S. Schafer had been sponsoring the New York Philharmonic’s free parks concerts for several years when he tried something a little different at the start of a concert one sultry summer night in 2013: He donned a white jacket, picked up a baton and led the orchestra in the overture from Bizet’s “Carmen” — the opera, he explained, at which he had met his wife.
“It was one of the highlights of my life,” Mr. Schafer said of his conducting stint. He was modest about his skills: “They could play with me, or without me.”
Now Mr. Schafer is taking on an even more challenging role with the Philharmonic: He will become the chairman of its board early next year, as the ensemble reaches a critical juncture. The orchestra, which has run deficits for a decade, is about to embark on a major fund-raising campaign aiming to raise hundreds of millions of dollars to build up its endowment fund and to pay for the long-awaited renovation of Avery Fisher Hall, its Lincoln Center home.
The orchestra’s deficit for the 2013-14 season was $2.1 million on a budget of $71.9 million, according to its most recent annual report, down from $6.1 million the previous season. Orchestra officials attributed the smaller deficit to better ticket sales, cost-cutting measures and strong fund-raising — but also to the board’s decision to use more of its endowment fund to pay for current operations, a practice that has proved risky for other arts institutions.
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