Last year, the National Symphony Orchestra was at the top of the list of orchestras that received funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, getting $300,000 -- $50,000 more than any other.
This year, the National Symphony funding was cut by a larger margin than any other orchestra -- after the most detailed review by NEA judges since the orchestra program was started in 1970.
For the 1980-81 performing season, the NSO will receive only $175,000, according to the announcement Monday of the orchestra grants made by NEA. The federal agency gave out a total of $9,190,750 in funds to a total of 148 orchestras across the country. Of those, 27 received less than their last year's grant, and 47 received more.
The NSO grant was reduced by $15,000 in funds for which the orchestra applied to support a subscription series program. It also lost completely a $110,000 special grant which it received last year after arguing that the NSO is a national symphony in a city with little corporate base. The special grant was the bulk of the NSO's loss this year.
The orchestra will probably make up some of that loss when it receives what is almost an assured $80,000 in funds for another project -- a festival concentrating on the music of minorities, according to Ezra Laderman, director of the NEA music program.
"The project was approved by the orchestra program, but it still has to go through the National Council on the Arts [the advistory body to the NEA]," said Laderman, who added it would almost certainly be approved.
"When they didn't get the $110,000 grant, I suggested they come up with a special and unique project that the orchestra panel might be receptive to," said Laderman. "This project will give them continued support, and if it goes well it might be even better for them [than the $110,000 grant]."
Martin Feinstein, president of the NSO, said of the $15,000 loss, "It's not that drastic a reduction."
But the $110,000 special grant is another matter. "I am deeply disappointed about it," Feinstein said. "The supplemental $110,000 grant was for the fact that we were in Washington. There is a unique problem here. We don't have a state arts council here and thee is no great industry."
Feinstein said he had known earlier "from reports" that the orchestra would probably be turned down for the $110,000 grant. He also daid he had "indications" that the orchestra would be getting an $80,000 grant. That grant, according to Laderman, will have to be matched in equal amounts with funds from private sources.
The $175,000 that the National Symphony Orchestra did receive will support the orchestra's main substcription series.
The NEA's orchestra panel made an unprecedented two-stage review of the NSO -- as it did for all the orchestras recommended for reductions.
The NSO lost its special $110,000 grant, according to Jan Stunkard, NEA orchestra category specialist, because the considerations involved in making the grant were "outside what the panel felt was their purview."
"The reason why they were getting extra money was because they were a national symphony, plus they weren't getting state funding and there was no corporate base in D.C.," said Stunkard."All those may or may not be valid reasons. But the panel felt the NSO had to be treated like all the other orchestras. They consider themselves the national symphony. The orchestra panel did not."
The $15,000 was cut from the NSO's other grant, according to Laderman, because of the symphony's financial problems. The NSO has a "not insubstantial" deficit, said Laderman. "There are a lot of problems that I think hopefully are going to be solved." Martin Feinstein has fascinating ideas about changing the subscription program and even changing the times of the concerts."
Financial difficulty is only one of several criteria the NEA applied when deciding whether or not to reduce orchestras' grants from the 1979-80 amounts. Other considerations were deficiencies in artistic quality, audience attendance and variety of repertoire. "If you've had the same conductor for 20 years playing the same old stuff, that orchestra needs a boost," said Stunkard.
The NSO had no artistic problems, according to Laderman. "They have a great musical director who is also a great human being," said Laderman, referring to Mstislav Rostropovich, the NSO conductor.
"With the NSO and the other orchestras that got slightly reduced, the hope is that they will turn around next year," said Laderman. "The hope is that they will straighten out their orchestra lives and those reductions would be swept away."