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NRO salutes its saviors

KIMBERLY NICOLETTIsummit daily news
Special to the DailyThe National Repertory Orchestra's Tom Rader helped the organization climb out of debt in the 1990s. He will be honored Saturday for his work.
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BRECKENRIDGE – In the early 1990s, the National Repertory Orchestra (NRO) hit a sour note. Board members had run the nonprofit into a debt of approximately $260,000, in addition to skipping tax payments.Most of the board resigned in the midst of the crisis, though six remained to clean up the mess. Only, when they went to review the books, the books had mysteriously disappeared.Tom Rader, one of the remaining board members, assigned the treasurer of his company to review two years of microfiche at the bank to reconstruct the books. The process took six months. Meanwhile, the board members met 20 hours a week for six to eight months to create a plan to pay the federal debt and other bills. Mismanagement of fundsThough the reconstruction of the books showed one or two “modest irregularities,” Rader said it wasn’t sizable. It seemed the debt and missed taxes weren’t malevolent but, rather, a gross overcommitment of funds.The main factor that contributed to the NRO’s financial crisis involved a grant from the U.S. West Foundation for approximately $250,000 to discover a new American composer and record him or her.The executive director of the NRO spent money on travel expenses related to finding composers, compensation for a professional judging panel and a trip to Wolf Trap Farm, outside of Washington D.C., to record the discovered composer. Meanwhile, the NRO ran short on operating revenue, so it used grant money to meet costs.

“It wasn’t a matter of doing anything wrong,” said former board member and current advisory board member Mike Altenberg. “It was a matter of being overly optimistic about what was going to come in. Some people said, ‘We’ll be OK because we have big donations coming in.’ Then the big donations didn’t come.”Other former board members, like Jim Kreider, said a trip to Korea for 90 NRO musicians to perform at the Sejong Cultural Center as part of the Cultural Olympics, a side event to the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, may have also contributed to the debt. Both trips took place in 1988.Losing focusThough current NRO executive director Terese Kaptur applauds the former board for the risk it took and the national recognition it garnered through trips to Korea and Wolf Trap, she agrees with board members who bailed the NRO out of debt that the board lost sight of its focus.”The NRO’s mission is to provide a pre-professional orchestral experience to the most promising young musicians in the country,” Rader said. “While it’s exciting to do things like the grant-funded (composer) contest, it’s not central to the NRO’s mission.”It took until 2002 to pay off the final debts the former board had incurred, Kaptur said.

To declare bankruptcy, or notAnd in the early 1990s, it looked dismal. Attorneys, who also happened to be on the NRO board, suggested the NRO declare bankruptcy, but the six members who remained realized the declaration would end the NRO.”If we did that, it would be the end of our organization because of community support issues,” Rader said. “Most people say it’s over and move on and support something else. Forty years of history would disappear.”Instead, board members reached deep into their own pockets to pay off some of the debt. Suppliers, such as printers, housing authorities and moving services discounted their fees. Conductor Carl Topilow worked for a year without pay until the board could square their debt. One of the board members conveniently lived next to a retired district director for the Internal Revenue Service, who gave the board advice and acted as a representative to create a repayment plan.Hitting the right noteSince then, the board has come a long way.

In the early 1990s, its annual budget totaled no more than $300,000. Now it’s just below $700,000, Kaptur said. But most importantly, the board has learned the importance of staying in tune with its mission and keeping an eye on the budget.”We realize we have a huge task of oversight of contracts – making sure the staff and directors are performing as charged,” Kreider said. “It’s very sobering. The NRO right now is the strongest it’s ever been. The whole board is more in focus now. We understand how important the checks and balances are.”Though Kaptur is open to considering extracurricular activities, such as the one the former board took on with the U.S. West grant, she maintains her commitment to focusing on the NRO’s mission of bringing higher caliber guest conductors and master class clinicians to train young musicians. She said up until now, the NRO has been trying to stabilize from the 1990s financial fiasco.”We’ve been in a positive cash position ever since 2002,” she said.To celebrate the NRO’s success and especially honor the people who made it possible, the NRO will hold an appreciation gathering at 6 p.m. Saturday at Win and Susan Lockwood’s house in Breckenridge. A suggested donation of $75 benefits the NRO and includes appetizers, cocktails and live music by pianist Karen Becker.The NRO will honor five former board members – Altenberg, Geraldine Cohen, Kreider, Rader and Barry Shepard (who is deceased, but his widow will attend) – as well as people such as Topilow, Bobbie Zelkind, Greg Dobbs, Joe Kremer, Gary Martinez, the Breckenridge government, the Breckenridge Music Institute and all those who helped the NRO survive the tumultuous times. “It’s very rewarding to see the subsequent board maintaining such a healthy, well-functioning organization,” Rader said. “It makes all our effort worth it.”Kimberly Nicoletti can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 245, or at knicoletti@summitdaily.com.


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