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Honoring a Remarkable Tenure


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 Following eight extraordinary years leading the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, President Trey Devey stepped down on April 19 to assume the presidency of the Interlochen Center for the Arts, Michigan’s largest arts institution.

When his departure was announced in October of 2016, Trey said, “The success and growth the CSO and Pops have experienced during my tenure represents a collective effort. The responsibilities and the many positive outcomes have been possible thanks to collaborative work across the organization between the Board, musicians, administration, artistic leadership, volunteers and donors. It is truly the dream team, and I am honored and privileged to have served this great organization.”

The Cincinnati Turnaround

The CSO was in a negative cash flow position in early 2009 when Trey began his tenure, and endowment draws of up to 9.96 percent had contributed to the endowment plummeting from $92.7 to $56.2 million. The Orchestra’s structural deficit reached $6.5 million and the 2007-2008 season ended with a $3.8 million operating deficit.

“Trey agreed to arrive weeks early during January of 2009 in order to address daunting financial challenges facing the CSO,” said the President of the Cincinnati Musicians Association, Local 1, American Federation of Musicians and CSO Associate Principal Violist Paul Frankenfeld. “His first day on the job found him across the negotiating table from the CSO musician leadership and union officers. He already had a complete grasp of the finances of the institution, and collaboratively, we began to develop a plan to stabilize the budget. Balancing the requirements and hopes of the musicians with financial realities became the hallmark of Trey’s eight years with the Orchestra.”

The resulting budget stabilization plan announced in February of 2009 reduced operating costs by $2.8 million and required sacrifice throughout the organization. $1.8 million dollars of those savings came in the form of a concessionary contract with the musicians union that included an 11 percent wage reduction, making the CSO the first American orchestra to address major structural problems in the wake of the Great Recession. This cooperation and collaboration inspired unprecedented community support. That 2008-2009 season closed with a balanced budget, achieved through not only those reductions in operating costs, but also increased contributions and an increase in average concert attendance. This was the first of eight consecutive years of balanced budget operations.

Following this balanced budget announcement in December of 2009 came a watershed moment for the CSO and the community when the late Louise Dieterle Nippert announced the creation of an $85 million fund to support the Orchestra and sustain classical music of the highest quality for the Greater Cincinnati community. Trey said, “Her very clear message was for the community to invest in having a great orchestra with confidence that it could be sustained if we all worked together.”

While the CSO worked on addressing the structural deficit starting in 2009, special onetime gifts totaling $6.4 million provided bridge funding to ensure balanced operating budgets. 

Two years later in 2011, a contract extension with the musicians union and additional major philanthropy enabled the CSO to eliminate the Orchestra’s underfunded pension liability, a $10.6 million problem. Underfunded pensions had affected numerous companies, nonprofit organizations, unions and governments. The Orchestra subsequently raised an additional $4.8 million to eliminate all other outstanding debts.

In the spring of 2014, the CSO embarked on a quiet $20 million endowment campaign with the goal of restoring the musician complement, securing the ensemble as one of only 15 fulltime, 52-week orchestras in the country, and fully eliminating the organization’s structural deficit. The campaign exceeded that $20 million goal by $6 million, and the Orchestra agreed to a five-year contract with its musicians ahead of schedule in May of 2015, earning international attention and reinforcing the unique collaborative culture of the CSO. The campaign also allowed the CSO to reduce the endowment draw rate from 5 percent to 4.5 percent by 2020, which is in line with non-profit best practices and ensures greater long-term sustainability.

“Think Crescendo, Not Diminuendo” for the CSO

According to a New York Times article from May of 2015, “The orchestra world is all too familiar with vicious cycles of mounting deficits, dwindling audiences, difficulty raising money and cuts. But at the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, things are moving happily in the opposite direction: think crescendo, not diminuendo.”

The Orchestra experienced artistic triumphs and double digit average attendance increases under Trey’s leadership, and millions of dollars were raised to support commissions, national radio broadcasts, television broadcasts, commercial recordings, artistic collaborations, tours, digital downloads, web streaming, and groundbreaking initiatives like One City, One Symphony, LUMENOCITY, American Originals, the MusicNOW Festival collaboration, American Soundscapes and the Pelléas Trilogy.