The National Philharmonic is working to raise $150,000 in a week to continue operations. Credit: via national philharmonic

This story was updated at 6:35 p.m. Wednesday

The National Philharmonic orchestra is making a last-ditch effort to save itself.

The North Bethesda-based orchestra has set a July 31 deadline to raise the $150,000 it says it needs to continue operations.

In an interview with Bethesda Beat on Tuesday, National Philharmonic Board Chairman Todd Eskelsen said the orchestra heard from several private donors willing to contribute funds to ensure it “stays alive.”

At around the same time on Wednesday that the Philharmonic announced the $150,000 fundraising effort, one of its musicians said he already has raised more than the orchestra’s goal.

Philharmonic violinist and local businessman Jim Kelly said he has secured $270,000 in donations for The National Philharmonic that is “cash in hand.” In an email, he wrote that he also has secured an additional $240,000 in “credits against” The National Philharmonic’s “FY 2020,” but would not elaborate during an interview on what that means.


Kelly said he will talk more about his fundraising efforts on Monday, when he has invited county officials, Philharmonic board members and the media to a meeting.

Eskelsen said Kelly has not offered to share details of his fundraising, so the Philharmonic is going ahead with a campaign to raise $150,000.

The National Philharmonic, the largest Montgomery County-based presenter of classical music concerts, has been a resident at the Music Center at Strathmore since 2005, performing more than 250 times.


After more than five years of fionancial woes, the orchestra announced last week it would cease operations, leaving 130 musicians and staff without jobs.

On Wednesday afternoon, National Philharmonic officials issued a news release saying it has launched an online fundraising campaign to solicit public donations. The Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation has pledged a $20,000 matching grant for money raised through the campaign.
Philharmonic officials said the goal is to continue with the scheduled 2019-2020 concert season at Strathmore. If they don’t reach the fundraising goal, all money that is raised will be returned to donors, according to the news release.

Eskelsen said he anticipates the fundraising efforts will provide a “long-term solution” to the organization’s longstanding funding problems.


“The only way I’m continuing is if we get a process that would be a long-term solution,” Eskelsen said. “Being in a position where you’re always working on cash flow to figure out how to pay your current bills is a tough way to live … so the only way I’m doing things moving forward is with a solution that provides us with the necessary long-term stability we need.”

Kelly, the Philharmonic violinist, said he has declined to meet individually with Philharmonic board members prior to the Monday meeting because he doesn’t “want to do the presentation 17 times” and “no one deserves a private showing.”

Though he was not willing to release more details on Wednesday about his plan, Kelly said he has letters from each person who pledged money to the effort, confirming their commitment to a donation.


Additionally, he said, the effort “would involve a new direction for [National Philharmonic] and does not involve any further assistance from the county government at this time.”

Eskelsen said he appreciates Kelly’s fundraising campaign, but “it’s really unfortunate” Kelly has not agreed to speak with him about the plan before Monday’s meeting.

Eskelsen said he is unsure if he will attend the meeting.


He declined to disclose how much money The National Philharmonic owes vendors and other organizations but confirmed that the orchestra has debts to pay Strathmore, catering companies and others. All musicians have been paid, he said.

In an interview last week, Strathmore President and CEO Monica Jeffries Hazangeles said revenue from The National Philharmonic accounts for about 4% of Strathmore’s earned revenue. While it was not a major dent in Strathmore’s overall budget, Jeffries Hazangeles expressed sadness that The National Philharmonic would close.

Reached for comment, Amy Killion, a spokeswoman for Strathmore, said “Strathmore is unable to comment on the campaign at this time.”


In 2016, The National Philharmonic also faced budget problems, recording a $200,000 shortfall. The orchestra received $400,000 in county funding that year and agreed to revamp its operations, including restructuring its artistic and marketing functions to find more diverse audiences for its performances.

As a condition for receiving the additional funds, leaders of The National Philharmonic were required to report quarterly to the County Council on their efforts to cut costs and increase efficiency.

Construction at Strathmore and the 35-day federal government shutdown earlier this year contributed to a “crippling” decline in ticket sales, according to National Philharmonic President Leanne Ferfolia.


Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at