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RPO CEO Ralph Craviso Says He'll Be Around For A While

Ralph Craviso
Ralph Craviso

When Craviso was hired to step in as President and CEO of the RPO last October, he was labeled as an interim leader, while the orchestra board said it would conduct a national search to find a full-time replacement.

But that plan has changed. Craviso says that the word interim is gone from his title and the board has effectively stopped looking for someone to permanently fill his role.

“The search for a quote, unquote, ‘permanent CEO’ is really on hold. There’s really no need to spend any effort on that, I’m here, I’m fulfilling the role, I’ll continue to fulfill the role, and if there comes a point for transition we’ll evaluate it, and if necessary we’ll put another search out for another CEO.”

Craviso says one reason the word ‘interim was taken out of his title was because the tentative nature of that term could make it more difficult to raise money from donors. And in any case, Craviso says he’d like to continue to implement the long term plan he designed to shore up the RPO’s fiscal stability.

“What’s really happened is I’ve created a five year plan, the board has approved it, and now the plan was, who’s going to execute it. And since it was my plan, and a lot of people out there who want to consider giving money to the RPO are saying, well, who’s going to execute it, I realized it was mine to execute.”

The RPO has been dealing with a deficit situation for a while; earlier this year, it was pegged at  $1.4 million. Craviso says that will take a while to whittle down; in fact, he actually expects the deficit to increase this year because the RPO is now spending money intended to help the orchestra grow, such as filling development and sales positions.

But Craviso sounds confident they’ll be able to keep operations running where they need to be, and he points to recent numbers about the growth in subscription ticket sales.  Craviso says a big reason for that is the addition of Music Director Ward Stare.

“He’s an all-around music director. He’s connected to the community because he’s from the community, he’s actively involved with us in fundraising and he’s exciting on the podium. So, a good portion of our success is attributed to Ward; but as I said, it’s also programming and it’s also because of the quality of the musicians on the stage.”

Craviso says despite the still somewhat tenuous financial situation for the RPO, musicians, who have been asked to accept concessions in the past, will be getting raises as part of their contract.

“This is not a contraction budget, this is a growth budget, it has salary increases built into it over five years ; It’s not in any way a budget that is a budget of an organization in crisis. What this is, is an organization that’s moving toward financial stability and growth.”

Craviso does say while the RPO is not planning on cutting staff or salaries, they are looking to refine some costs. He wasn’t specific on just what that will mean, but did tell me that any changes that would affect the musicians would only be done after discussions with them.

Craviso says that among the challenges is coming up with new ways to market tickets to concert-goers, especially as they try to also attract both younger patrons and the longtime RPO fans.

“As the generations get older and the younger generation comes forward, they’re not really interested in making large commitments of time and money a year ahead of time as traditional subscribers do. So the business model of orchestras is beginning to change.”

Ralph Craviso says another way the RPO will achieve fiscal stability is if they can increase the size of their endowment, saying that the Buffalo Philharmonic was able to do that, and consequently is in much better shape right now.

His plan is for five years, and when asked if he’ll be around that entire time, Craviso said that would be too difficult to predict. But the CEO  did say he’ll be around long enough to make sure his plan is on track to be completed. 

Randy Gorbman is WXXI's director of news and public affairs. Randy manages the day-to-day operations of WXXI News on radio, television, and online.