Columbia Star

1963        Celebrating 60 Years      2023

Rhonda Hunsinger of the S.C. Philharmonic Orchestra

Star Profile

Rhonda Hunsinger

Rhonda Hunsinger

The South Carolina Philharmonic Orchestra was founded in 1963. The orchestra’s operating budget has grown to $1 million, while the budget of the Greenville Symphony is a little over $2 million, according to Rhonda Hunsinger, executive director of the S.C. Philharmonic.

To put the S.C. Philharmonic’s budget in a regional context, comparisons with Charleston ($2.4 million), Savannah ($2.4 million), Charlotte ($8 million) and Atlanta ($29 million) begin to make $1 million look like a really good deal, considering the quality and the frequency of the performances by the Columbia team.

The major differences among the big city orchestras in the U.S. and the S.C. Philharmonic are the numbers of high–salaried musicians. The Boston Symphony Orchestra, for the country’s highest budget of $70 million, probably pays its musicians the most. The reputation of the Cleveland Symphony is surprisingly strong for an annual operating budget of $42 million. Cleveland’s musicians, however, went on strike in mid–January.

Hunsinger says fund raising is always a bit of a challenge anyway, but the past year or two has been tough, particularly at her lofty level in the performing arts. Before she became executive director at the S.C. Philharmonic, Hunsinger was the orchestra’s director of development, the chief fund raiser.

Hunsinger was born in Norfolk, Va., where her father was in the U.S. Navy. A computer programmer, her father moved the family to Columbia when she was two. She attended the Irmo schools and graduated from Irmo High School with a command of both the violin and the piano. She also played the marimba, an African instrument with wood keys hit by two mallets.

She moved to Vero Beach, Fla., and she began college at Indian River Community College in Ft. Pierce, Fla. She married and moved to Orlando to continue her education. She attended both Rollins College and the University of Central Florida, earning a master’s in liberal studies while she was caring for her baby daughter.

Hunsinger’s daughter Catherine graduates at Winthrop this coming December.

During her time at UCF Hunsinger was a writer for the magazine Florida Foliage. Following Florida Foliage, Hunsinger became the editor of Entertainment Review, a magazine that covered the Florida film industry.

Visiting her father and her step–mother on the shores of Lake Murray, Hunsinger and her husband John fell in love with the lake and the idea of living on the lake. Her husband returned for a short while to Florida to sell their house, and Hunsinger landed a Columbia job as the director of development for the S.C. Philharmonic Orchestra, working for executive director Betty Malone.

In 2002, Malone resigned and a national search for her replacement followed. Hunsinger got the job.

As executive director for the past eight years, Hunsinger sees her successful search for a new musical director as a high point. The hiring in 2008 of Morihiko Nakahara has boosted interest in the orchestra. Last year’s total take in both sales and fund raising came to $1.1 million, a lifetime record for the S.C. Philharmonic. With such strides forward in ticket sales, it’s time the orchestra’s endowment took some attention.

The orchestra’s endowment of about $55,000 is well behind the requirements of an orchestra in the class of the S.C. Philharmonic. Also, under constant consideration is the Koger Center, a relative bargain when it first opened in early 1989 just after it was completed for about $16 million, $7,000 a seat.

Greenville’s Peace Center, which cost $15,000 a seat about the same time the Koger Center opened, is raising $21.5 million in its capital campaign to upgrade the lobby area.

Hunsinger’s S.C. Philharmonic is a tenant of the Koger Center, where the acoustics get high marks. But, like Greenville’s Peace, maybe the Koger could use some upgrades to handle the intermission crowds while Hunsinger continues to grow ticket sales.

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