The Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra is celebrating its 20th anniversary under the ownership of the musicians.

It has been two decades of hard work, overcoming Katrina and a bad economy, but the LPO hasn't just survived it's flourished.

NEW ORLEANS -- Classical music has stood the test of time, from Beethoven to more contemporary composers. Its sounds take us from the ordinary and bring us to places of pure emotion.

The Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra is comprised of highly talented individuals who work together as a seamless team to create this beautiful music, but 20 years ago, some of these talented musicians had to do more than just play their instruments. They had to lead.

Jim Atwood, who plays timpani, and his wife Patti Adams, who plays both flute and piccolo, were among those who came to work one day in 1990 only to find out their New Orleans symphony was going bankrupt.

They refused to accept it. They held a meeting, and decided they were not going to let the orchestra die.

'Why don't we just give concerts and we can figure this out?' Atwood said.

It was a big leap from playing the concerts to producing them, but it worked because 10 to 12 players stepped forward offering other talents Adams in marketing, others in development, Atwood tackling the financial end and others in musician management.

It worked, but it was tough. They worked in the shadow of the previous failed management and had to prove to the community that this time it would be done right.

It took some convincing. Adams remembers taking the first LPO program to a printer.

'He had, let's say a not very good experience with the previous organization, and he kind of had words with me about, you know, 'blah, blah, blah, and I'm not going to do this,' and I said, excuse me, we are the Louisiana philharmonic and you will be paid,' Adams said. 'We pay you before we pay ourselves.'

And that was one of the main goals the LPO had.

'We wanted instantly to put the message out into the community that we were going to be paying our bills and then we would pay ourselves,'

In 1993 the LPO came on our former talk show after their second season. They had not just survived, but were proudly moving forward. And the message of financial credibility was loud and clear.

'This is the only professional symphony orchestra that is totally debt free. Every penny we earn through ticket sales or donations goes to producing concerts, not to reducing past debt,' Atwood said.

They did it, and by the fourth season, this all-volunteer-run orchestra was able to hire staff.

Now the LPO is a nationally recognized and highly respected orchestra, born out of the sheer determination of its players.

'We have said now for years, it's the most gratifying and the most terrifying thing we have ever done,' Adams said.

This musical duo not only plays in the orchestra and teaches music at Loyola, but also runs the Garden District Art Gallery with their business partner, Joanne Kernon.

Adams is an acclaimed artist who now organizes exhibits with other local artists. Atwood runs the business side. It is a continuation of their creative gifts to a community they love.

But, it is a love they have felt returned time and time again such as their first concert after Hurricane Katrina.

'We were just amazed that we had such an audience actually. Very enthusiastic audience, clearly very glad we were back, and as the applause trickled down, a voice from the back went 'thank you,'' Atwood said. 'It was a great moment.'

It was a New Orleans moment, they said, and one of the reasons they and others with the LPO choose to stay.

The LPO is celebrating its 20th anniversary this season, which is going on now through next May with concerts from great Christmas music to Rachmaninoff to the music of Michael Jackson.

There will be a week-long celebration of the musicians in January, with special concerts every night, culminating in a beautiful gala Jan. 16.

Read or Share this story: