Updated: Pasadena Symphony adopts financial plan, concert season and new venue


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A ‘recovery plan’ that the Pasadena Symphony Assn. announced Thursday aims to fill its financial hole by fall 2010.

Among the strategies: using popular composers and titles to boost revenue for classical concerts at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, cutting salaries for the organization’s staff and two music directors, reducing the number of performances in the coming Pasadena Pops season from 12 to eight, and switching the pops venue in 2010 from Descanso Gardens in La Cañada Flintridge to a grassy field outside the Rose Bowl that will accommodate larger audiences.


If all goes well, says chief executive Paul Jan Zdunek, the organization will end next season with a balanced $3.2 million budget, while gradually paying off $800,000 in debt. The plan calls for leaving the $5 million endowment untouched, so it can potentially grow and be held in reserve to meet specific future needs.

Even without the national financial meltdown and recession, the orchestras would have run into trouble, according to the recovery plan, because they ‘were living beyond their financial means.’ The orchestras failed to reap savings following a 2007 merger between the previously autonomous Pasadena Symphony and Pasadena Pops -- it wasn’t a case of one orchestra being a financial drag on the other, the plan says: ‘the results show an equal loss.’

Encouraged by strong attendance for the three most recent concerts, which Zdunek says drew 2,600 to 2,700 listeners to the 2,900-seat Pasadena Civic, the Pasadena Symphony will offer proven hits next season: Gustav Holst’s ‘The Planets’ and Debussy’s ‘Nocturnes’ (Oct. 24), Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky piano concertos with soloist Howard Shelley (Jan. 16), Mozart’s ‘Requiem’ and Berlioz’s ‘The Nights of Summer’ (March 20), Mendelssohn’s ‘Italian Symphony’ and works by Dvorak, Bartok and Rodrigo (April 10) and a ‘Bravo Beethoven’ program of his Coriolan Overture, Violin Concerto and Fifth Symphony (May 15). (Updated: A previous version of this story misspelled the composer of ‘The Planets.’)

Tickets will range from $25 to $75 (compared with $30 and $60 this season), with $10 tickets for concertgoers under 17, and season subscriptions priced at $30 for students.

After performing a free concert Sunday evening outside Pasadena City Hall, the Pasadena Pops will offer four monthly programs at Descanso Gardens, with two performances of each program instead of the originally scheduled three. In the past, attendance at the pops concerts has averaged about 3,200 for each weekend bracket of three concerts, Zdunek said; next year’s move to the Rose Bowl will allow it to play to as many people -- or more -- in half as many performances. Financial terms for using the city-owned property haven’t been worked out, he said, but ‘the city is making it easy for us; it’s a new venture and they are willing to help us be successful.’

Zdunek, recruited late last year after the organization fell into fiscal trouble, cutting staff and canceling several concerts, said that he and the two other highest-ranking employees, symphony music director Jorge Mester and pops music director Rachael Worby, took 10% pay cuts that went into effect May 1. The remaining full-time staff of 10 received 5% cuts. Contract negotiations with the orchestras’ musicians are expected to begin soon; Zdunek wouldn’t say whether management will ask them to accept cuts as well.

With the recovery plan in place, the symphony association’s leaders will step up fundraising, with a target of $1.6 million in donations in the next fiscal year. Instead of the expensive galas and special events that have worked well in the past, Zdunek said, the focus will be on smaller gatherings, including intimate house concerts, aimed at expanding the network of supporters. With the economy down, he said, ‘I’ve been hearing from colleagues locally and nationally about galas not going as well as in the past. We’re switching gears and being conservative.... We have a road map for success; now the work begins.’

-- Mike Boehm

Photo, top: Rachael Worby will lead the Pasadena Pops this summer at Descanso Gardens, then switch to a grassy area outside the Rose Bowl in 2010. Credit: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times