Pasadena Symphony and Pops to change venues for 2010-11 season

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The Pasadena Symphony is leaving its longtime home, making a small-is-beautiful switch from the 3,029-seat Pasadena Civic Auditorium to the 1,262-seat Ambassador Auditorium for the 2010-11 concert season announced Friday.

Meanwhile, its sister orchestra, the Pasadena Pops, is going in the opposite direction. As previously announced, it will play this summer on a lawn outside the Rose Bowl that affords expanded seating of up to 4,000 compared to the previous venue, Descanso Gardens in La Cañada Flintridge.


While the orchestras are still digging out from financial problems that led to the cancellation of some concerts two seasons ago after the economy turned, the venue switch is driven by aesthetics rather than cost, chief executive Paul Jan Zdunek said. The Ambassador, known for fine acoustics, will serve the music better and offer a more intimate experience, he said. Instead of giving a single performance of five concert programs, as it currently does, the Pasadena Symphony will play day-night doubleheaders in the Ambassador, affording audiences the choice between matinees and evening concerts.

Also, Zdunek said, the orchestras’ improving -- though still deficit-plagued -- financial situation allows for some departures from the ultra-familiar: Phillip Glass’ Symphony No. 3 will lead off a Feb. 19, 2011, program that also includes Schumann and Mozart; sandwiched between excerpts from Mendelssohn’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 on March 12, 2011, will be the 20th century Armenian composer Khachatur Avetisyan’s concerto for the kanun, a Middle Eastern lap harp with 72 nylon strings.

‘We’re out of crisis mode and can focus on vision, strategy and artistic issues. It’s time to reflect and put together programs not just from a marketing standpoint, but from an artistic standpoint,’ Zdunek said.

He’s hoping that financial progress will persuade ‘fence sitters’ among potential major donors to back the orchestras; Zdunek, who was hired at the end of 2008 to help effect a rescue, said they ran a $1.7-million deficit in 2007-08, and $700,000 in 2008-09, when the cancellations and substantial cost-cutting kicked in. The current fiscal year, with two remaining classical programs in the Pasadena Civic Auditorium in April and May, and four monthly summer programs at the Rose Bowl starting June 19, began with a $3.1-million budget that may wind up $300,000 to $500,000 in deficit due to slower-than-hoped ticket sales, Zdunek said. But he said ‘the abyss’ no longer confronts the organization.

The 2010-11 programming:

The Pasadena Pops

June 19: classical hits, fireworks and guest acrobats, dancers and jugglers from Cirque de la Symphonie; July 17: Broadway favorites; Aug. 14: Gershwin and standards with guest pianist Alfredo Rodriguez and vocalist Valarie Pettiford; Sept. 25: film score highlights with guest singer Jodi Benson. The Pops also will offer a holiday concert Dec. 4 at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. Music director Rachael Worby (pictured) conducts all programs.

The Pasadena Symphony’s season: Oct. 23 (Rossini, Barber and Brahms, violinist Anne Akiko Meyers, soloist); Jan. 22, 2001 (Britten, Dvorak and Elgar, cellist Narek Hakhnazaryan, soloist); Feb. 19, 2011: Glass, Schumann, Mozart, soloist Robert Thies, piano); March 12, 2011 (Mendelssohn, Avetisyan, Beethoven, soloist Karine Hovhannisyan, kanun); and May 7, 2011 (Liszt and Rachmaninoff, with guest conductor Maximiano Valdes and pianist Chu-Fang Huang). Music director Jorge Mester conducts all programs but the last.


-- Mike Boehm


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