California Philharmonic loses summer home at Arboretum to Pasadena Pops


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For the last 15 years, the California Philharmonic has made its summer home at the Los Angeles County Arboretum, the lush, 127-acre botanical garden located in Arcadia. This week, orchestra leaders said they received an abrupt notice from the Arboretum informing them that the group has lost its home and that the Pasadena Pops will take up residency at the scenic venue starting 2012.

Leaders of the Cal Phil said that they are upset over the way the Arboretum has handled the change and held a news conference Saturday to voice their objections. The orchestra claims that the Arboretum prematurely distributed a news release about the switch and that the Arboretum still has not sent an official correspondence about its decision. The music group said that the Arboretum only informed them of the decision through an informal phone call to music director Victor Vener.


Richard Schulhof, chief executive of the Arboretum, said in an interview that the Cal Phil was informed about the decision in a timely and official manner. He said that the selection of the Pasadena Pops was a business choice made with an eye toward ‘generating revenue to support the Arboretum, and to serve a range of audiences.’

André C. Vener, chief executive of Cal Phil, claimed in a separate interview that the Arboretum conducted its search process in an unjust manner and that the orchestra is looking into its legal options. ‘We’re not an organization that sues people, but we want to protect our legal rights,’ he said. (André C. Vener is the son of the group’s music director.)

The Cal Phil is a modest-sized orchestra with an annual operating budget of approximately $1.6 million. The group holds its Cal Phil Festival on the Green concert series at the Arboretum each summer. The orchestra also performs at other venues around Southern California throughout the year. Earlier this year, the Arboretum sent out a request to music groups to submit proposals for its summer entertainment offerings. The Arboretum said that two groups ultimately responded to the request. The Cal Phil and the Pasadena Pops both confirmed that they submitted proposals. The final decision was made by the L.A. Arboretum Foundation board of trustees.

Paul Jan Zdunek, chief executive of the Pasadena Symphony and Pops, said in an interview that the pops will play this summer at its venue near the Rose Bowl and will move to the Arboretum next summer. He said the Arboretum is a more convenient venue for the group because it will allow the them to keep its performance shell on the grounds.

The Cal Phil and the Pasadena Symphony and Pops have suffered financially during the recent recession. The groups have accumulated debt that they are now working on paying down. The Cal Phil said that its debt stands at about $300,000 and that the group realized a profit last year.

The Pasadena Pops recently signed on Oscar-winning composer and conductor Marvin Hamlisch as its new lead conductor. Hamlisch will begin his tenure this summer.


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-- David Ng

Top photo: Victor Vener, music director of the Cal Phil. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times