Symphony Asks City for Financial Expertise

San Diego County Arts Writer

In addition to pleas for cash to stave off bankruptcy, San Diego Symphony President M.B. (Det) Merryman said Monday that the orchestra has asked the city and business community to provide it with financial expertise.

Merryman said he would like the city auditor, city manager and members of the San Diego Chamber of Commerce to become members of the symphony's financial committee, which oversees its budget and financial planning.

Also Monday, San Diego acting Mayor Ed Struiksma said that 200 business leaders will be invited to a fund-raising breakfast Wednesday to help stave off imminent bankruptcy for the San Diego Symphony. Struiksma said plans for the fund-raiser were hammered out over the weekend in meetings with City Manager Sylvester Murray and members of the Chamber of Commerce and symphony board.

Struiksma said the 200 key business leaders, whose names were taken from the chamber's mailing list, were to receive Mailgrams Monday afternoon inviting them to attend a 7:30 a.m. breakfast Wednesday at the Westgate Hotel. Although the fund-raiser has no dollar goal, Struiksma said he was "confident that the meeting will generate a substantial amount of money."

"We all feel that the way to look at (the symphony's financial crisis) is to solve it through the private sector," Struiksma said.

Last week, the 76-year-old orchestra announced that it could no longer continue operations unless it could eliminate its debt, which is expected to grow to $2 million by the end of its season in September. The symphony has stopped paying all bills, including its payroll, and launched a crash fund-raising campaign. Should it fail to reach its goal, the orchestra will file for bankruptcy Monday and shut down.

If the orchestra can raise $1.5 million by then, another patron has promised to donate $500,000.

Since last week, community response to the symphony's plight has generated $421,000 in cash and pledges, a symphony spokeswoman said Monday.

The largest donation came from a Beverly Hills dowager, Muriel Gluck, who gave $250,000. Gluck maintains a house in San Diego near Balboa Park and has long supported the San Diego Museum of Art.

The amount raised to date also includes $27,660 donated by concertgoers at the symphony's three weekend performances. The Abbey Restaurant, 2825 5th Ave., responded with a $6,000 donation Friday, and a 2 1/2-hour "radiothon" on KFSD-FM brought in $62,000.

While Struiksma was announcing the special fund-raiser Monday, some symphony players were busy looking for money elsewhere. A group set up their instruments in the lobby of the Imperial Bank Tower, on B Street across from Symphony Hall, and the woodwind quintet raised $800 in donations from office workers.

Today, a quartet will play in the lobby of the Westgate Hotel between 5 and 7 p.m.

"The orchestra members are rising to the occasion across the board, in attitude and eagerness to participate in ways that can help get us through this crisis," said Nancy Hafner, symphony spokeswoman. "They're certainly remarkable, to a person."

In addition to the fund-raising breakfast, a group of single professionals will hold an open house benefit from 6 to 10 p.m. Wednesday at Symphony Hall. Admission is $15. Also on Wednesday, KUSI-TV (Channel 51) will hold a telethon from 8 to 10 p.m.

As time ticks on, orchestra board members live with the fact that Sunday's concert may be the symphony's last. Even though all the musicians are working without pay, the orchestra will give four concerts featuring a special all-Beethoven program this week.

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