Symphony Facing $820,000 Deficit by End of Season

San Diego County Arts Writer

Ten days after the community raised more than $2.1 million to wipe out the San Diego Symphony's long-term debt, the orchestra revealed that it will end the year with an $820,000 deficit.

The figure varies sharply from those released earlier this month showing the orchestra ending the year with a $116,000 deficit if four weeks are cut in the remaining season, eliminating salary obligations to orchestra members. New projections show the symphony ending the year with a $631,000 deficit even with the four-week cut. The $2.1 million raised to pay off the symphony's long-term debt has nothing to do with the projected deficit for the operating budget.

Symphony Executive Director Richard Bass presented the new figures Thursday when he asked the orchestra committee to reduce the season from 45 to 41 weeks. Representatives of the 89-member orchestra have repeatedly said they would not agree to any cut in their contract.

Orchestra members were stunned at the revised figures. "How dumb do they think I am?" said violist Rebekah Campbell, who is on the committee.

Greg Berton, a bass player who chairs the orchestra committee, said: "I don't think there is any way Mr. Bass can justify the expense of running this organization with regards to the percentage of budget allocated to musicians' salaries."

The musicians' union has maintained that for a budget the size of the San Diego Symphony, the orchestra members are vastly underpaid.

Bass said the new deficit figures are due to a more conservative analysis of the orchestra's fund-raising and marketing abilities.

"If we sell every ticket for the rest of the season, if we sell out the Pops and if we raise X amount of money, then we won't have that kind of deficit. For the last 10 years the orchestra has run on ifs. I can't assume the responsibility to do that," Bass said.

Bass called the earlier figures, which showed the symphony almost breaking even after raising the $2 million, "extremely optimistic projections" that he could not agree with.

Orchestra members responded with a list of questions about symphony operations. They asked the symphony to provide a detailed accounting of expenses associated with November's fund-raising gala for Symphony Hall and for a breakdown of the bimonthly payroll that management has said amounts to $250,000.

The musicians also wanted to know if symphony president M.B. Det Merryman or other board members have derived a financial benefit from the symphony. Merryman publishes Performing Arts Magazine, which prints the symphony's program.

Asked if any board members had been financially compensated for symphony work, Bass said attorney and board member Lynn Shenk had been paid a consultant's fee to head the symphony's capital campaign for Symphony Hall.

Merryman was on vacation Friday and could not be reached for comment.

On Feb. 27, symphony officials said a growing debt would force the symphony to file for bankruptcy unless $2 million could be raised in 12 days. The community responded with more than $1.6 million, meeting a challenge grant of $500,000 by an unnamed board member.

The latest figures assume the symphony will raise another $877,000 to supplement the operating budget by the end of the season this fall. But even with that amount, the symphony will be $820,000 in debt, Bass now projects.

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