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3 Weeks of Concerts to Be Set : Symphony Retracts Request to Cut Season

San Diego County Arts Writer

The San Diego Symphony has retracted a request that orchestra members agree to a four-week cut in the season.

In a letter to Local 325 of the American Federation of Musicians, symphony management withdrew its request, made March 10 to the 89-member orchestra. The symphony management had said that unless the cut was agreed to, the orchestra could end the year with an $820,000 operating deficit.

The symphony now will play three weeks of concerts that were previously unannounced. The fourth week is vacation time.

“We felt a fiscal responsibility to make the request, but now the time frame is such that we must proceed with plans for marketing the three weeks of unscheduled orchestra services,” symphony President M.B. (Det) Merryman said. He said the concerts will be played after the close of the winter season May 17 and before the beginning of the summer pops season June 25.

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The request to cut the contract from 45 to 41 weeks was made immediately after a crash 12-day fund-raising campaign in which the orchestra raised more than $2.5 million in cash and pledges to stave off a self-imposed bankruptcy. The request has contributed to strained relations between the musicians and symphony association leaders.

“It obviously will help in improving relations with the orchestra,” Greg Berton, a musician and orchestra representative, said of the retraction. “I hope it helps in community relations. (Symphony leaders) told the community that $2 million would be enough (to solve its immediate and past financial difficulties), and they raised $500,000 more than that. It doesn’t make sense to have a pay cut. It also denies the community the music they deserve and have paid for.”

When asked to submit to a four-week cut, the musicians gave management a list of 10 questions regarding symphony finances that they wanted answered before considering the request. As of Thursday, Berton said he had not received a reply to a single question.

Merryman would not speculate on how honoring the entire 45-week contract would affect the symphony. Recent symphony projections on the cost of the four weeks have varied greatly. All projections expect an operating deficit, with the cost of the four weeks ranging from $189,000 to $704,000.

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The three weeks originally budgeted for a “Mostly Mozart” festival, which never was scheduled, projected $156,000 in income and more than $444,000 in costs. “Whatever it is we do with the additional weeks, we plan to get the absolute maximum income from them,” Merryman said.

Arrangements for the three weeks of concerts, including format, guest artists, locations and underwriting, have not been completed, and Merryman was reluctant to predict their net cost.

Symphony Hall will be unavailable for concerts for about five months, beginning May 19 when construction is scheduled to start on Symphony Towers, a $150-million high-rise office and hotel complex that will be built around and above Symphony Hall.

Sources close to the symphony said composer-conductor John Williams and composer Henry Mancini were to be signed for two of the weeks. Merryman would not confirm whether the two would be on the program, but said he expected to be able to make an announcement within two weeks.

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