Joy and Cynicism Greet Return of Symphony

The announcement that the San Diego Symphony Orchestra will play again evokes the seemingly incongruous reactions of joy and cynicism. The joy dominates, but the cynicism nags enough to prevent euphoria.

It is hard to imagine that the stewards of the beautiful music that filled Symphony Hall not so long ago could have allowed years of artistic progress to be lost as they have. But no point is served in further finger-pointing now, and in any case there already has been plenty among musicians, board members and the symphony staffers.

What is most important at this stage is that an orchestra has been salvaged. To be sure, when the orchestra returns next fall it will not be the one that left the stage in the spring of 1986. Missing will be conductor David Atherton and several principal players. The programs will be more likely to include the likes of "The 1812 Overture" than Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra. The symphony's public relations people may be less inclined to use the phrase "world class" as loosely as they did in the past.

But at least the city will have a symphony again. A series of guest conductors is better than no conductor; programming by the marketing department is preferable to no programming at all--and, in truth, may be just what is needed for a while.

Many problems still must be overcome before the symphony can have even the modest 31-week season (19 classical programs, 12 Summer Pops) it plans. Not the least among these is the difficult job of raising money for an organization that has exhausted its good will.

Gushing headlines heralding the symphony's return do not erase the memory of unfulfilled promises of refunds for last season's tickets; assurances of streamlined operations in the future do not cancel out the image in the minds of many corporate leaders that the organization has been horribly mismanaged in the past.

One measure of the lingering bitterness from the recent labor dispute is that management and players cannot or will not even agree on who played what role in the resurrection. It seems fair to say, however, that symphony President Herbert J. Solomon and negotiator William McGill both deserve the thanks of the community for their efforts in preventing the symphony association from folding completely. So do the players, who have won some of the non-monetary points they argued over last year but have suffered serious financial losses, and the board members who have donated most of the money that has been raised to pay off $1.2 million in debts.

Now, the symphony is rebuilding, and the community must offer its support and its patience if the effort is to succeed. It may take years for the orchestra to again reach the level of excellence it attained under Atherton. But, for now, the highest priority should be to rebuild the credibility of the organization with prudent management and kept promises.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World