San Diego County Arts Writer

Three weeks after the San Diego Symphony returned from the grave and announced it will produce a winter season, the skeletal staff is mapping out the season and plowing through a raft of applications for vacant positions.

At the same time, symphony board members are quietly soliciting the money needed to wipe out the remainder of the current debt before launching next year's fund-raising campaign.

The low-key approach to raising money is an effort to rebuild credibility within the community, said symphony President Herbert J. Solomon.

"Our fund raising for our next fiscal year hasn't started yet," Solomon said Tuesday. "I don't feel we have the right to make a mass appeal to fund the past. Before we will go out to the general community and ask them to support the symphony, we first feel that it's important for us to be able to solve the financial problems. . . . At the appropriate time we will expect the community to support the symphony's present and future needs."

Some contributions have come in for the 1987-88 season, said Lynda Sterns, orchestra operations director, but that money, rather than being applied to the current debt, has been set aside for next season.

Meanwhile, Sterns and symphony Executive Director Wesley O. Brustad are hunched over scores of resumes for the 18 vacant positions. More than 200 applications from around the country have poured into the symphony office, Sterns said.

Filling many of these positions is critical to the success of the symphony as a business, Sterns said. Among the vacancies are slots for heads of the fund-raising, marketing and public relations departments, as well as support personnel for those and other departments.

Members of the board of directors are now handling fund-raising activities, Solomon said.

There are now five symphony staff members. Besides Sterns, Brustad and his assistant, there is a finance director and his assistant. About a year ago, the symphony had 42 staff members. When labor talks stalemated in August, the number of staff positions began to decline and reached the current level late this spring.

In the absence of a music director (former music director and conductor David Atherton resigned in February), Brustad is saddled with the critical job of programming the winter concerts. That includes selecting the music to be played and finding and signing the guest conductors and soloists. A complex and time-consuming job, season programming is made more difficult because Brustad is starting relatively late in the game to sign conductors and musicians, whose schedules are normally filled at least a year in advance.

Almost $1 million of the $1.2-million deficit was eliminated last month by a combination of gifts from hotelier Judson Grosvenor, academician Roger Revelle and businessman Murray Hutchison.

Part of that $1.2-million debt consisted of about $700,000 in ticket refunds to patrons because the 1986-87 season was canceled.

The symphony mailed season ticket holders a letter this month saying subscribers have the option of a cash refund or of applying the ticket price to the next season, Sterns said.

Once the season has been determined, subscribers will be mailed another letter with a reply form for their choice.

Brustad could not be reached for comment this week about future fund-raising efforts. Sterns said that once the current debt is eliminated, the symphony can focus on the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

The 32-week winter season, which includes 12 weeks of summer pops concerts in 1988, is budgeted for $5.6 million. To meet that goal, the symphony must raise at least $1.5 million above the revenue generated from ticket sales, Symphony Hall rental and other sources.

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