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Center Chairman Won’t Confirm Merger Push : Music: OCPAC is accused of pressuring the Philharmonic Society and Pacific Symphony to unite.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

The incoming board chairman of the Orange County Performing Arts Center has refused to confirm or deny charges that the center is exerting financial and other pressures to force a merger between the Orange County Philharmonic Society and the Pacific Symphony.

“I don’t have any comment on it,” chairman-designate Thomas Nielsen said late Wednesday.

Earlier this week, Philharmonic Society president Steven Lupinacci said the center has delayed approving a $75,000 debt deferral as a way of pressuring the society to merge with the orchestra.

“That’s their characterization,” Nielsen said.

“They have to make their own decision about a merger,” Nielsen added. “They know best what their capabilities are. I can only react to what we’ve been requested to do, and we’re trying to deal with them as quickly as we can.”

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The $75,000 debt “technically is due now,” Nielsen said, because the society’s contract with the center calls for payment of expenses at the time a concert is held.

Organizations such as the Philharmonic Society typically incur most of their expenses early in the season, before annual subscription renewals and grants are collected, usually beginning in the spring.

The society owes the center $75,449, the net amount after $75,134 in ticket sales collected this season by the center is credited against a tab of $150,583.

Despite the debt, Nielsen said, “We have allowed those concerts to go forward, although there are costs to the center.” The center extended credit to the society last year and to the Pacific Symphony for two successive years when the orchestra had cash-flow troubles.

The society has an accumulated debt of $110,000, and the Pacific Symphony’s is $658,000. Merger proponents believe that by uniting, the financial problems would be eased.

The center stands to benefit from a merger because it could lessen competition with the center’s own offerings and make scheduling easier, society executive director Erich A. Vollmer said.

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Because of anticipated cash-flow problems this year, the society asked in June for a deferral of any debt, according to Lupinacci. But Nielsen said, “I’m not aware of any request being made in June. As far as I know, (the request) came up sometime last year. . . . In responding to that, we asked them to submit financial information. We received that last Friday. We’re now in the process of considering it. It’s something we want to do as early as possible.”

Lupinacci also said the center has so far refused to grant the society dates for a 1993-94 series that typically includes ethnic dance and other more popular items as a way of increasing pressure on the society.

“We’ve (already) revised it twice because of their suggestions,” Lupinacci said. This series has featured the Chieftains, Ireland’s premier traditional-music group, and a sell-out performance by Ballet Folklorico de Mexico.

Nielsen agreed that the center has yet to schedule dates for the series, but countered that “this particular series is not one that is a ‘classical’ music series. It’s something different. The liaison committee has decided there are some issues it wants to consider before responding.”

Such as?

“It would be premature to say what those issues are because they have not been presented to the committee. (But) we’re meeting as quickly as we can,” he said.

But it’s nothing new for center officials to review the programming by groups that rent the building, according to Nielsen.

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“The center has historically had an interest in what all the presenters have sponsored,” he said.

Said Lupinacci: “They’ve told us they’d prefer we present only classical symphonic music in their hall.”

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