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S.D. Symphony Orchestra on Brink of Bankruptcy

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The critically acclaimed but financially anemic San Diego Symphony Orchestra has announced it will file for bankruptcy and cease making music unless another $3 million is raised by Tuesday.

Last fall, the symphony’s board of directors issued a public plea that the symphony could die unless it received $2 million in donations. The public responded with approximately half that amount but bills continued to mount.

At a solemn and tearful meeting late Tuesday, the symphony board decided to make one final plea before filing for bankruptcy.

“I’m eternally optimistic,” said board president Elsie Weston. “I think there are people in this city who are capable of helping the symphony orchestra, but so far we have not heard from them.”

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Still, virtually no one held out hope that the $3 million could be found. Most San Diegans with that kind of financial worth have already been contacted in previous fund-raising appeals.

“We all feel terrible,” said violinist Vesna Gruppman. “This is a great cultural loss for the city.”

The symphony, which traces its history to 1910, has been plagued for years by financial problems and occasional labor-management strife. One problem has been that San Diego lacks the corporate headquarters that traditionally help fund symphonies nationwide. A series of pop concerts last summer lost $1 million.

“The symphony has no endowment,” Weston said. “We have no cash reserves. Our bank account has $22,000.”

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Several desperate moves were taken in recent weeks. Administrative personnel were fired. Musicians, already paid less than those in symphonies in other large cities, agreed to take a pay cut. The orchestra was so short of money that it could not afford to buy advertising for a concert featuring violinist Itzhak Perlman.

City hall has not responded to an 11th-hour appeal for assistance. The symphony receives $400,000 a year from the city’s hotel-motel tax fund.

The 79 musicians, many of whom also play with the San Diego Opera and the San Diego Chamber Orchestra, have not been paid since mid-December. Still, they have voted to do a final concert this weekend of Mozart, Brahms and Debussy.


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