Orchestra Cites Money Woes, Cancels Concert


With only $6,000 in its bank account, the Glendale Symphony Orchestra has canceled its March 17 concert, a symptom of declining subscriptions and serious financial troubles facing the 72-year-old orchestra.

Long considered the city's cultural centerpiece, the symphony must raise about $55,000 to produce its last concert of the season, scheduled for April 27.

"I'm hoping this is not . . . the demise of the symphony," said City Councilman Larry Zarian, a longtime symphony booster. "I don't think it is. I think they're going to regroup and come back strong. But they need to go out and find sponsors."

Across California, orchestras are being forced to retrench financially. The larger San Diego Symphony Orchestra filed for bankruptcy protection in January and survived only after two major donations. Kris Saslow, executive director of the Assn. of California Symphony Orchestras, said that all 13 of ACSO's member orchestras with budgets the size of Glendale's are taking a hard look at how they spend their money.

Paul Kinney, president of the Glendale symphony's board of directors, said his focus is raising money for the April concert.

"You can't have a very good contingency plan for the end of the world as you know it," Kinney said, "and the things we're talking about here are perilous and potentially life-threatening."

"This has been a month-to-month, concert-to-concert proposal. I didn't think we'd do January, and I didn't think we'd do February. I've suspended expectation," Kinney said. "But I think it's doable."

If there is no April concert, he said, the symphony will make every effort to reimburse ticket holders, if any money remains. There are no plans to reimburse season ticket holders for the canceled concert, Kinney said.

The symphony has been hard hit by a continuous drop in subscribers, from a high point of about 2,500 in the mid-1980s to 700 this year. Funding from the city and county has remained level while the cost of putting on concerts has risen sharply. The city and county money totaled about 25% of the symphony's 1980 budget of $200,000. Now, that money covers less than 10% of the symphony's $480,000 budget.

City Manager Dave Ramsay said that the symphony is a vital part of Glendale's community identity and part of the downtown revitalization. But the symphony's woes come as the city is tightening its belt. The council has agreed to provide $25,000 if another concert is staged, but the money is an advance of the city's contribution for 1996-97, Ramsay said.

The situation first started to look dire in December, when a direct-mail request for donations got very little response. At the same time, ticket sales were low for the traditionally packed Christmas concert, and the group didn't get a major donation they'd planned on. That all added up to a $50,000 reversal of fortune.

Program changes have been made to save money. The music for a January concert was changed to use a smaller chamber-style orchestra, and a move to the Alex Theatre from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion two years ago saves them thousands in rent. The Alex also deferred rent payments for January and February as a show of support.

The symphony is composed primarily of freelance musicians who play with other groups or do studio recording work. Though a core group of musicians has performed with the symphony for years, none is salaried. Rather, musicians are hired to play individual concerts. Because of its tenuous financial situation, the symphony never hired the musicians for the March concert and won't have to pay them.

Percussionist Alan Vavrin said the musicians are more concerned with the health of the orchestra than the lost paycheck.

"We don't need to lose another orchestra in Los Angeles," he said. "Whatever it takes to keep it healthy."

Kinney, who took the helm of the symphony board just this season, said those involved will have to decide what they want to be--and can afford to be--in the future.

"It hasn't always been a big symphony playing in major concert halls," Kinney said. "As long as you have people who love music, and you have the music itself, then [the symphony] really can't die."

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