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San Diego Symphony Files for Liquidation of Assets

TIMES STAFF WRITER

When it was a going concern, the San Diego Symphony was acclaimed for its ability to make music of the classical and summer pops varieties.

But off-stage, the story of the symphony, San Diego’s oldest artistic organization, has been filled with enough heartache and flirtations with ruin to provide fodder for a squad of country singers.

Now the symphony’s last song is being sung in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

After years of financial crisis, the symphony board this week decided to do what it had struggled to avoid: declare Chapter 7 bankruptcy and request a trustee to parcel out the symphony’s assets to its creditors, including its season ticket holders and 79 musicians.

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“It was sad, but the board realized all it was doing was prolonging the suffering,” said attorney Margaret Mann, who will handle the bankruptcy. “I always tell clients that if it’s inevitable, it’s best to do it and begin planning the future rather than wallowing in the past.”

In the short term, the future is that the San Diego Symphony, which formed in 1910, will remain silent. Chapter 7 calls for liquidation, unlike Chapter 11, which allows for reorganization.

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“There are no options,” Mann said. “There is simply no capital to keep the entity going.”

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The symphony’s debts are placed at about $3 million, including back wages owed to the musicians and deeds of trust on Copley Symphony Hall. Assets, chief among them the music library, have yet to be tallied.

“None of us feels good about this,” said board president Elsie Weston. “The board is devastated. Only a miracle could save us now.”

The financial crisis surfaced last year and came to head last January, when the board, facing the $3-million deficit, voted to declare bankruptcy. The orchestra gave a farewell concert Jan. 13, but Weston and other board members forestalled the bankruptcy with a new plan for fund-raising.

The board hoped it had found a lifeline, if not a miracle, when two benefactors stepped forward to provide the seed money for a desperately needed endowment and when the musicians agreed to wage concessions. The orchestra resumed performances, with a shortened schedule of 21 performances between March 15 and May 31.

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However, the promised donations of the Price and Jacobs families were not enough to prod other music lovers to provide money for an endowment or to retire the growing debt.

“It was just too far gone to be brought back to life,” said Robert Price, chief executive officer of Price Enterprises, a real estate investment company.

As the end approached, nothing worked, not the pared-down season and not a consultant hired for his expertise in saving troubled symphonies.

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In May, the musicians refused to play after the orchestra missed an April 15 deadline for partial payment of back wages.

Now, said Price, “the musicians will be very busy practicing--for auditions.”

The symphony had been booked to back pop singer Linda Ronstadt on a six-city tour this summer, including concerts Aug. 24 at the Glen Helen Blockbuster Pavilion in Devore, Aug. 25 at the Universal Amphitheatre and Aug. 26 at the San Diego Bowl.

A spokesman for Ronstadt’s management says that the bankruptcy will have no effect on those plans other than possibly requiring a name change for the orchestral ensemble.

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As word of the bankruptcy reached San Diegans, there was talk of hope and of a new symphony someday, somehow.

“We’ve hit bottom,” said Sandra Pay, chairwoman of the San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture, “but now it’s time to come back up again. I really think this city can do it.”


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