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Long Beach Symphony : Silence From Long Beach Symphony

January 06, 1985|DANIEL CARIAGA

There is anger in musical--and non-musical--Long Beach. And there is silence for the Long Beach Symphony in what was supposed to be its golden anniversary season.

The reason: continuing financial problems plaguing the 50-year-old orchestra, ranked artistically by some observers as second only to the Los Angeles Philharmonic in this county. It is a situation that has raised basic questions about what an orchestra should be.

The latest financial crisis peaked Nov. 13, when the board of directors of the Long Beach Symphony Assn., after only two concerts--opening the season--canceled the remainder of the 1984-85 schedule. This was an attempt to stem the accumulated deficit, which now totals, according to Gordon Lentzner, symphony association treasurer, more than $540,000.

Only two years ago this month, 20 members of the board personally assumed association debts of $368,000 in order to save the orchestra. At that time, the deficit stood at more than $850,000.

Cancellation of the current projected $1.1 million season put the 84 players in the orchestra out of work. They would have been involved in at least 20 subscription and nonsubscription concerts; it also puts the 1985-86 season in doubt.

Another effect has been action by the Long Beach City Council, which granted an interest-free loan of $175,000 to the orchestra at the time of the orchestra's Save Our Symphony campaign in 1983. The council is about to appoint a "blue-ribbon" committee "to assess the symphony situation." On Dec. 18, the council pushed back to April, 1986, the scheduled first payment on its loan to the orchestra.

Detractors of music director Murry Sidlin, the Baltimore-born conductor who has led the Long Beach orchestra since 1980, say Sidlin has "forced" artistic and financial growth on the orchestra and its board of directors. None of the individuals critical of Sidlin, however, would speak for the record.

Other observers point out that increases in the length of the orchestra's season occurred before Sidlin arrived; indeed, that the season was reduced from eight concert-pairs to seven, and even more in the restructured 1983-84 season, of which Sidlin says he and then-manager Dan Pavillard were the architects.

Comment in the local newspaper, the Press-Telegram, has not been limited to merely publishing some of the letters on the controversial subject. The newspaper has also run editorials advising the orchestra's leaders.

One editorial, published Dec. 9, gave six possible courses of action:

Cut the orchestra's budget and accept a more modest program . . .

Consider cutting back for a year or two--perhaps to seasons in which the full orchestra plays only pops concerts at the Terrace Theater while smaller ensembles perform for small audiences in smaller halls.

Reduce the orchestra to a chamber orchestra . . .

Restrict the orchestra to two or three concerts for a season or two . . .

Consider mergers with other orchestras . . .

Develop a clear plan for community activities. . . .

Sidlin is angry and, he says, frustrated.

"What is a committee of strangers going to tell us that we don't already know?" Sidlin asks on the phone from his home in New Haven, Conn., where he also leads the New Haven Symphony. "From what I hear, only the symphony board is working on solving our financial problems. The rest of the community seems to be engaged in a debate about whether we should exist or not.

"This is nonsense. We are being criticized on artistic grounds, when the artistic component is the one place where we are successful."

Councilwoman Eunice Sato, whose experience in dealing with what she called "the symphony situation" goes back to the time (1980-82) when she was mayor of Long Beach, says, "I am very unhappy with them (the symphony board).

"I think they have been irresponsible. They say they are going to pay off the deficit, but they haven't done so up to now. They say they are going to raise the money, but they haven't."

In her large office on the 14th floor of City Hall, overlooking the Long Beach-Los Angeles harbors, Sato leans forward and lowers her voice, not to whisper a confidence, but to make a point: "They're like children. They're dreamers."

"We had no choice," says James Feichtmann, general manager of the symphony association, about the need to cancel the season. It was the second time the symphony has had to resort to canceling performances--in January, 1983, a pair of subscription concerts were dropped to curb rising debts.

Canceling the current season meant the loss of 14 subscription concerts, a series of in-school events called Kinderkonzerts and four Boston Pops-style performances scheduled in the Long Beach Arena between April and July of this year were called off.

"We were doing just fine in meeting our current obligations," Feichtmann says. "The city auditor even told us we were in good shape. Except--we just couldn't seem to make a dent in our deficit while performing."

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