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Newport Orchestra Cancels Its Season

February 05, 1986|CHRIS PASLES

The Newport Chamber Orchestra, facing acute financial problems, has canceled its entire 1985-'86 season.

The orchestra, which last performed in June, 1985 at Newport Harbor High School, cited poor ticket sales and a "small" debt as reasons for eliminating its remaining two subscription concerts.

"The board decided to cancel what's left of the season in order to raise funds to pay off the debt (estimated at about $6,000) and to build up at least $20,000 before we start a new season," interim board president Patti-Jean Sampson said.

"We are planning some things on a private basis--including a garage sale in March--to defray that debt, and we're reorganizing the board.

"We will give subscribers the choice of refunding their money or contributing the money to the support of the orchestra."

Subscribers will be notified of the options by mail, she said.

The fledgling 35-member orchestra has struggled with financial difficulties virtually from its founding in the fall of 1984 by conductor Steven Wight. A series orginally to be held at Cypress College in conjunction with its regular performances in Newport Beach were scrapped after a single concert at the college in October, 1984 because of poor ticket sales.

A benefit Starlight Pops concert that was scheduled last July at Roger's Gardens in Newport Beach was canceled for the same reason. The first and second concerts of the 1985-86 series were subsequently canceled as well.

According to founder-music director Wight, the organization "is just not working."

"There's not any single person on the board who has let us down. It's just that we need an administrator of higher caliber than we've gotten."

Wight said that the organization was sound and healthy in its first year.

"We had some 350 subscribers (then) and received money from board members, individuals outside the board, corporations such as Fluor, Irvine Co., J.C. Penney, and the City of Newport Beach," he said.

The orchestra nearly met its $80,000 yearly budget--roughly $20,000 a concert for musicians, hall and instrument rental and advertising costs--and the board planned to hold expenses to these levels for the new season, he said.

"The problems began at the end of the first season after the June concert," Wight said. "There was a big turnover in the board because a number of people's terms were up."

A new board, enlarged from eight to 20 members, took over in July, 1985.

"That sounded wonderful because there was a possibility of larger networking," Wight said. "But things fell into disarray. I (also) went to Oregon for two months to study conducting Bach with Helmut Rilling. That coincided with the turnover."

Without Wight at the helm, the organization lacked focus and drive. Subscriptions fell off (board member Xavier Trevino estimates current subscribers to number about 80). And money from corporations, added Sampson, stopped coming in. "Under the circumstances," she said, "donations from individuals were returned."

Concertmaster Ralph Morrison also faults the organization for the orchestra's current problems: "There was no follow-through with volunteers or board members. There wasn't an office to begin with and no staff. Steve was trying to be artistic director and he had to do all these other business things, too. For the others, it was a hobby, not a job, and they gave it up when it got tough."

Morrison added that some musicians "haven't been completely paid for last season yet."

"But that's not an uncommon problem and rather than complain, most of the musicians (currently numbering 35) I've talked to are questioning whether (a new season) will happen or not," he said.

The orchestra is entirely made up of musicians who free-lance or belong to organizations such as the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Pasadena Chamber Orchestra or the newly revived Long Beach Symphony.

According to Wight, Newport Chamber Orchestra musicians are paid for rehearsals and for each concert according to union scale--with first desk players receiving more than scale. Wight himself was "technically on salary," he said: "But I never accepted any money. I didn't think the orchestra needed another (financial) problem like that."

Trevino, a Newport Beach florist who joined yet another newly formed board of 17 members that took over the orchestra in September, attributes the current problems to "lack of organization.

"I don't understand why the orchestra began performing (at all) without proper finances in the bank," Trevino said. "The (current) debts are not that large, but nobody on the board is willing to pay them off--very few are capable or are willing.

"The objective (now) is to get a working board, not just a name board. It's very easy to get the names, it's hard to get the workers."

Trevino said that his responsibilities will involve a new fund-raising effort "to raise money for at least two to three seasons--around $150,000 on an in-the-bank basis."

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