SAN DIEGO — Although the printed program painted the orchestra's plight in dark hues--"Your help is needed now or this will be the last concert by the San Diego Symphony"--the mood was significantly more upbeat Thursday night at Symphony Hall.
Attendance was up, more than 1,700 in a hall that seats 2,200, and portions of the main floor were occupied for the first time since the orchestra moved into its new facilities in November. Even elementary school children were in the audience--truly a Thursday night rarity.
"Where did all these people come from?" asked one symphony regular at intermission. "It reminds me of the crowds at the closing sale of Grant's department store."
Not only was Thursday's crowd more numerous--it was also decidedly more dressy. From the number of fur coats adorning the women, it could have passed for opening night at the opera.
But the evening was not simply social and aesthetic in its intent. Symphony management had put tables on both levels at which people could make donations to the emergency fund--accepting cash and credit cards. Chuck Love, the orchestra's director of marketing and sales, manned a table strategically placed just inside the entrance of the main lobby. As they entered, many folk had their checks ready to drop in the collection plate, sealed in the envelopes sent out just a few days ago in a last-ditch effort to stave off bankruptcy.
How serious was this last-minute fund raising? Suffice it to say that there were more donation tables than bars open on Thursday.
Said one regular patron: "I think they were successful in scaring the community--including the city government--to come to the aid of this cultural resource they've neglected. I think they'll go way over the top in their campaign (to raise $2 million)."
Not everyone was taking the crisis at face value. "I think this whole thing was orchestrated, and that there is someone ready behind the scenes to kick in the final amount they need," said a man standing in the long post-concert line at Piret's restaurant across from Symphony Hall. "We came to the concert because we're Beethoven fans, but we're symphony regulars. I think they're going to make it," he added with a smile.
A UC San Diego graduate student admitted that this concert marked his first time in Symphony Hall. He had spent part of the afternoon on campus collecting donations from students for the symphony. Spotting symphony board president M. B. (Det) Merryman in the lobby before the concert, he presented him with the more than $60 in a Twinings tea canister.
Among the more cynical observers were those who wondered where the city's major donors were, noting that radio and television fund-raisers had succeeded essentially on many smaller donations. "It would be a crime to loose the symphony now," added one critic who alluded to the then-remaining $350,000 needed to reach the goal, "for an amount of money no greater than the cost of a 'fixer-upper' in La Jolla!"