"I'm an optimist," said Murry Sidlin. "It's a sickness with me." Which may explain why the music director of the financially beleaguered Long Beach Symphony can look at the start of the new season on Thursday and remark, in all seriousness: "This is a marvelous moment in our history. We are now building from the ground up."
While one may applaud such an outlook, there's no denying that the recent track record of the orchestra had put Sidlin's "sickness" to the test. Two years ago, the orchestra gave one concert and canceled the rest due to accumulated debts totaling more than $758,000. Last year, in a rebuilding move, only three "serious" concerts, two pops programs and four outreach programs were offered.
Yet, there is reason for Sidlin and members of the organization to smile. After only 12 months of fund raising, the debt has been reduced to $400,000, according to General Manager Mary Newkirk, who considers that reduction "a dramatic achievement. The most difficult year of our three-year rebuilding effort has been completed."
The upcoming season will number five Terrace Theater events, plus three pops concerts in the Long Beach Arena and a total of 12 outreach programs. "We are not retrenching," Sidlin insisted in a conversation from Connecticut, where he is concluding the summer with his New Haven Symphony. "We our solving our money differences while producing a budget-conscious season."
Sidlin was referring to the fact that the five Terrace Theater events fail to offer a single major-league guest soloist. In fact, only one concert boasts an instrumentalist from outside the orchestra: On Nov. 13, pianist Alec Chien will play Tchaikovsky's First Concerto. The other programs either lack any soloist at all or, as in the case of the Jan. 8 Mozart concert, the soloists are drawn from the orchestra. On April 23, Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 will feature four local singers who, according to Sidlin, "are not household names."
Because of the money problems, Sidlin admitted, something had to give: "The idea of soloists was shelved temporarily" by the board of directors. "But next season ('87-'88) we will have world-class visiting artists." Rationalizing this bare-bones policy, the conductor noted: "You have to start with the premise that there is not one reason people will attend a concert. True, some will go for the soloist, but some will go for the repertory, or for the conductor, or even because they think they should . Personally, I hope they attend because the orchestra sounds good."
Creative programming, he added, will help draw a crowd. For example, he pointed to the Beethoven and Mozart programs, which offer the opportunity to hear an "authentic-sized orchestra."
In the mighty Beethoven Ninth, an orchestra of only 44 will be used, with a choir to match. Might this disappoint the Sturm und Drang set? "Once they hear the opening of the first movement, suddenly so clear and transparent, it will start to make sense," Sidlin responded.
Sidlin admitted that reduced forces mean reduced costs. "We owe a lot of money. We're trying to keep our promise of paying everyone off, of promising concerts and delivering them--not retreating."
DUERR RESPONDS: Robert Duerr, departed music director of the financially troubled Pasadena Chamber Orchestra, responded with anger at the recent decision by the ensemble's board of directors to suspend operations. He also disputes General Manager Shelley Alexander's statement that the ensemble faces a $100,000 debt--a figure Alexander acknowledged included reimbursement toward contracts signed for the canceled '86-'87 season.
When the board voted for the suspension--over Duerr's strong objections--the orchestra had "$18,000 accounts payable," the 32-year-old conductor said on Tuesday.
"To help get the season started, I spent the last few weeks raising $38,000 in pledges and cash with (former board president) Al Koch," Duerr continued. "On (last) Sunday, the orchestra held a fund raising party that netted $10,000." The event took place four days after the board voted to suspend the upcoming season, yet none of the contributors were told of that decision, Duerr claimed.
"The board members did not mount a subscription campaign, they did not mount a fundraising campaign. I had proposed that we go to the public for help, to be truthful with our situation. But they (the board) didn't go for it. That's why I quit.
"I always assumed the major burden of fund raising, and I never took 'No' for an answer, but the board was constantly wanting to cancel the next concert. It's so frustrating--nine years of hard work is going down the drain."