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4 Chamber Orchestra Concerts to Test Valley Cultural Hunger

September 26, 1986|DOUG SMITH | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra has scheduled four concerts in the San Fernando Valley for its 1986-87 season, although the orchestra has been unable to get financial help from Valley arts organizations and the first two concerts are still homeless.

The series will be the first major symphonic program by a visiting metropolitan orchestra in the Valley, where, arts enthusiasts contend, there is a large, neglected audience for orchestral music.

The concert series by the respected orchestra, which has been based in Pasadena, will consist of Baroque and classical selections for which it is well known, in addition to the premiere of a Baroque-style work by a Hollywood film composer, said Topper Smith, the orchestra manager.

So eager are officials of the orchestra to test the Valley market that they are pressing ahead with plans for the concerts in spite of their failure to secure financial backing from the Valley's prominent arts organizations.

Declined to Share Load

During several months of negotiations, two groups--first the San Fernando Valley Arts Council and later the San Fernando Valley Cultural Foundation--declined to share financial responsibility for the concerts, leaders of those groups said.

Eventually, the orchestra turned for help to a neophyte group that is converting a former Woodland Hills cinema into a performing arts theater.

Under a recently signed contract, the Excalibur Theatre on Mulholland Drive at Valley Circle will host the concert series and cover a share of the costs through ticket sales, said the theater's co-owner, Michael Pickering.

Because the Excalibur is not scheduled to open until early next year, the first two concerts, scheduled for November and December, will have to be held in another hall, which has not yet been selected.

The arrangement with the Excalibur also leaves the orchestra $20,000 short of the cost of the series, but Smith said he is confident that the money will be raised soon.

Valley arts advocates are ecstatic about the arrival of the chamber orchestra, seeing it as a chance to prove that there is a large Valley audience for orchestral music.

'Gold Mine Out Here'

The concerts mean the city's music Establishment "finally realizes there is a gold mine out here that it hasn't tapped," said Madeleine Landry, executive director of the Cultural Foundation. "I think they're going to be followed by a whole lot of other organizations."

"It's a great feasibility study," said Christine Glazier, director of the Arts Council, contrasting it with past surveys that yielded contradictory data on whether the Valley would support such an orchestra.

Leaders of the chamber orchestra have become believers, Smith said.

"We hope that, within the next five years, we'll be able to develop a very substantial audience in the Valley that will lead to other major performing arts organizations in Southern California also developing series," he said.

In spite of such enthusiasm, neither the Arts Council nor the Cultural Foundation was able to sponsor the series, nearly causing the venture to fall through.

Under terms of a $17,500 matching grant from the ARCO Foundation for a Valley concert series, the orchestra is required to find donors to match the $17,500 and to raise funds to pay the rest of the $55,000 cost of the concerts, Smith said.

To do so, the orchestra turned first to the Arts Council, an organization of small theater and arts groups.

Trying to Regain Strength

But, Glazier said, the Arts Council, because it is trying to regain strength after a period of decline, could not risk guaranteeing the $6,700 per concert its board calculated to be the cost of the series after ticket sales.

"We have a new board," Glazier said. "We are restructuring. We couldn't guarantee that."

Glazier said she suggested that the orchestra approach the Cultural Foundation, a private organization created in 1981 to raise money to build arts complexes in Warner Park and the Sepulveda Basin.

At first, Smith and Landry, the foundation's executive director, worked out a plan for the foundation to sponsor the series with a $20,000 grant from Mervyn's department stores, Smith said. Later, however, the foundation withdrew from the negotiations.

There were conflicting explanations of what went wrong.

Landry said the foundation had to back out when Mervyn's withdrew its grant offer after learning that the orchestra is based in Pasadena. "Mervyn's wants to support things in the Valley because that's where their stores are," Landry said.

Another Reason Suggested

Smith, however, said he thought that Mervyn's dropped out because it "doesn't like to deal with people who are confused."

Smith said the foundation leaders informed him after weeks of negotiations that their function is to build arts facilities and does not include putting on concerts. "I wish they had told us 10 weeks before," he said.

A spokeswoman for Mervyn's would not comment.

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