As the Los Angeles Philharmonic enters its 68th subscription season--its 23rd in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at the Music Center--two elements tend to lessen the optimism with which most musical organizations begin a new year.
First, a small but tangible sense of anticlimax. After all, the start of this new season Thursday has been preceded by a number of Philharmonic appearances, both at the new Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa (beginning at the gala opening Sept. 29) and at the Wiltern Theatre.
More important to most orchestras, however, is the fear of fiscal shortages and dwindling contributions as the result of the recently passed tax-reform bill.
Regarding the financial crunch, Ernest Fleischmann, now beginning his 18th full season as the orchestra's executive director, insists on cautious optimism. Says he, "We are fairly sanguine about the future."
Still, he acknowledges the dangers in orchestral waters in the mid-1980s.
"These look like bleak times, not only in the orchestral business, but in all the arts. There have been many losses, in prime funders, in corporate contributions, in the support from, for instance, some of the large oil companies.
"Tax reform is another predicament we face. Without a strong incentive--the 50% tax deduction will become 38% next year and 28% the year after that--giving money to the arts is going to become less and less attractive."
Who will fill in the gap?
"Well, the real, die-hard supporters of the arts will have to step forward and be counted. This is going to be like the Battle of Britain--at least I hope it is. With their backs to the wall, our real supporters are going to have to show their courage, their resourcefulness and their effectiveness as never before."
Still, with orchestras like the Oakland Symphony canceling their seasons and others, like the San Diego Symphony, cutting back, the nagging question is: Is it possible that some of these organizations will simply die and not ever be revived?
"I cannot believe that. I cannot believe that the need for music is not as great as the need for physical sustenance--that people do not need art as much as they need whole-wheat bread."
The particular situation of the Philharmonic, Fleischmann points out, is not as bleak as that of other orchestras.
"Our outlook is pretty good. We have kept up our earned income. In fact, the Los Angeles Philharmonic has the highest earned income of any orchestra in the United States. One reason is our revenues from Hollywood Bowl.
"But you see how vulnerable we are when you realize that if the Bowl is rained out just two times in a summer, the winter season is adversely affected.
"And, at this point, it would be disastrous to cut back on any of our musical services: the chamber music, the educational programs, the contemporary-music series. We are trying to go ahead with all these programs in place.
Still, there are reasons for optimism, he says, in the new season that begins Thursday in the Music Center Pavilion with Kurt Sanderling conducting and Isaac Stern as soloist. The program: Wagner's Prelude to "Die Meistersinger," Brahms' Violin Concerto and Sibelius' Symphony No. 2.
"In terms of balance and interest, our programs this season are the best in years. And look at our lineup of conductors. (Music director) Andre Previn will be here for fully half the season. And we will also have Sanderling (who opens the season Thursday), Salonen, Boulez, Rattle. . . ."
Fleischmann cites an average attendance of 93% at Philharmonic concerts in the 1985-86 season. "That's not a bad average. But more important is the rising standard of the orchestra's performances. This is an improving orchestra. Zubin Mehta (the Philharmonic's former music director), who hasn't been here in four years, was amazed at the standard when he conducted the orchestra (two weeks ago)."
One fly in the executive director's ointment is the number of no-shows at the orchestra's performances, people who buy tickets but don't use them.
"Especially on Thursday nights--some people are very good about releasing their subscription tickets when they cannot attend, but for every seat that is resold or used by others, there are two which remain empty.
"What we really want is not that the tickets are released, but that those holding them attend the concert."
IN OPERA: Long Beach Opera begins its ninth season Friday night with a new production of Offenbach's "Tales of Hoffmann," to be sung in English in Center Theater at the Long Beach Convention Center. Tenor James Schwisow appears as Hoffmann, with Noelle Rogers singing the four soprano roles, and Edward Crafts the four villains. David Alden has staged the opera, with scenery and costumes by Philipp Jung; Nicholas McGegan will conduct. Curtain-time on Friday is 7:30; subsequent performances are scheduled next Sunday at 2 p.m., Oct 21 at 7:30 p.m., Oct. 24 at 8 p.m. and Oct. 26 at 2 p.m.