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San Diego Symphony Cancels Season

November 12, 1986|HILLIARD HARPER | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — The San Diego Symphony canceled its 22-week winter concert season Tuesday, citing stalled contract talks with players of the orchestra.

"We have to look to the long range," and "take a painful decision in the short range," said symphony board president Herbert Solomon in announcing the cancellation. Executive Director Wesley O. Brustad said he is laying off 10 staff members and that there are five more cuts scheduled by Dec. 1, reducing the staff to 13.

Bassist Gregory Berton, who heads the musicians' negotiating team, said the cancellation has "aggravated the bitterness that already existed" between the players musicians and the orchestra's board of directors.

The board and musicians remain $500,000 apart on wages as management insists on an 11% pay cut for the players. Negotiations have been under way for more than four months but have been deadlocked for 27 days. Both sides also disagree over a package of proposals involving auditioning and firing procedures and the scheduling of concerts around San Diego Opera performances.

For the past 10 years the symphony has consistently overestimated income, resulting in an accumulated debt that reached $2.1 million in 1985. In spite of that debt, the symphony raised $4.5 million to renovate a movie theater that opened a year ago as Symphony Hall.

In February the board threatened bankruptcy if San Diego failed to rescue the orchestra from its indebtedness. In 10 days the community contributed $2.4 million, but the orchestra still ended the year with an $877,000 deficit.

Symphony officials say the community expects them to be more prudent. New board leadership has brought in new management. Brustad, who was executive director of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, had already trimmed expenses from $7.8 million to $6.5 million, and had pared the staff by 25%.

Minimum scale for the San Diego musicians last year was $21,240, making them the lowest paid among the country's top 30 major orchestras. For years the players have supported the orchestra board through a number of crises, sometimes playing without pay to enable management to launch bail-out campaigns. The players say they have now drawn the line, and will not play unless they are adequately compensated.

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