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Ailing Pasadena Chamber Orchestra Sounds Clarion Call for Support

March 12, 1987|SUE AVERY | Times Staff Writer

An attempt is being made to breathe new life into the respected Pasadena Chamber Orchestra, which appeared dead last September after its board abruptly canceled the 1986-87 season.

Board members say that if enough funds can be raised, the orchestra will perform two concerts this spring and schedule a complete season in the fall.

"The possibilities are exciting," said Raymond Stults, who has been hired as a full-time consultant to help the orchestra get back on its feet.

"A small orchestra can do very well. We can turn this into a first-class and widely known ensemble," Stults said.

The chamber group's problems came to light last fall, when its 28-member board canceled the season Sept. 10 after founder and conductor Robert Duerr announced plans to step down as music director this year to pursue other interests.

Duerr had been credited with almost single-handedly raising the funds to keep the group going, so many board members were opposed to any effort to continue the orchestra without him.

"Without Duerr, the orchestra could not survive financially," acting board President Peggy Phelps, who has since resigned, said at the time.

"His charisma and fund-raising ability is the reason for its existence the last nine years," Phelps said.

The orchestra's projected budget for the 1986-87 six-concert season had been $225,000, but only a small portion of that had been raised when the season was canceled.

But others thought that the group, known for performing contemporary works as well as rarely heard Baroque pieces, could survive.

"We looked very carefully at the musical accomplishments of the orchestra and learned our reputation was very high," said Albin Koch, a board member who strongly opposed the decision to suspend operations.

"We had a lot of inquiries from musicians and prospective conductors. We felt it would be a shame to let it die."

Since September, most of the board members who favored dissolution have resigned, and a new board has been formed with 14 members, many of whom also served on the old board. That group has quietly raised enough money to clear the group's $50,000 debt and to hire Stults. Now it is appealing to supporters in hopes of raising enough to fund the two spring concerts and will then work to arrange a fall season.

Koch said the board intends to decide by the end of March how much money is needed to revive the orchestra and how many programs will be planned.

Neither Koch nor Stults would say how much money the group needs.

"If the public greets us with open arms and pocketbooks, we hope to do a lot," said Koch.

However, longtime observers say that to survive, the orchestra will have to broaden its audience, which had only 550 subscription ticket holders at its high point, and reach out for financial support from foundations rather than relying on a handful of generous donors.

At the time of its demise, the orchestra had commissioned 26 original works and had won six awards from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.

"Our programming is likely to change somewhat in emphasis, with more stress on traditional classical music and less on commissioned contemporary works," Koch said.

"For the moment," Stults said, "we won't commission music but we are still committed to the music of living composers.

"We need to convince people that the institution is worth preserving and that we can grow and develop in the absence of Duerr. The personalities will be different, but the programs will be in the tradition he built. But it will take a strong amount of private support."

Duerr, who had expressed sadness and discouragement over the season's cancellation, said that although he is no longer involved, "it would be wonderful if the orchestra could continue."

Stults, a 52-year-old lawyer who has lived in Europe for the last 20 years, working as a businessman and music writer for the International Herald Tribune in Paris, said that although he had doubts about the orchestra's ability to survive when he first took the job in November, he is optimistic now.

"When I decided to come back to the United States I fell into this and took it on initially as a short-term project," he said. "But now I am spending day and night pushing forward because I have come to believe in it."

Stults spends most of his time working with musicians, making decisions about what works will be performed and trying to balance the books.

Koch would not disclose the terms of Stults' contract, except to say that his salary is in the neighborhood of that of the previous manager, who earned $36,000 annually.

Stults said he hopes to be involved in raising foundation and governmental funds but will leave private fund-raising efforts to the board.

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