SAN DIEGO — The San Diego Symphony's pledge that it is "playing for keeps" has begun to ring true after officials filled 12 orchestral vacancies and made a $700,000 payment on their capital debt.
After holding national auditions in January, the symphony filled several key leadership posts this month, including assistant concertmaster, first chair trumpet, first chair trombone and associate principal for the first violin section. The orchestra also filled eight other vacancies.
About the same time, the symphony paid the $700,000 to a consortium of banks to cut the capital debt for the Symphony Hall renovation to $3.6 million.
"We made our payment on the Symphony Hall renovation loan right on time (Jan. 31), with $8,000 to spare," symphony Executive Director Wesley O. Brustad said.
Brustad credited symphony President Herbert J. Solomon for bringing in the $700,000, which was raised specifically for capital expenses and unrelated to the nearly $1.5 million in pledges and cash contributed by individuals, businesses, board members, government agencies and foundations toward the symphony's $2-million goal required for annual operations.
John Bauser, the symphony's development director, said he was astounded by the success of the capital campaign. Though pleased with achieving nearly 75% of his annual fund-raising goal only five months into the fiscal year, Bauser cautioned that raising the remaining $500,000, largely through special events, will not be easy.
"It's going to take some hard work," Bauser said. "Special events take a lot of work."
In another funding matter, the California Arts Council authorized the payment last month of the remaining half of a $50,000 grant to the symphony. A council spokeswoman said the approval was based on "a combination of the orchestra staying pretty much intact and . . . putting its house in order administratively."
Meanwhile, symphony ticket sales in January and February surpassed estimates.
"The last four weeks have been phenomenal," Brustad said. "It's the worst time of the year, historically. But we took in a quarter-million dollars at the box office, way above projections. And contributions are way over projections."
On the musical front, the symphony's top trumpet position has been permanently filled, marking the end of a five-year period in which substitute musicians were assigned to the post. Calvin Price, a principal trumpet with the Nuova Orchestra Italiana, Orchestra Sinfonica di Torino della Radiotelevisione Italiana and the Chautauqua Symphony, won the audition.
Nick Grant, the first chair player of the second violin section, won the assistant concertmaster post, and Karen Dirks, who is serving as acting co-concertmaster, won the position of associate principal for the first violin section.
Heather Buchman, a 1987 master's graduate of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, will become the first chair trombone. Buchman, who won the New York Philharmonic's 1984 Young Artists Concerto Competition, played as principal trombone with the Eastman Philharmonica and Wind Ensemble during its recent tour of Germany and the Northeast.
Brustad said the auditions show that "there are a lot of terrific people looking for jobs. That's where we're at. Whether it's San Diego or Los Angeles or Houston, it's a major symphony and people want the jobs there."
But not all vacancies were filled. No one qualified for the two top viola posts or for principal cello.
And some positions that are temporarily filled were not advertised as vacant because several symphony musicians, including the principal French horn and bass players, are on leaves of absence. Principal French horn Jerry Folsom is playing as principal French horn with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and principal bass Peter Rofe, is playing in the bass section of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Both musicians have until May to decide whether they will stay in Los Angeles. Should the two opt not to return to San Diego, their loss would mean that seven principal or associate principal positions would remain vacant.
Among the other audition winners is Doug Hall, the principal trumpet with the Jackson (Miss.) Symphony, who won the second trumpet position. Warren Gref moved up to second chair French horn from his fourth chair spot.
Other winners include Karen Sanders, Nancy Lochner and Kate Hamilton, who qualified for permanent positions in the viola section. Susan Robboy and Edmund Stein qualified as violin section players.
The new musicians will join the symphony beginning with its summer pops season, Brustad said.