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CLASSICAL MUSIC / KENNETH HERMAN : Batiquitos Festival Wasn't Music to Performers' Ears

July 19, 1988|KENNETH HERMAN

While classical music in San Diego usually takes a vacation over the summer months, this year's Batiquitos Festival promised a reversal of the annual summer music drought. To its credit, the festival brought a number of excellent performers and some unusual Russian repertory to the area. But shortly after the Batiquitos Festival sounded its fanfare, the whole enterprise was engulfed in financial problems.

As its board wrestled with the prospect of bankruptcy and issued distress calls for funds to keep the festival from caving in under the weight of its own grandiose and underfunded plans, the local arts community felt an all-too-familiar shiver of uneasiness. Such instability in a local arts organization compounds the distress over the recent failure of many local art galleries and stirs memories barely put to rest of the San Diego Symphony's fiscal crises and public pleas for rescue.

Festival director Michael Tseitlin's treatment of performers from other parts of the country has been cavalier, to say the least. The festival had contracted with the Fine Arts Quartet, a noted American ensemble now in residence at the University of Wisconsin to perform a concert in Sherwood Auditorium on July 7.

According to the quartet's New York manager, Pat Winter, Tseitlin sent her a telex message just a few days before the performance date, canceling the performance. When Fine Arts cellist Wolfgang Laufer phoned Tseitlin for an explanation, he said, Tseitlin was arrogant and uncaring about the quartet's plight.

"Tseitlin said that the festival might be going to file for bankruptcy," Laufer said, "but that he would call me back when a decision was made."

Laufer said Tseitlin did not call back and when, Laufer phoned him again, Tseitlin remained evasive about the festival's status. Members of the quartet were understandably upset when they later learned that, not only was the Batiquitos Festival continuing, but in place of the Fine Arts Quartet, Tseitlin assembled and presented a last minute chamber music concert with performers--including his wife, violinist Irina Tseitlin--who were already in residence at the Batiquitos Festival. Members of the Fine Arts quartet were left without their performance fee as well as bills for five non-refundable airplane tickets (a string quartet also has to buy a separate seat for the cellist's instrument) and local hotel reservations.

"Bankruptcy is one thing," Laufer said, "but lying is another. In 25 years of performing, I've never had this kind of treatment."

Fine Arts Quartet first violinist Ralph Evans, who was also upset by Tseitlin's attitude, said the group had missed several other concert opportunities because of the abrupt cancellation.

In an interview with The Times, Tseitlin accepted responsibility for canceling the Fine Arts appearance and replacing it with an ad-hoc concert, but he emphatically denied stating the festival was bankrupt.

"That was a statement I could not make," Tseitlin said. "Only the board could say that."

Tseitlin said that, after he sent the telex message to Winter, he discussed the festival's problem with Fine Arts violist Jerry Horner and informed him that "because of our financial difficulties, I am unable to guarantee payment."

When Evans was asked if Tseitlin's treatment of his quartet would prevent the group from contracting with someone else in San Diego, he diplomatically stated that he was not about to blame the entire city for the problems of the Batiquitos Festival.

"But it does not make a person think, 'Ah, that glowing cultural oasis of San Diego!' "

Nor can the faculty members from universities and conservatories across the country who returned from the Festival with only half of their contracted paychecks and broken promises about travel allowances and housing hold a glowing opinion of America's Finest City.

Flutist Bonita Boyd of the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., said she and some of her colleagues are considering a class action suit against Batiquitos.

"I've simply never encountered anything like this before in my professional career," Boyd said.

Another "Phantom." Impresario Don Hughes of the San Diego based International Attractions has bought the American rights to Ken Hill's 1984 musical version of "Phantom of the Opera," a theater piece that opened before Andrew Lloyd Webber's megahit by the same name. Hughes is now holding auditions for Hill's "Phantom" in San Francisco and intends to open the British operetta in late September at San Francisco's Theater on the Square.

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