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New Orchestra Forms to Fill San Jose Void

Arts* Silicon Valley ballet started the group, which will include musicians from the troubled San Jose Symphony.


In an attempt to fill the void left by the financially troubled San Jose Symphony--which ceased to present concerts earlier this year and plans to file for bankruptcy protection by the end of the month--a new orchestra, Symphony San Jose Silicon Valley, has been formed.

The new 75-member orchestra will operate under the same management umbrella as the Ballet San Jose Silicon Valley. About 45 of the musicians who will join the new orchestra regularly accompany the dance company during its performances. Many of those musicians also performed with San Jose Symphony, since both the ballet and San Jose Symphony were part-time employers.

Andrew Bales, executive director of Ballet San Jose Silicon Valley and now of the new orchestra, said Symphony San Jose Silicon Valley will be led by guest conductors in its first season, which begins Oct. 17 at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts.

"We've been a community with no symphony services for most of the last year, and that's not acceptable," Bales said. "While we hope San Jose Symphony finds a way to emerge from its financial difficulties, we don't expect that to happen this year, or even the next."

For that reason, Bales said, he does not see the new orchestra as competition for San Jose Symphony while that 123-year-old orchestra, the oldest in the West, struggles to reorganize. "We expect the venture that we've embarked on will be the lead provider of symphonic performances in the foreseeable future," he said. As for what will happen if or when San Jose Symphony returns to performing, Bales said: "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it."

San Jose Symphony is trying to raise $150,000 to save its music library from liquidation; if the money can be raised, the company can file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, which allows for reorganization, rather than Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which would require liquidation of all company assets and make a rebirth of the symphony virtually impossible. Symphony leadership was unavailable for comment on what the start-up of the Symphony San Jose Silicon Valley might mean to their fund-raising and reorganization efforts.

Bales said that the ability to share administrative services with the established ballet company, as well as the opportunity to tap into an available pool of local musicians, makes starting a new orchestra viable even in the Silicon Valley, which has been hard-hit by recent stock market losses.

The 38-member Ballet San Jose Silicon Valley, under the direction of Dennis Nahat, presents 40 performances a year on an annual budget of $6.5 million. In its first season, the new orchestra will perform seven programs in 11 concerts, adding $800,000 to the annual budget of the umbrella organization. Bales said the new employment opportunity may keep former San Jose Symphony musicians from leaving the area, noted for its high cost of living. "We already have an association with them, and we can offer them more work," he said.

For 15 years, Ballet San Jose Silicon Valley operated as a partner with Cleveland Ballet, with separate administrative staff and boards of directors. Dancers shuttled between the cities, performing as San Jose-Cleveland Ballet on the West Coast and as Cleveland-San Jose Ballet in Ohio. The two entities cut costs by sharing dancers as well as sets and costumes. Two years ago, Cleveland Ballet went out of business and the dance company became a single-city entity with a new name.

Bales said the company's experience in that partnership should serve it well in organizing a new symphony orchestra. "With the ballet company, we had a two-city organization with one artistic company. Now, we will have a one-city operation with two artistic companies," Bales said.

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