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Pasadena orchestras get handle on name

The symphony and the pops will proceed under a familiar, shared

March 04, 2009|Mike Boehm

Scratch the Orchestras of Pasadena.

No, the financially up-against-it Pasadena Symphony and Pasadena Pops have not gone belly up, but their new management has determined that the name the formerly independent organizations had adopted when they merged in 2007 was a flop. The new/old name is the Pasadena Symphony Assn. -- the longtime legal name of the Pasadena Symphony.

The change "has been met by a sigh of relief by everybody," says Paul Jan Zdunek, the chief executive who recently arrived from the Modesto Symphony after engineering a fiscal turnaround there. The change to Orchestras of Pasadena had "removed that immediate recognition that people have had, at a time when we need people to know who we are to be able to help," Zdunek said.

He figures that if folks in New England have no problem understanding that the name Boston Symphony Orchestra also encompasses the Boston Pops, music fans in Southern California shouldn't either.

In Pasadena, Zdunek noted, both ensembles draw from the same pool of musicians, placing them under different veteran music directors -- Jorge Mester for the symphony, Rachael Worby for the pops -- as the occasion dictates.

Meanwhile, a concert celebrating St. Patrick's Day that had been canceled is on again -- albeit in a scaled-down format in keeping with financially straits. The Irish American band Cherish the Ladies will perform March 21 at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium; where the canceled program called for the Pasadena Pops to accompany Cherish the Ladies, this show will be strictly a Cherish the Ladies gig. Giving the pops players the night off saves about $50,000, Zdunek said.

Overall, he says, the Pasadena Symphony has raised about $2 million since November, when it declared a fiscal emergency, laying off staff and canceling several concerts. He said it can sustain itself on a pay-as-you-go basis by raising an additional $2 million through the season's end.

One caveat: A large chunk of the $2 million raised so far came from symphony supporters who had died since last fall and remembered the organization in their wills. Counting on the near-term demise of key supporters is not part of the symphony association's strategy, Zdunek noted.

Zdunek said he has "let go" five of 11 staff members who were on board when he took over in January, but he plans to replace all of them. One hire, Lora Unger, is about to begin as general manager, arriving from the Jacksonville (Fla.) Symphony Assn.; Zdunek worked with her previously in Modesto.

The symphony drew about 2,800 for its last concert in January. The next classical program, "Rebirth," is March 14.


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