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Laurie Niles

Los Angeles-area symphony orchestras face financial troubles

October 12, 2008 at 10:15 PM

It was like a punch in the stomach.

"Due to the recent extraordinary conditions in the financial markets, the Pasadena Symphony has been forced to cancel the November rehearsals and concert," read the letter I got from the orchestra's personnel manager on Friday.

What? A couple weeks of plummeting stocks and...kablouey? What about the sponsor that the Symphony already had lined up for the concert? Or the tickets that have been sold?

It's not the first time this year that I've received a letter from an orchestra asking me to help cover their economic hardship. In August, the New West Symphony sent me notice that, although they've weathered great losses (their major donors have been Countrywide Financial and Amgen), they needed me to "donate" $100 that they owed me from radio broadcast pay over several years so that they can cook their books properly. Or whatever. If ALL of us musicians who haven't been paid agree to do this, we'd be listed in the program at the "Platinum Circle" level of donors. This is incredibly exciting for musicians going paycheck to paycheck.

Oh, and by the way, the radio station for which we (I guess) donated our services, Los Angeles' K-Mozart, also went under.

Now this from the Pasadena Symphony, which just a month ago threw a lavish fundraiser with John Williams conducting. Though Pops conductor Rachel Worby told audiences all summer long that this concert would raise $1 million for an educational endowment, many musicians have suggested privately that the money instead would help pay down a sizable debt that they said the Pasadena Pops brought to the table when the Pops merged with the Symphony last spring.

And, let's just add, contract negotiations are currently underway with the Musicians' Union, as our old contract expired last season. We are to play our October concert under the conditions of the old contract. The November concert was one of just five planned for this season, so losing it means a significant pay cut for the musicians.

Does anyone smell something funny? Or does this just stink?

From Paul G.
Posted on October 12, 2008 at 10:45 PM
I think it will start happening everywhere...

And yes, sponsors would have a big deal in it, if everything is going under, than more changes will have to be made to try and componsate it.

I'm sure in about a month, we'll all know if things are going to be "BAD". As soon as prices start raising etc as well.

Good luck Laurie, I hope your symphony doesnt go under, or that they start cutting back members.

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on October 12, 2008 at 11:22 PM
Laurie, I'm so sorry that this is happening to you, your colleagues, and your symphony. I don't understand economics, but I think it must be related to the global financial mess. I know several people who are working for companies which have made large layoffs. I have fewer students than ever right now, and some of them have lessons once in two weeks. These are hard times. I hope they pass quickly.
From Samuel Thompson
Posted on October 13, 2008 at 12:58 AM
Laurie - First, my congratulations to you on having had the opportunity to conduct such a wonderful interview with Anne-Sophie Mutter!

Second - my deepest condolences. These events are always a bit of a conundrum; there are many arts donors who are, in the wake of fear and panic, notifying organizations that they may not be able to make large pledges. However, it is always interesting and disheartening to hear the same line: "The economy is bad, we have to make cuts, and so we ask you, the musicians, to make a concession."

These things are always difficult for all involved - perhaps, however, this is a real opportunity for board members, administrators, and musicians to truly cooperate as oppose to going down the dark road of low morale, etc. - much like the Europeans are in regards to the financial crisis. This of course can only be done with the group mindset that "if this ship sinks, we're all going down."

There has been much discussion about this at, and I invite you to look at Day 4 of "Great Expectations", held in May 2006.

From Jim W. Miller
Posted on October 13, 2008 at 3:55 AM
"...told audiences all summer long that this concert would raise $1 million for an educational endowment, many musicians have suggested privately that the money instead would..."

That's real bad for morale. There should be a comprehensive monthly financial presentation where any of you can attend who want to. That might be overkill in your kind of case...but maybe not.

From Bram Heemskerk
Posted on October 13, 2008 at 10:47 AM
Most financial troubles begins with the money a conductor earns. Often 300.000 euro/dollar for 10 weeks of work. The big names are even more expensive. The same with soloist. Perhaps an orchestra can save money by inviting young beginning or not so well known soloists and conductors and often they are not 2th rank? The money conductors and soloists get is too much compared to an average 1th or 2th violinist in an orchestra.
It is like some big name soccerplayers. They can ask millions and a lot of soccerclubs in Europe have therefore financial trouble.
And those expensive conductors often only conduct the well known repertoire and seldom adventurous repertoire. Adventurous repertoire is for me a reason to go to the concerthall.(but I am not representative because most public wants easy listening iron repertoire)
From Ray Randall
Posted on October 14, 2008 at 2:18 AM
Agree with Bram. When I was running the Stamford (Ct.) Symphony we had
unknown soloists who are now household names for pennies on the dollar.
Another problem is the younger audiences are preferring rap and "rock" bands over classical. I don't know what the answer is.
From Laurie Niles
Posted on October 15, 2008 at 5:07 PM
Here's what the LA Times wrote about this.

The local Pasadena Star-News changed my name to "Laurie Stiles."

LA Observed also linked to this story. I highly recommended LA Observed to anyone who wants to know what's going on in LA; this website tends to be ahead of the newspapers.

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