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Denver Symphony’s Fate Awaits Board’s Decision Friday

August 4, 1989

DENVER (AP) _ The board of the financially strapped Denver Symphony Orchestra, plagued with a $4 million debt, meets Friday to decide if an entire season should be canceled for the first time in its 55-year history.

″Tomorrow is a very important day in the life of the Denver Symphony Orchestra,″ said John Low, board chairman for the Denver Symphony Association. ″I am hesitant to say it is an absolute decision day. Nevertheless, I am hopeful we will reach a decision tomorrow.″

The last two months of last season were canceled suddenly in March because of financial problems.

The upcoming symphony season, usually 41 weeks beginning in September, already has been sharply scaled back, with a tentative starting date in January.

Symphony marketing director Josi Callan blames the problems on ″a lot of pieces,″ even though the symphony averages 15,000 to 16,000 attendance at classical concerts and often sells out the 26,000-seat Boettcher Concert Hall for pops shows.

Those include Denver’s economic recession with discretionary income down, the city’s 10 percent seat tax, a lot of turnover in management in recent years, and a $600,000-a-month cash flow needed to operate the symphony, she said. ″Maybe that’s more than this area wants to pay for it.″

In recent years, the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies in Washington has ranked Colorado last among the 50 states in its per capita contribution to the arts.

However, the Denver Symphony’s financial woes are not unique. Orchestras in Oakland and San Diego, Calif., New Orleans and Nashville, Tenn., have filed for bankruptcy and then resumed operations after radical restructuring.

A recovery plan the board will examine Friday calls for the symphony’s endowment fund trustees to forgive a $2.5 million debt the symphony owes the fund. Symphony executives have also asked the City Council to write off $700,000 the symphony owes the city in back rent for Boettcher.

City Councilman Ted Hackworth opposes forgiving the back rent and said the symphony should declare bankruptcy. ″What it’s going to take is for them to wake up and realize they have to operate like a business, not a charity,″ he said.

Earlier this week, the symphony notified its 81 musicians that their dental and health benefits were canceled effective Wednesday, saving the association about $30,000 a month.

Three years ago the musicians agreed to 20 percent pay cuts to keep the symphony solvent.

A year ago, then-board chairman Robert E. Lee threatened to put the orchestra into Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings because of debt, then resigned the next month after a fund-raising drive raised $700,000 in private and corporate contributions.

Later, music director Phillippe Entremont and executive director Chris Dunworth resigned before the remainder of the season was canceled.

Symphony music adviser Sixten Ehrling, associate conductor Darryl One and guest conductors will take their place in upcoming seasons, Low said.

As for long-term solutions to the symphony’s money woes, Low said the recovery plan includes spending ″less money on high-priced guest artists and rely more heavily on the music provided by the orchestra itself.″

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