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Symphony Unveils Plan to Overcome Obstacles

June 18th, 2009 by Temple City Tribune

Rose Bowl Lot H“We have supported the Pasadena Symphony for years,” I was told by a woman at an opening recently.  “But,” she continued, “no more after the mismanagement there.”
That is exactly the perception that CEO, Paul Jan Zdunek, must overcome in order to keep his organization, The Pasadena Symphony Association, from becoming stalled in a morass.
To accomplish the dual goals of changing attitudes both inside and outside the Association, Zdunek announced his plan last week which he calls a “Recovery Plan for a Sustainable Future”.  He made the presentation before press and community representatives on the steps of the Pasadena Civic Auditorium last week.  Zdunek conceded that, as many in the community had worried, the organization was on a downward spiral caused by both the Symphony and the Pasadena Pops living beyond their means.  He also admits that the combination of the Pasadena Symphony Association and the Pasadena Pops Orchestra was handled poorly since economies of scale that were promised did not occur and the two camps had distinctly different goals leading to conflict among board members.  Ever the optimist, Zdunek swept the situation under the rug: “Neither the economy nor the combining of these two organizations caused the crisis, they only exacerbated the situations mentioned above.” 
The recovery plan is a roadmap to restore fiscal balance now and in the future, restore consumer confidence in staff and Board while hanging on to the corporate sponsorships the Pops has developed and widening support among individuals, the hallmark of support for the Pasadena Symphony.
To save money and to inspire greater audience attendance, the plan calls for a more popular repertoire choice, cheaper guest artists, and smaller orchestras. The plan calls for “significantly marketable and fiscally responsible” programming that will reduce the budget needs by 33%.  The report says this style of programming will still be artistically satisfying. 
Jorge Mester, the conductor of the Pasadena Symphony for the past quarter-century, indicated his support of the program, perhaps knowing that orchestras across the country are tightening belts in similar ways, but it’s no doubt tough medicine for him to swallow, since he is well-known nationally for progressive programming—having received awards for the introduction of modern works.  Mester has also accepted a 10% pay cut for the 2009-2010 season, along with the conductor of the Pasadena Pops, Rachael Worby.  CEO Zdunek announced he will also receive a 10% pay cut.
No mention was made of the orchestra’s musicians and any affect the recovery program may have on them.  Contract negotiations with Local 47 are scheduled to begin soon.  When concerts were cancelled late last year by what was then called The Orchestras of Pasadena, stunned musicians took to blogs to voice their complaints. 
Laurie Niles, a member of the violin section of both the Symphony and the Pops orchestras, stated in October, 2008, on her blog, violinist.com, “It was like a punch in the stomach.” 
The orchestra members were asked to perform at least one concert without pay.  She said that other orchestras she performs with, facing economic hardship, had also asked for reduced fees for performing, in turn creating hardship for her and her colleagues. 
“The November concert was one of just five planned for this season, so losing it [the performance] means a significant pay cut for the musicians,” the professional freelance musician said. 
Other concerts were also curtailed later, and whether or not the musicians’ paychecks are up-to-date at this point is not known.  The Recovery Plan says that past-due bills will be honored over time with 5% owing to be paid from May, 2009 to September, 2009 and then increased to 10% per month from October 2009 to September 2010 on all open balances.  The plan pledges to keep future invoices current.
The Pasadena Pops Orchestra will perform at Descanso Gardens this current summer season but will see several changes in next summer.  The orchestra, under conductor Rachael Worby, will be separately “branded” from the Pasadena Symphony, the plan says.  The orchestra will move from its present home at Descanso Gardens in La Cañada Flintridge to a grassy area near Lot H of the Rose Bowl beginning in summer of 2010.  The reasoning, according to the plan, is that the larger open area will draw the same number of fans that might regularly attend – about 3,500 for its two-night performances – to the much larger venue in only a single night instead.  Additionally, ticket prices will be adjusted, with higher prices for better tables towards the front and more reasonably priced offerings in the expanded lawn seating at the rear.
For their part, the City of Pasadena is expected to give the Pops a special deal for moving to Lot H, the designated tailgate party spot for UCLA Bruin games at the Rose Bowl.  Zdunek promises to come up with a better sounding name for the Pops’ new concert venue than “Lot H”.
The Pasadena Symphony will remain at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium for its concert season.  As with the Pops, Symphony tickets will be scaled according to the best seat locations and also introduce special package offers.  The Plan envisions a Family Package for children under 17 at $10 if purchased with an adult full-price admission; a student all-concert card for $30 that will allow attendance at all concerts for the entire season—with a commitment to find good seats for students. 
Like most everywhere else, staff reductions have already been implemented and those who remain have accepted a 5% pay-cut.  An aggressive marketing campaign will attempt to bring revenues from ticket sales and contributions to a 50-50% level, rather than the current 28-72% mix.  Partnerships with The Agency and a class at the Art Center College of Design, plus numerous fund and friend-raising events are anticipated.  Fund raising, according to the plan, will be smaller affairs hoping to enthuse audiences by bringing musicians and audience closer together.  Gala events have been totally axed. 
The 2009-2010 budget has been reduced from around $5 million to $3.2 million, an amount Zdunek previously announced must be raised by Sept. 30.   
A portion of the Association’s revenue will be earmarked to fortify endowments for the future.  These funds will have strengthened controls to assure a sustainable future for the Pasadena Symphony Association.  The Board of Directors will be increased from the current 35 members to a total of 45, the maximum number allowed under the by-laws of the Association.  Each new director will be expected to demonstrate a genuine interest in the goals of the Association and arts in general; be from the region served by the orchestras; be able to network with professional, community and personal peers; and be representative of the geographic and socio-economic demographics of the area. 
Association educational programs will continue, but only those which are fully-funded.  The popular fee-based Pasadena Youth Symphony Orchestra will continue.
Paul Jan Zdunek came to the Pasadena Symphony Association as a crisis-management consultant, but as the endowment fund was depleted by the economic downturn, the Board turned to Zdunek to take charge of the organization, naming him Chief Executive Officer on Nov. 21 of last
year.  His recovery plan comes at a difficult time for orchestras and other non-profit organizations all across the country.  Last year’s reported decline of charitable donations for all groups nationally was about 2%, while donations for Arts and Humanities have declined 6.4%. But despite the national trend, support remains relatively generous for music groups in the San Gabriel Valley.

By Bill Peters

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