For the first time in its 17-year history, the Sacramento
Philharmonic will not present any concerts during the fall season, and
it remains unclear whether its musicians will return to the stage in the
spring of 2015.
The Sacramento Opera has also decided not to stage performances in the fall.
decision follows months of financial uncertainty for the Sacramento
Region Performing Arts Alliance, the organization formed last year when
the philharmonic merged with the Sacramento Opera.
Laurie Nelson, president of the alliance, said the board opted in
June to cancel the fall season in order to give the organization a
“hiatus” so it can reorganize. She said the alliance will work on
establishing a sustainable financial plan, restructuring its board of
directors and defining the arts groups’ relevance to the city.
This fall, Sacramento will be the only U.S. city of comparable size without an active symphony orchestra.
the Sacramento Opera and Sacramento Philharmonic have seen steep
declines in their operating budgets since the start of the recession.
Both have been on the verge of closure. Although ticket sales
have remained relatively stable, the groups have not met their fundraising goals.
At the end of the 2011-12 season, the orchestra made an appeal to the community for emergency funds to deal with a $150,000 budget shortfall.
the appeal, the orchestra released a statement saying its budget was
comparable to orchestras in smaller cities such as Amarillo, Texas;
Erie, Pa,; and Wheeling, W.Va.
All of those orchestras have announced full concert seasons for 2014-15.
last year’s merger was supposed to strengthen both the opera and the
philharmonic, it hasn’t had that effect. The two groups’ combined
budgets totaled more than $2 million before the merger. At this point,
the alliance has just $131,000 in the bank for 2014-2015, Nelson said.
January, the organization received a $500,000 gift from the Joyce and
Jim Teel Family Foundation, just before it was to appeal to the city for
a $350,000 forgivable loan. The Teel gift allowed the alliance to forgo
the loan, with most of the gift used to pay for the Sacramento Opera’s
production of “Il Trovatore.”
“We really gave this a lot of
thought as a board,” Nelson said of the decision to scrap the fall
season. “We could have done another season, like we did last year, and
struggle along and end up the year with no money in the bank. Instead,
we decided to take a pause and really give some consideration to how to
build a foundation for the future.”
The decision was greeted with dismay by Larry Gardner, president of American Federation of Musicians Local 12.
certainly shocked and dismayed that an organization that has had
consistent budgets above $1 million annually would suddenly be reduced
to one of approximately $130,000,” Gardner said.
“This has been frustrating – very frustrating – for the musicians,” Gardner said.
financial troubles at the SRPAA are no rarity in the arts; many
orchestras and opera companies have severely pruned their seasons, and
some have closed altogether.
However, Sacramento seems to be a special case, Gardner said.
“The orchestra is the only one of its size and in a city the size of Sacramento in the Central Valley that will not present in the fall,” Gardner said.
noted that smaller orchestras in smaller cities such as the Fresno
Philharmonic and Modesto Philharmonic are presenting full seasons in
2014-15 after cutting back on offerings directly after the recession.
“Those orchestras have turned a corner,” said Gardner.
you look at the skyline in Sacramento and then look at Modesto or
Fresno’s, you begin to wonder, ‘What’s going on in Sacramento?’ ”
Gardner said. “It sure looks like there is money in Sacramento, but it
doesn’t seem to be going to the orchestra or opera company.”
Nelson said bankruptcy is not a likely option if no workable solutions are found.
is not in the cards at this point in time,” said Nelson. “If that were
to occur, it would be such a blow to this community and the art form. I
think it would take years for us to get back to being able to offer
something to the community.”
Nelson said the success of the hiatus
will depend on two factors: whether new board members can be brought
on, and to what extent it is established that the community wants to
support the orchestra and opera company.
She called the current SRPAA board “too small and overworked.”
said the SRPAA is looking for long-term financial commitments from new
board members. “Instead of a one-time commitment we will respectfully
ask donors to give for three years so we have a foundation to build
upon.” Nelson said.
Contributions from individuals will be key,
given the region’s less-than-stellar reputation for philanthropic giving
to the arts and lack of corporate philanthropy.
The challenges at
the SRPAA are also compounded by an absence of long-term leadership.
General director Rob Tannenbaum left that role in July, only one year
into his tenure.
Nelson said some of the problems stemmed from the
fact that when both organizations merged they discovered that only 7
percent of their audiences overlapped.
“We had a steep learning curve,” said Nelson. “We had some challenges figuring what direction we wanted to go.”
present, the only concert likely to happen is a May 2015 event that
will be produced in a partnership between the orchestra and Carnegie
Hall’s Weill Music Institute, said Julian Dixon, principal tuba with the
philharmonic and its head of community outreach.
partnership, called “Link Up!” is in its fifth year and involves
orchestra musicians working with students in the region’s schools on
music curriculum. The culmination is a May concert with students
performing alongside orchestral musicians.
For Dixon, that effort
is a bright spot in a sea of uncertainty. The absence of fall concerts
and the expectation of a deeply reduced spring concert slate means he
will have to scramble to make ends meet.
“It’s a definite blow,” Dixon said. “The challenge is, when we get so reduced, how can we rebound?”
Nonetheless, Dixon remains optimistic that the philharmonic can recover.
is looking at the big picture right now. We’re bringing the arena to
downtown, and we have the railyards, and there seems to be a buzz around
the arts,” Dixon said. “We have to position our organization around
that big picture.”