Symphony-opera finances on rocks?

Report's being kept secret from top officials of group

Published: Thursday, Feb. 24 2005 12:00 a.m. MST

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A new report on the financial status and future of Utah Symphony & Opera is reportedly being kept from the organization's own executive committee and board of trustees.

Three months ago, the symphony and opera hired Thomas Morris, who was a longtime executive director of the Boston Symphony and Cleveland Orchestra, to look into Utah Symphony & Opera's financial situation — one of annual deficits and declining donations and ticket sales since the symphony and opera merged in 2002.

Morris released his report to a small group of administrators and musician representatives earlier this week. Over the objections of the musicians, the administration reportedly has decided not to share the report with the full board of trustees at its meeting today, or even to the executive committee, which met Tuesday.

"It's been our feeling that one of the core problems has been that the board has not been active enough and has been kept in the dark," associate concertmaster Gerald Elias said. "We were hoping for greater transparency and greater cooperation."

Due to a confidentiality agreement, musician representatives can't comment on the report's provisions until Utah Symphony & Opera officials agree, which so far they have refused to do.

"What we need is good leadership from the symphony and opera, and we haven't got it," the musicians' attorney, Joe Hatch, said. "Let's make the findings, conclusions and recommendations public, or at least release them to the board. . . . (Utah Symphony & Opera's) entire cash reserves will probably be gone by next October if this continues."

Hatch called the current financial situation "a crisis."

Citing the confidentiality agreement, Utah Symphony & Opera chairman Frank Joklik and CEO Anne Ewers declined to comment on the report and whether the board will be allowed to see it. When told that the musicians were willing to waive the confidentiality agreement with regard to the report, Ewers said she would still have to get legal advice before commenting on it.

Generally, however, Ewers said Utah Symphony & Opera's financial problems are being addressed.

"There is no question that the financial hopes with the merger have not gone as we had hoped — yet," she said.

She said she will present a "financial recovery plan" today to the board, which the consultant, Morris, was involved in creating.

Ewers declined to say whether the financial recovery plan was part of — or related to — Morris' report.

As for the board, one member said he wants to see the report.

"It's important for the board and those concerned to have as much information as possible," said the board member, who preferred to remain unidentified. "Maybe the report was not good news, which we need to know. If there's a report that's being kept under wraps, (that) is a source of concern."

He added that chairman Joklik generally "is not very inclusive or generous with information."

The merger of the Utah Symphony and Utah Opera, which was approved in July 2002, was — and remains — controversial.

"Some of the decisions that have been made over the past two years have been devastating both financially and musically," Elias said. There's something askew here. . . . There are bound to be some initial problems, but by this point those should have been ironed out."

For his part, Joklik says, "Analyzing history never helps very much in situations like this. . . . These days are not as easy as far as contributions are concerned. It's a facet of the national economy; people are a little more careful."

Certainly the merger changed things. For example, instead of emphasizing galas and parties to attract wealthy donors, Ewers has focused on approaching them individually.

"Whether they've got traction in that new direction or just let the old one fall off, I don't know," said Roger Thompson, former chairman of the symphony's Conductor's Circle Advisory Committee. "When Anne came on, it was clear to me she wanted to go in a different direction."


E-mail: aedwards@desnews.com

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