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Symphony & Opera making 'deep' cuts

Published: Friday, Feb. 25 2005 12:00 a.m. MST

Gary Ofenloch, second from right, listens Thursday to the Utah Symphony & Opera recovery plan presentation.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret Morning News

Pay cuts for staff, expense reductions and donation increases to $10,000 each from all 40-members of the Utah Symphony & Opera Board of Trustees are part of a three-year financial recovery plan approved Thursday by the board.

Utah Symphony & Opera CEO Anne Ewers said the cuts will be "deep" but that the quality of the product musicians provide will not be affected.

At stake are "structural" deficits in fiscal years 2003 and 2004 of $1.7 million and $3.3 million and a forecast structural deficit for fiscal year 2005 of at least $3.2 million.

Those numbers come from a report by Thomas Morris, who the symphony and opera hired three months ago to look into what Morris called "perilous" finances. Morris is a longtime executive director of the Boston Symphony and Cleveland Orchestra.

Until Thursday, musicians had been given little or no information about the symphony's finances.

"I'm angry about what's happening," principal flutist Erich Graf said. He's angry because it looked as if he and his colleagues were being kept in the dark on Morris' report.

The board, however, also voted to release the report to the public.

According to Morris, ticket sales to Masterworks, Pops and Opera productions have decreased by at least 20 percent since 2001-02.

Reasons for the decrease include marketing and staff problems because of the 2002 symphony and opera merger, "controversial" concert enhancements, "massive" availability of free tickets and a dilution of the symphony and opera brands, according to the report.

The economy and direct competition with the Mormon Tabernacle Orchestra were listed as "uncontrollable" factors for the decrease in ticket revenues.

"Anger and disillusionment" over the merger and a "lack of confidence" in the Utah Symphony & Opera were viewed by Morris as reasons for "precipitously" declining individual and foundation contributions.

Utah Symphony & Opera chairman Frank Joklik warned board members that if they didn't approve a budgeting plan that potential donors might shy away from giving.

Adding to its fiscal woes, the symphony and opera also tried to expand during what Morris called a "fiscal crisis," with a 14-percent budget increase from FY2003 to FY2004.

Morris, who was not at the meeting, also pointed out in his report that musicians received a compensation increase of 50 percent as part of a 1999 labor contract.

Joe Hatch, attorney for the musicians, said that increase actually amounts to about 40 percent over the course of eight years.

Hatch was critical of the board's decision, saying it only addresses financial problems and not organizational or structural changes. It's why the musicians on the board took a "neutral" stance by abstaining during the vote to approve the plan, Hatch said.

Morris said in his report that the board and CEO take responsibility for the lack of success.

Ewers told board members she will take a pay cut of $50,000 over the next two fiscal years.

"I'm willingly doing this to protect the staff," Ewers said.

The Deer Valley Music Festival can no longer be "predicated on major contributions," the report states. Hatch said that the Deer Valley issue was a "huge" financial piece of the plan the board did not adopt Thursday.

Part of the three-year recovery plan outlined in a Feb. 21, 2005, draft document includes raising ticket prices for "high-demand" seats and canceling the 2006 Ogden opera performance.


E-mail: sspeckman@desnews.com

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