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Troubled San Jose symphony takes step toward comeback

By Brian Bergstein The Associated Press
Saturday January 19, 2002

SAN JOSE — The San Jose Symphony, which shut down last fall amid a financial crisis, is taking a step toward a comeback with concerts whose proceeds would help fund the organization’s future operations. 

The first of the concerts is set for Feb. 23, though the symphony is still looking for sponsors to cover the musicians’ payments and other costs, spokeswoman Nanci Williams said Friday. The symphony hopes to have three or four more benefit concerts in coming months. 

The benefit concerts were made possible this week when the union representing the symphony’s 89 musicians agreed to forgo $2.5 million they were owed under their contract for rehearsals and performances this season that were canceled. 

Symphony management, now headed by former San Jose Mercury News publisher Jay Harris, had told the union that without the concession, the 122-year-old orchestra would have to file for bankruptcy, according to Kristen Linfante, a viola player who chairs the union negotiating committee. 

The union also agreed the symphony could use fewer than 89 musicians in the benefit concerts, Linfante said. 

“I think it’s the beginning of the return of the symphony, in that the orchestra will be back on stage,” Linfante said. “But I don’t think it’s necessarily going to be enough to relieve the debt that has been incurred or really start a new organization.” 

Harris did not immediately return a call seeking comment. 

The orchestra is believed to be the oldest west of the Mississippi. After years of poor fundraising left it in debt and with an endowment of just $1 million, it shut down in October, making San Jose the biggest U.S. city without a working symphony. 

The musicians, who average about $25,000 for 190 performances and rehearsals a year, have been scrambling to teach more private lessons and playing in other Northern California orchestras. 

“It’s very, very difficult,” Linfante said. “It’s a crisis for many.”