Election Section

Comeback bid fails, bankruptcy looms for San Jose Symphony

By Brian Bergstein, The Associated Press
Wednesday June 05, 2002

SAN JOSE – A comeback attempt by the financially troubled San Jose Symphony has failed, forcing the 123-year-old orchestra to fall silent for up to a year and a half and almost certainly file for bankruptcy, the organization announced Tuesday. 

The symphony’s final performance is scheduled for Saturday, the last of four benefit concerts the orchestra had hoped would help fund its recovery. After that, the nation’s 11th-largest city will be the biggest without a working orchestra. 

“It’s probably not shocking to some who have watched this unfold for a few months, but it’s still sad nonetheless,” said Les White, the symphony’s interim chief operating officer. 

While the symphony’s leaders have not officially decided to seek bankruptcy protection, White acknowledged the step appears inevitable. 

The symphony has debts of more than $3 million and only the barest of assets — its sheet music, its acoustic shell and its office equipment, which even by liberal estimates are worth $300,000, White said. There is no endowment to speak of, he added. 

Believed to be the oldest orchestra west of the Mississippi, the San Jose Symphony struggled for years to keep expenses down and raise money, and saw subscriptions and attendance decline over the past decade. 

In October, the symphony canceled the 2001-2002 season, fired its office staff, dissolved its board and tried to craft a leaner administration and a shorter schedule. Former San Jose Mercury News publisher Jay Harris was hired to lead the transition. 

There were small signs of progress. The union for the symphony’s 89 musicians agreed to forgo $2.5 million they were owed for rehearsals and performances that were canceled, and agreed to play the four benefit concerts to fund future operations.