December 7, 2012
Orchestra Nova is announcing today that it has decided to cease operations and has filed a Chapter 7 liquidation bankruptcy case. This announcement is the result of the impasse in our negotiations with the Local 325 American Federation of Musicians (AFM) union and the subsequent cancellation of our 2012-2013 season.
The financial impact of the protracted union negotiations and concert cancellations was severe. During the months of negotiations, we incurred significant legal fees. Fully believing that we would reach an agreement and deliver our concerts as planned, we invested in season preparation – securing venues, marketing, production, engaging guest artists, etc. In addition to incurring these expenses, our planned fundraising was crippled by the unresolved negotiations and the significant time required of our management in overseeing the negotiations.
Without the ability to produce our concerts and to raise funds, we simply could not absorb the financial drain of continued operations. We could not responsibly move forward without a realistic possibility of financial viability. So, the board, with clear minds but heavy hearts, made the decision to discontinue the operations of Orchestra Nova and file for bankruptcy.
Last season was extraordinary and we were looking forward to a very bright future, with a model that had proven successful. Words could never express how sorry we are that we were not able to bring the fantastic, creative 2012-2013 season to all who were looking forward to it.
High-quality guest services have always been a hallmark of the Nova Experience, so it’s been painful to us not to have the resources to issue refunds to ticket holders. We did the next best thing by reaching out to the wonderful San Diego arts community for a ticket exchange program. Over 25 San Diego arts organizations responded enthusiastically. To those partners we wish to express our deep gratitude for their support of Orchestra Nova, our ticket holders and the arts in San Diego. It is noteworthy that, in many cases, the monetary value of the exchange ticket is higher than the Nova ticket.
Continuation of the extensive music education programs that we have worked so hard to develop and are so very proud of has been of the utmost importance to us as we've deliberated and considered all options for the future of this organization. We are happy to announce that they will continue – and expand – under a new caretaker. More information.
Our heartfelt thanks go to each of you – guests, donors, business partners, volunteers, foundations, city and county funders – who have supported us as we created the popular Nova Experience and to those of you who have encouraged us through notes, emails and phone calls during these past few very difficult weeks as we were making some tough decisions. Thank you!
Previous statement from our Chief Executive Officer, Beverly Lambert
October 26, 2012
It is with the heaviest of hearts that we were forced to announce the cancellation of our season’s concerts earlier today.
I have read and listened to some of the media coverage about our current situation with the union, much of it not accurately represented, and I’ve been determined to stay above the mud-slinging atmosphere, asking our staff to do the same. We will continue to do that, but it’s time to get the facts out there.
We went into the negotiations in April with the best of intentions, wanting to show the musicians how much we appreciate and value them.
I want to state right up front that the union’s members include many wonderful musicians whom, we know, do believe in our vision and do want to be a part of it. We treasure our relationship with those individuals and value their musicianship.
We offered the union players’ committee a wage increase of nearly 16% over a three-year period (5% each year), an offer unheard of in today’s world of orchestras where musicians are being asked to take pay cuts of 10-50%. Their response was a request for a 52% increase for concert performances.
Most people aren’t aware that we have been contractually obligated to hire the same musicians each year, but many of them opt out of playing for us (many only played for us once or twice last season). Commitment has become more and more important to us as we finesse the Nova Experience,so we asked that our contracted musicians make a minimal commitment to perform at least four out of the five Nova Classics concerts. They rejected that proposal.
We had worked hard to align our schedules to accommodate those musicians who were members of the San Diego Symphony (only a third of our musicians) but we also had to work around the availability of our venues and the schedule of our conductor. Contrary to some news reports, there was only one hard conflict for symphony players out of our five-concert series for next season.
At the heart of the negotiations is the fact that the union wants the flexibility to work only when they want to work for us and we want consistency and commitment. Added to that is the fact that they wanted more compensation than it was possible for us to provide and continue to be a financially sustainable organization.
It’s never been our intent not to hire union musicians so after our proposal for a three-concert series commitment was rejected, we subsequently requested that we be allowed to hire any union musician who would be able to embrace our goals; however, that proposal was rejected too.
At that point, the players’ committee announced an impasse and we agreed to their proposal to bring in a federal mediator. An idea created by the mediator – not by us - was that we agree to contract with 15 of our previously contracted musicians and select the remainder from the union’s pool of musicians. We agreed to let him “float that suggestion” by the players’ committee, trusting in his confidence that it was a negotiable idea. However, we couldn’t come to an agreement on the specifics and they immediately went to the media with the news that our conductor was trying to “fire musicians.” Our conductor hadn’t even been a part of the negotiations, with the exception of two sessions (one in person and the other via Skype) when we asked him to speak to the committee to discuss his future artistic vision. In fact, he was on a plane and completely inaccessible for the session when this suggestion was “floated.”
It’s never been about firing musicians – we’re all about finding more work to hire more musicians and we did that last season with additional events, concerts and television broadcasts.
By this time we were close to the date of our October concerts and very concerned that the musicians would strike as the Chicago Symphony musicians had done two hours before a concert in September, leaving guests stranded without a concert. This would have created a financial disaster for us. So we suggested an agreement, for the October concert series only, that they wouldn’t strike and we wouldn’t lock them out. They refused and the board president immediately went to the media with statements that we were planning a lock-out, something we had never planned to do. To us, a lock-out was an unthinkable option because, like a strike, it would have been damaging to everyone.
Because we could not guaranatee that we could present any of our concerts without the possibility of a stirke, we felt that we had no choice but to cancel the concerts. To carry the financial burden of equipment and hall rentals, catering services for our guests, guest artist fee and numerous overhead expenses related to a concert if even a single strike had occurred would have been financially devastating.
Our staff made every possible effort to advise all of our ticket holders about the cancellation. Fortunately, we reached everyone of our 1700 ticket holders except 10 who did arrive for the concerts, a situation which our guest relations staff successfully handled. The musicians did show up at two of the venues with leaflets; however, there was no confrontation despite that report in one media outlet.
Our focus now is on our guests and supporters. We have worked hard during the past few days communicating with our arts partners across the county and their support for us has truly been phenomenal. Nearly 25 arts organizations will honor Orchestra Nova tickets at various events and performances or for admission and more are coming forward to support our ticket holders.
We have had so much going for us:
- one of the most creative artistic directors in the business today.
- sold-out concerts (and, contrary to one news report, we did sell out every single Nova Classics concert in our two regular venues last season).
- a fantastic staff and board of directors with a passion for our vision.
- a fan base that has been growing at an unprecedented pace.
- a very promising partnership with KPBS and with other San Diego companies and institutions.
These negotiations with the union cratered us, financially and artistically.
Some additional clarifying facts:
- Contrary to one report, I haven’t lived in New York since 1992; I’ve lived in Northern California since then and am currently renting in San Diego where I have lived full-time since being named CEO. To state that Jung-Ho Pak and I are “out-of-towners” with no ties to San Diego who swooped into the city to demolish this orchestra is a total falsehood – we both have strong ties to San Diego and care very much about San Diego and San Diegans.
- Jung-Ho was instrumental in the resurrection of the San Diego Symphony after their bankruptcy – if there was ever an investment in the culture of San Diego, perhaps that single act is ample proof that he cares about San Diego.
- We have both donated significant amounts of our own salary in order that the organization could continue to serve the community.
- Jung-Ho has gone into classrooms and worked with hundreds of school ensembles and their teachers in San Diego – and across the country – volunteering his time; he has spoken to countless community groups espousing the importance of classical music in our society.
- He has been a close partner with many, many San Diego nonprofits and has been active in creating events to support them, including the Kyoto Prize, KPBS Cultural Heroes Awards, San Diego Hospice and the opening of the restored Balboa theatre.
- He has given local arts groups employment opportunities and introduced them to our growing audiences, including Malashock Dance, San Diego Dance Theatre, Bach Collegium, Sacra Profana, North County Singers and local school choirs.
- He is passionate about music education and has extraordinary close ties with most educational institutions in the county.
- Under our leadership, Orchestra Nova has reached out to the community by:
- offering free tickets to active military families for all concerts.
- offering $10 tickets to all students AND educators for all concerts.
- Initiating and expanding two of the most extensive music education programs in the county’s schools.
It’s never been only about the concerts – it’s also been about serving the community and our audiences.
We had one of the most wonderful seasons imaginable all set and we know how sad our ticket holders and supporters are that they will miss these concerts. We feel the same sadness.
I have personally poured my heart and soul into this organization for the past five years, three of them as the marketing director and the last two as the CEO, working 24/7 to bring our vision to a reality. And we were so close to realizing that vision. We have built a staff second to none, backed by a committed and passionate board of directors and, I thought, a very close relationship with our musicians. Most importantly, we have built a fan base of Nova supporters who love the Nova Experience and proved it with their support and full concert halls. Our goal was always to bring them inspiration, love and joy. It sounds cliché, but it is as true as it can be.
We are currently exploring several options relative to the future of Orchestra Nova. Right now, I just want to say thank you to all of you who have supported us in so many wonderful ways. You are why we do what we do.