Music News & Reviews

SLO Symphony's 'financial challenges' aggravated by refund requests

The San Luis Obispo Symphony rehearses in 2011.
The San Luis Obispo Symphony rehearses in 2011. The Tribune

The San Luis Obispo Symphony, which has been the subject of communitywide debate since the ouster of longtime Music Director Michael Nowak last month, is under increasing financial pressure, posting a loss of $13,400 in the fiscal year that ended a year ago.

Net income for the nonprofit organization has generally fallen in recent years — from $18,974 in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2010, up to $193,038 in fiscal year 2011, then down again to $44,982 in fiscal year 2012, and $9,055 in fiscal year 2013 before ending fiscal 2014 in the red.

The symphony would not release net income for the current fiscal year 2015, which ends June 30.

“We have some financial challenges,” said Liz Summer, president of the symphony’s board of directors. “Like many arts organizations, the symphony has been dealing with a decline in annual subscriptions, which affects the bottom line.”

That is being further aggravated by recent requests from about 40 ticketholders seeking refunds due to Nowak’s firing.

About a third of the people who had signed up for 2015-16 concert tickets or season subscriptions this spring asked for refunds, Summer said.

“Now we’re in the process of issuing the checks,” said Summer, vice president and senior client manager at Heritage Oaks Bank in Paso Robles.

The symphony board voted at its regular meeting June 11 to reimburse those supporters who requested refunds in writing between April 27, when season brochures were sent out, and June 11.

In light of the current situation, symphony Executive Director Edmund Feingold said the organization has extended the period when season subscribers can choose to renew their subscriptions through the end of this month. Normally that period closes June 1, he said.

In declining to disclose net income for fiscal year 2015, Feingold emailed The Tribune on Friday that the symphony “does not release unaudited/unreviewed financial statements or partial year records, as adjusting entries made at the time of audit or tax filing often affect the bottom line.”

And, he added, “We cannot speculate on the outcome of the current fiscal year due to the frequent changes in the environment in which we are operating.”

In a decision that was announced publicly May 14, the San Luis Obispo Symphony’s board voted unanimously to terminate Nowak’s contract, ending his 31-year tenure, leading to threats of resignation by symphony musicians.

Last Sunday, the board met with representatives of the orchestra musicians for 15 hours in a mediation session that participants described as fruitful and tension-free.

“It was a very lengthy but very collaborative, very productive meeting,” Summer said. “We’re very excited and optimistic about the outcome.”

Although Summer declined to share details, she said part of the meeting was dedicated to finalizing the symphony’s upcoming season.

She would not comment Thursday about whether they discussed rehiring Nowak.

Nowak said Thursday that that the board has not asked him to come back.

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