Orchestra Digest: Orchestra London update, Dec. 19th

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This week's bulletin is in two parts, with this first part focused on press coverage of the crisis at Orchestra London.

Dec. 10: Swan dismisses bankruptcy

After Orchestra London cancelled concerts through year's end, a flurry of press reports speculated that the orchestra might cease operations and go into bankruptcy. Executive director Joe Swan and board chair Joseph O'Neill tried to minimize those worries in an interview with the London Free Press last Tuesday, but could not rule out bankruptcy. Meanwhile, the orchestra continued to rehearse for a benefit concert last Wednesday.

On Wednesday, December 10th the orchestra held an emergency meeting with city hall staff, and Swan told CTV News that he would seek an immediate advance from the city, of roughly half its annual operating grant of $500,000. Mayor Matt Brown said he had not yet seen the orchestra's financial statements, but doubted that emergency funding would be offered from the city.

That same day, Swan spoke to Musical Toronto in detail about the orchestra's challenges, and expressed hope that the municipal council might still approve funding at its meeting on December 16th.

Officials speak out as players take music direct to city
Deputy mayor Paul Hubert blasted OL leadership in comments to CTV News on Thursday, Dec. 11th, noting that the city had been left in the dark as financial crisis loomed. If an orchestra is to return, Hubert said, "I would certainly be looking for a whole new business plan and a whole new leadership structure that would lead them forward."

An unsigned editorial in the Friday, Dec. 12th Free Press cast further doubt on the prospects for council support, while noting the "discord between musicians and executive director Joe Swan." A letter to the editor by Fiona Robson, a 17-year old cello student, argued that losing the orchestra would be a grave blow to the community and culture of London, noting the many benefits of a local, professional orchestra.

Over the weekend, Orchestra London musicians took their appeal directly to Londoners by playing pop-up concerts around the city, the Free Press reported. They also launched Twitter and Facebook accounts, and a blog. Former OL general manager Susan Weiss criticized musicians calling for Joe Swan's departure, the Free Press also reported, though she later backed away from those comments.

Dec. 16: Swan resigns as new financial details emerge

The picture grew more dire on Tuesday, as financial details released to the city showed the orchestra faced a $1.3m deficit, with $375k needed just to wind up operations this month, the Free Press reported. Executive director Joe Swan submitted his resignation that day.

The new shortfalls included $110k in back payroll taxes owed to the CRA, CTV News reported. Councillors Phil Squire and Harold Usher (speaking to AM980) expressed grave concern about the orchestra's financials. The city council indicated it would now hear a presentation from board chair Joe O'Neill on Thursday. Board members themselves could be liable for the back taxes, AM980 also reported.

Dec. 18: Council denies emergency funding

At Thursday's meeting, councillors voted 15-0 to deny the orchestra's emergency funding request for $375k, the Free Press reports. The aid would not have restored the orchestra, only helped it make its payroll and other obligations. A substantial crowd waited to hear the petition, but most left disappointed.

"The organization has really put the musicians in the worst position possible, and in turn the people of London," Coun. Tanya Park said. Others expressed hope that a new organization would take its place. Coun. Phil Squire said: "I'll be supporting an orchestra in the future. That being said, Mr. O'Neill, I would prefer that organization not have you involved in it, given what I've seen of your management of the board."

Compiled by Matt Heller, OCSM 1st VP. Visit OCSM online at: http://ocsm-omosc.org/index.php.

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