« Previous | Culture Monster Home | Next »

California Philharmonic loses summer home at Arboretum to Pasadena Pops

April 30, 2011 |  2:28 pm

Vener For the last 15 years, the California Philharmonic has made its summer home at the Los Angeles County Arboretum, the lush, 127-acre botanical garden located in Arcadia. This week, orchestra leaders said they received an abrupt notice from the Arboretum informing them that the group has lost its home and that the Pasadena Pops will take up residency at the scenic venue starting 2012.

Leaders of the Cal Phil said that they are upset over the way the Arboretum has handled the change and held a news conference Saturday to voice their objections. The orchestra claims that the Arboretum prematurely distributed a news release about the switch and that the Arboretum still has not sent an official correspondence about its decision. The music group said that the Arboretum only informed them of the decision through an informal phone call to music director Victor Vener.

Richard Schulhof, chief executive of the Arboretum, said in an interview that the Cal Phil was informed about the decision in a timely and official manner. He said that the selection of the Pasadena Pops was a business choice made with an eye toward "generating revenue to support the Arboretum, and to serve a range of audiences."

André C. Vener, chief executive of Cal Phil, claimed in a separate interview that the Arboretum conducted its search process in an unjust manner and that the orchestra is looking into its legal options. "We're not an organization that sues people, but we want to protect our legal rights," he said. (André C. Vener is the son of the group's music director.)

The Cal Phil is a modest-sized orchestra with an annual operating budget of approximately $1.6 million. The group holds its Cal Phil Festival on the Green concert series at the Arboretum each summer. The orchestra also performs at other venues around Southern California throughout the year.

Earlier this year, the Arboretum sent out a request to music groups to submit proposals for its summer entertainment offerings. The Arboretum said that two groups ultimately responded to the request. The Cal Phil and the Pasadena Pops both confirmed that they submitted proposals. The final decision was made by the L.A. Arboretum Foundation board of trustees.

Paul Jan Zdunek, chief executive of the Pasadena Symphony and Pops, said in an interview that the pops will play this summer at its venue near the Rose Bowl and will move to the Arboretum next summer. He said the Arboretum is a more convenient venue for the group because it will allow the them to keep its performance shell on the grounds.

The Cal Phil and the Pasadena Symphony and Pops have suffered financially during the recent recession. The groups have accumulated debt that they are now working on paying down. The Cal Phil said that its debt stands at about $300,000 and that the group realized a profit last year.

The Pasadena Pops recently signed on Oscar-winning composer and conductor Marvin Hamlisch as its new lead conductor. Hamlisch will begin his tenure this summer.


Arboretum Marvin Hamlisch named conductor of the Pasadena Pops

Rachael Worby resigns after 11 seasons conducting Pasadena Pops

Tension at Pasadena Symphony Orchestra


-- David Ng

Top photo: Victor Vener, music director of the Cal Phil. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times

Bottom photo: A view of the Arboretum in Arcadia. Credit: Christine Cotter / Los Angeles Times


Comments () | Archives (7)

Surely there's room for both?

Well I heard that Cal Phil Orch play and they were just awful - and after all these years too. So let's give somebody else a try and see for a change already.

I think neither group plays enough traditional Ranchero and Mariachi music, considering that the Arboretum is the center of a Spanish land grant, stolen from Aztlan.

I'm not getting what the big deal is. The Arboretum wanted a change and sent out an RFP. I'm sure there were many bidders and Pasadena won the contract fair and square. Isn't that how business is conducted? Why is Cal Phil making themselves out to be victims? They should have submitted a better proposal.



I was very disturbed to hear that the Pasadena Symphony is selfishly trying to put yet another orchestra out of business, but not surprised.

First, the Pasadena Symphony engineers a takeover of the Pasadena Pops, a group that
had less debt and far larger audiences than the Symphony. Now a couple of years later
this same group is trying to destroy and engineer the takeover of the Arboretum venue from the California Philharmonic. It is greed pure and simple.

It was Victor Venor and the California Philharmonic that brought orchestras to the Arboretum in the first place, and the Pasadena Symphony has shown that again and again, they have to usurp what others have built rather than create their own.

The California Philharmonic has consistently had larger audiences that the Pasadena Symphony and contrary to fabrications told by supporters of the Pasadena Symphony, the Cal Phil is current on all accounts, meaning they have arrangements and payment schedules for all their vendors and owe nothing to the venues where they play.

All Orchestras have had a bad time in this recession, but the Cal Phil has stayed strong. How strong? At the worst of the recession, the Cal Phil was in debt to a bit less than 1 million over last summer.

The Pasadena Symphony? Over the last 36 months they have acquired debt of between
Two and three million. They also owe money to their venues. If anything, the Cal Phil should be taking over the Symphony.

But why has this one orchestra worked so hard to put other orchestras out of business?
As with everything else, the work has contracted, there are fewer jobs to go around. A goodly portion of the musicians of the Pasadena Symphony are core members of a group called the Recording Musicians Association. Their claim to fame is recording motion pictures and TV shows. Problem is, their own business model has driven a majority of their recording work away to places all over the world. In short, they’re too expensive and virtually anyplace but here is a bargain by comparison.

They’ve priced themselves almost out of the market. Film and TV music is a world wide business now. With modern technology, you can sit at home and work with real musicians anywhere in the world for a fraction of the cost of recording here.

Five years ago, many core RMA members would tell you that you’re only a “Professional” musician if you make your living recording. Now that their
own financial practices have decimated their market these musicians are trying
to take whatever work is left, from anyone they can. These musicians who used
to say they wouldn’t lower themselves to playing weddings or recitals or live orchestral work are doing just that.

A good percentage of the Pasadena Symphony are just such RMA members and only when the work started to disappear did this group begin to try to take over any orchestra in the area for themselves.

The California Philharmonic employs a regular orchestra of 60+ musicians, 30 additional instrumentalists over the season and a 200 voice choir. Of the orchestra’s musicians, at least 45 are tenured positions. Many are founding members of the orchestra 15 years ago.

When the Pasadena Symphony Hi-jacked the Pasadena Pops (Which was also originally started by Victor Vener), they put 60+ musicians out of work, many of which were tenured. If this abduction of the Arboretum Venue is successful, up to100 more instrumentalists and 200 choir members will lose a good deal of their summer income.

What the Pasadena Symphony is doing is immoral and unethical. The entire community should be up in arms. Tell the Arboretum that if they kick out the Cal Phil you will not attend concerts. That is what happened with the Pasadena Pops audiences after the Pasadena Symphony stole their season. Attendance went down and has not returned, nor should it.

The Cal Phil and the Arboretum have had a good thing going for 15 years and it should keep going.

If it ain’t broke, don’t let a greedy, selfish and undeserving orchestra break it.

Charles Fernandez
Emmy/Annie nominated composer

Cal Phil was wrongfully treated without proper notice or cause. I say we find the REAL reason why the Pasadena Sym/POPS got the new contract...because what's on paper does NOT make ANY sense at all.

California Philharmonic’s director Victor Vener created the orchestra venue at the L.A. County Arboretum, built the audience there from nothing 15 years ago. He's the one who envisioned the potential of that atmospheric patch of grass and created such grand attendance. His concerts there are sold out (audiences of approx. 5,000 per event), which is so rare for orchestras these days. When Victor's on stage, the audiences go crazy like he's a rock star.

Victor’s captivating on-stage rapport and programming insight make Cal Phil concerts glamorously entertaining, tremendous fun. And he creates a family out of audiences who even party with the orchestra after Arboretum concerts. He's got 700 volunteers (some are students of Cal Phil musicians) handing out the drinks, etc., while most orchestras pay people to do that --that's part of the warm orchestra culture he's created.

Now people treat the Arboretum venue as something that can just be auctioned off to a favorite bidder... (Pasadena Symphony/Pops, however, being the only one to pursue it besides Cal Phil). It's sad, because it takes a tremendous amount of work and marketing dollars to bring an audience to a particular venue and build that community. And in this tough economy, it would be a miracle if any orchestra could survive getting kicked off their home base and moved elsewhere.

The Pasadena Symphony/Pops expects to inherit the passionate audience that Victor has built by renting the Arboretum. They could have the Rose Bowl for free. But all the passion, hard work and marketing dollars that Victor has poured into building the Arboretum up as a venue is worth more to Pasadena Symphony/Pops. New management/CEO at the Arboretum wasn't around 15 years ago when Victor negotiated with L.A. County to build the orchestra venue from scratch --could such a decision have been made if history were remembered?

Now Pasadena Symphony/Pops has newly hired Marvin Hamlisch to fly in to conduct a few concerts --well, by investing in his big name, they have a trump card to make them look impressive. But they're insulting Marvin: With Marvin’s mega-celebrity songwriter status/draw, they don't need to get another orchestra evicted from its home to attract an audience for Marvin.

Pasadena Symphony/Pops, with its inordinate debt and difficulty attracting an audience, may feel like its salvation rests on stealing the coat tails of Cal Phil's success. But, in the larger scheme of things, it’s hurting its own image with such a shady move. With Marvin’s help, Pasadena Symphony/Pops could cultivate its own audience; and L.A. County could enjoy a truly expanded orchestra scene with both orchestras flourishing optimally --now that would be exciting and an endeavor worthy of Marvin.

Deborah Vukovitz 5/8/11


Recommended on Facebook

In Case You Missed It...


Explore the arts: See our interactive venue graphics


Tweets and retweets from L.A. Times staff writers.