The Colorado Symphony Orchestra has made a lot of changes over the past few weeks, including hacking almost half of its performances in October and November. In September, more than twenty members of the CSO's board of trustees resigned; Jerome Kern and his wife, Mary Rossick Kern, have been brought back as board co-chairs, the same role they held from 2001 to 2006. And last Wednesday, the CSO announced that former executive director Jim Copenhaver, who was there in 1989 when the orchestra rose from the ashes of the Denver Symphony, will return as the interim president and CEO, replacing James Palermo.
Copenhaver "pioneered a more collaborative style of managing an orchestra," says Tom Blomster, vice president of the Denver Musicians Association. "There was a sigh of relief that Palermo has left."
The orchestra had been holding its own until recently, Blomster points out; Palermo took the reins in 2009. "Something was going radically wrong there," he says of Palermo's tenure. While the economy certainly was part of the problem, it wasn't the whole problem, Blomster adds, noting that even with record ticket sales, "there were management issues...[the CSO] was on the edge of disappearing."
Right now, Blomster is optimistic about the CSO's future. "If you'd asked me two weeks ago, I would have said I was scared," he says. But the return of both Copenhaver and the Kerns is "really great news." The Kerns have already convinced a few boardmembers to return. And while musicians have borne the brunt of the recent cuts, Blomster expects more changes in management soon -- anything from pay cuts to staff cuts to "reorganization."
Back in April, before the cuts, the base salary for a CSO musician was approximately $41,000, compared to the $50,000 to $60,000 that musicians are paid at comparable orchestras, according to Blomster. In September, the musicians took a $530,000 overall cut, and further cuts came down with the cancelled shows. "They can't cut much more" from the musicians, he notes.
"The majority of musicians are committed to being here in the region," he says. "They're really dedicated to this."
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