The Denver Symphony Orchestra, the professional orchestra that called Boettcher Concert Hall home, went kaput in 1989. Twenty-two years later, it's looking like the Colorado Symphony might face the same fate. Barry Fey, the legendary rock promoter who stepped in to save the symphony two decades ago, recognizes the signs.
Despite record ticket sales in the 2010-2011 season, the Colorado Symphony still ran into a $1.2 million cash shortfall in June and has been scrambling ever since. In late September, the 79 musicians in Colorado's only full-time professional orchestra accepted a $530,000 total pay reduction -- and twenty boardmembers resigned.
But there were earlier signs of trouble.
In January, Fey says, he was approached by two members of the orchestra to organize a fundraiser. Back in 1989, Fey's fundraising efforts enabled the orchestra to continue, albeit with a name change. But when Fey shopped the idea of a symphony fundraiser this time, "I found absolutely no appetite in the community or the media to do it," he recalls.
The fundraising efforts in the 1980s were all about making the orchestra accessible to Joe Six-Pack. "The sports-talk people were showing up with busloads of people. It was a great civic experience," Fey remembers.
Fey also helped out the brand-new Colorado Symphony with a $70,000 cash advance and restructured aspects of the orchestra, including putting into place a pay-by-the-show plan for musicians. That idea has been floated around this time, too, but while it would be cheaper, opponents say it would also lower the quality of musicians who'd be willing to play in Denver.
"The old symphony was elitist, and maybe that's what this symphony has become," Fey says. "The bluebloods didn't like my involvement."
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Ten years after that first crisis, in 1999, he offered to organize a benefit for the orchestra, but he was refused. He still doesn't get why the orchestra would turn down money, and lots of it; he estimates that he could have raised $250,000 at the time. He hasn't attended a Colorado Symphony concert since.
For a while, there was a plaque dedicated to Fey in the Boettcher gallery, honoring his efforts in 1989. But sometime during the intervening years, that plaque was taken down -- which definitely irks Fey.
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"There's not going to be a Barry Fey this time," he says. "If they fail, they fail."
For more of Barry Fey's history, read "The Long Goodbye," Michael Roberts's 1997 Westword feature.