By Theresa Goffredo, Herald Writer
Everett Symphony Orchestra’s final performance of the season will be Friday.
The symphony, beset by financial problems, has chosen to end its season early and vacate its art deco headquarters in downtown Everett for a former movie theater at Everett Mall.
It will also be the curtain call for Paul-Elliott Cobbs, the symphony’s longtime conductor and music director.
Everett Symphony’s future will depend largely on how much the community is willing to pay to listen to symphonic music.
Symphony leaders are working on producing a concert in October, but no others are planned.
Concerts won’t happen unless money to pay for them is already in the bank, volunteer chief executive Roger Pawley said, adding that the symphony cannot carry on business as usual.
“We used to operate as pray-as-you go, where you make all these income assumptions about what you think you can do and pray they come through. And that hasn’t worked,” Pawley said.
Instead, the symphony is considering a business model that determines the season by how much money the organization has on Jan. 15, he said.
The blighted economy hasn’t helped the symphony. Declining ticket sales and a drop in corporate and private donations — both down about 35 percent this year — have forced the organization to reduce its staff to one paid office worker and to cancel all the musicians’ contracts, including that of Cobbs. Cobbs has been at that post for more than 25 years.
To pay off its $500,000 debt, the symphony has dipped into a $1 million endowment from John and Idamae Schack, donated in 1999 to help stabilize symphony finances. Halving the endowment — made with the donor’s permission — was necessary after an accumulation of nine years of operating losses.
Some of those losses were accrued by paying for the symphony’s 6,600-square-foot rehearsal hall and offices at 2710 Colby Ave., Everett.
After failing to raise $3.5 million in a capital campaign for the building, the board sold it in July 2008. Now, the symphony must vacate the building by Sunday.
A temporary symphony office has been set up at Everett Mall, and the symphony and the mall have negotiated a new partnership to explore the relocation of symphony headquarters to the mall.
The symphony is looking at the mall’s vacant three-screen theater. A one-year feasibility study is planned to determine if the space can someday be used as a rehearsal hall and performance space for some of the symphony’s smaller performances.
Meanwhile, some symphony musicians are incensed and vow to continue the season.
“This was all a surprise to us,” principal cellist Cami Davis said Tuesday. “We kept saying, ‘Please, don’t go dark. We have too much to lose if we do this.’
“So now, the orchestra musicians are going to produce the February concert by ourselves because we are not going dark.”
On a bright note, the Boeing Co. came through this season with a $10,000 grant to support two new symphony initiatives — the Family Together Concerettes for children and the Showcase Benefit Concerts.
Pawley said these concerts will continue at the children’s play area at the Everett Mall for free with the next concert scheduled for sometime in February.
The symphony musicians will play for free on Friday so the “American Idols” concert can go on.
“And that’s huge,” Pawley said.
Full refunds will be issued for symphony patrons who don’t choose to donate the season subscriptions. Patrons can call 425-258-1605, ext. 801 or 802, or e-mail info@everett symphony.org.
The symphony has a core audience of about 1,500 patrons, and had been running on a budget ranging from $350,000 to $600,000 over the past several years.
“This process we need to go through is to ask what the community wants of a symphony, and we might end up looking very different — we don’t know yet,” said Pawley, describing the symphony’s current situation as “wrenching.”
“We’re doing the best we can under a very difficult situation,” Pawley said. “Nobody’s happy.”