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NMSO To File for Bankruptcy

By Astrid Galvan
Copyright © 2011 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writer

          After years of financial woes that included musicians going months without pay, the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra will cease to exist.
        The board of trustees voted Tuesday to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which will effectively dissolve the organization and end its current season, according to a spokeswoman.
        "NMSO, like other orchestras around the country, has been hit hard by the decline in corporate gifts, changes in music taste, competing venues and the economy," Chairman John Slipke said in a statement.
        "We are saddened by this decision and inspired by the staff and musicians' commitment to continue working for four months without pay as we all worked together in our attempt to make NMSO a viable organization.
        "The board felt we no longer could ask for the sacrifices that have been required of those who work for us. The board recognizes its responsibility to protect its limited assets so that they can be shared with creditors appropriately."
        NMSO will file for bankruptcy today. More than 80 musicians and staff members will be out of a job.
        The organization, which began in 1932, had difficulties making ends meet for years.
        The height of NMSO's struggles came during the recession, when both donations and attendance dropped off.
        In September 2009, NMSO discontinued medical and dental insurance for employees. The organization had lost more $900,000 in the fiscal year before 2009, according to a letter to the Journal from Coleman Travelstead, head of the board of trustees.
        The organization came close to filing for bankruptcy that year after months-long employee contract negotiations seemed to go nowhere. But in late November 2009, musicians agreed to a two-year labor contract that instituted a pay cut of almost 20 percent for a core of 24 to 32 musicians.
        Musicians are paid an average of $16,270 annually, negotiating committee member Denise Turner said last year.
        But they often went without pay. Most recently, musicians and staffers worked four months without compensation.
        Still, only last month organization leaders were optimistic when announcing the season's concerts. They had recently received a $242,000 donation, which paid off the debt NMSO owed to Popejoy Hall, and allowed them to keep playing there. Another $50,000 donation helped pay workers wages owed to them.
        The symphony was operating under a $4.2 million budget for this fiscal year but owed employees more than $500,000.
        The nine remaining concerts scheduled this year have been canceled. People who purchased season tickets will not be refunded and will be part of the bankruptcy claim, a spokeswoman said.

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