The City Ballet of San Diego just made a big decision that will change the way their performances are experienced, and no one is very happy about it.
Tiffany Sieker, concertmaster and orchestra manager for the City Ballet Orchestra, sent an email to news outlets detailing the abrupt layoff of the entire orchestra just two weeks ahead of City Ballet’s “Balanchine Spectacular,” happening this weekend. Conductor John Nettles had emailed the orchestra Feb. 21 to tell them they wouldn’t be proceeding with their part in the performance.
That email read:
“After looking at all the current and future liabilities, I have no choice but to cancel this performance. The funding is just not moving fast enough and it would be terribly imprudent to take on the expense of another production at this time. I truly thought there was a chance, but it didn’t pan out… The funds I got this week were only half what I was expecting. I’ll probably get the other half next week, but this unpredictability is unworkable at this stage of the game.”
Sieker said the orchestra is still owed money and is unsure of whether members will receive a severance package.
I contacted City Ballet owners Steven and Elizabeth Wistrich and managing director Jo Anne Emery about the situation. Emery said City Ballet is not responsible for paying orchestra members for any shows outside of their annual performances of “The Nutcracker.” She says Nettles finds donors through his company, A Class Act Productions, to pay for live music for all other shows with the City Ballet.
Emery said Nettles handles all the contracts, 1099s and pay for the orchestra. Emery said a donation of $17,000 lined up for the “Balanchine Spectacular” was delayed for three months, and that she didn’t know why.
“We love having the live music,” Emery said. “But if the funds aren’t there, we can’t stick our neck out and then risk not being able to pay musicians.”
“As an orchestra of closely knit colleagues, we are collectively fighting for the return of live music to the Ballet,” Sieker said.
Nettles, for his part, seemed to take issue with the word “layoffs,” and called Sieker’s email an “unauthorized report”:
“The information you received is not accurate. There was a temporary gap in funding, which forced a late cancellation of an individual performance. I had to temporarily shut things down, while closing out the arrears. There were no layoffs and all past dues will be paid. I’m sorry you got some unauthorized reports, but this situation has been blown out of proportion.”
So it’s all a bit muddled, though everyone I spoke with seemed to think the best-case scenario would be finding new donors to help fund the City Ballet Orchestra, so every performance can be accompanied by live music.
You’re reading the Culture Report, Voice of San Diego’s weekly collection of the region’s cultural news.
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