March 3 2015 12:08 PM

The company's orchestra hits a 'bump in the road'

cityballetorchestra
City Ballet Orchestra of San Diego
Photo by Alba Calderon Hueso

Just two weeks prior to City Ballet of San Diego's upcoming "Balanchine Spectacular," members of the City Ballet Orchestra were told that the company would have to cut the popular live-music component at this year's performances. 

"Effective the afternoon of Feb. 21, 2015, City Ballet owners, Steven and Elizabeth Wistrich, and their conductor, John Nettles, have reached a decision that they can no longer afford to have live music," wrote Tiffany Sieker, concertmaster and orchestra manager for the City Ballet Orchestra, in an email to local press. "They have cancelled our part in the upcoming 'Balanchine Spectacular,' and within two weeks will know if they can even afford to have us finish out the season with them. They are continuing to bill the program as though it has live music." 

Sieker said orchestra members are also still owed money for their performance at the last weekend of City Ballet's annual Nutcracker shows. 

"Our orchestra is comprised of [sic] people from all walks of life, many of whom are counting on this job as a main source of income," Sieker wrote. 

In a follow-up phone call, Sieker said she hopes that bringing the issue to the public's attention will help ensure that City Ballet and Nettles, who's personally responsible for finding funding for more than 50 percent of the cost of the orchestra, will do their best to bring live music back for the ballet company's remaining performances. 

Nettles, who founded the City Ballet Orchestra eight years ago, said he had to pull the plug on the live music for "Balanchine Spectacular" due to "a gap in funding from December." 

"People have been very upset by this, understandably, but we're just being honest, and we can't do it right now," he said. "I kind of told everybody I needed to take two weeks to tie up the loose ends and get everything back to square one.... If [the funding opportunity] I've been waiting on comes through, we'll be able to bounce back as soon as we're able."

Nettles said live music has become a luxury for ballet companies across the country. The fact that City Ballet, a small company in comparison with those that do still have live music, has been able to sustain an orchestra for eight years should be thought of as a major accomplishment, he said. 

"The original intent of ballet was always meant to be an interaction between musicians and dancers," Nettles said. "But live music is expensive, and most ballet companies have gone to canned music." 

The orchestra has enjoyed support from the City Ballet directors. Nettles said that roughly 40 percent of its funding comes from the company's general fund. 

"That' a huge commitment for a company with a budget this size," he said. 

He said he had to pay the last of what he owes to orchestra members before he could commit to another show. He called the current funding issues "a little bump in the road" and said he expects the program to be back in the black soon.

"Hopefully, we'll bounce back quickly," he said. 


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