Remembering the Orchestra, the Peninsula Symphony – Part 4
by Mary Urbach
Updated for February 2017
PSO is now sixty-eight years old. Mitchell Sardou Klein, our Conductor has been there thirty-three years. Ellen Crawford, first flute, has now been in the orchestra forty-five years. John Givens, formerly first bassoon for over fifty years, still plays a couple of concerts a year. Audrey Gore and Joel Greene, oboists are still there. Mike Bressler, timpanist is still there after many decades. Many other players have been there thirty or forty years or more.
Recently PSO has been invited to perform some of our PSO/Stanford concerts at Bing on the Stanford campus. My time with PSO was by no means restricted to performing. Since the orchestra meant so much to me, I really wanted to give back and support it. Briefly, here are some ways I did that. I was a weekly volunteer in the office for about fifteen years until about 2014, including weekly finance jobs. I served about three years on the Board on the Finance and Education committees until around 2001. Also at that time I entered the financial transactions into our accounting system.
In 1999 in mid-season, right after the Stanford/PSO concert, the Executive Director and the Office Manager both abruptly resigned. John Givens, bassoonist, and I had our arms twisted to be interim Executive Director and Office Manager respectively. (I had just had back surgery, but started gradually a few hours a day ten days after the surgery.) A case of the blind leading the blind, we managed to produce the Family concert and two subscription concerts. After six months the Board was able to hire an E.D. and I stayed two more months to overlap with the new E.D. Our annual budget has increased from about $300,000 in 1999 to $600,000 today.
I served another three-year term on the Board ending in 2014. During the second year, when I was Treasurer on the Board, the orchestra suffered a catastrophic embezzlement of about $700,000 by the Executive Director. This had been going on his whole term of employment, several years before my term. All of our operating and endowment accounts had been reduced of nothing. He is now serving a seven-year sentence in prison for nine felonies. While his court case was dragging on John Givens and I were asked to draw up control measures to prevent this from happening again. About ten drafts later we produced a document, which was adopted by the board. I also worked full time after the embezzlement discovery to reconnect all the finances, since we had to cancel the checking account: automatic payments, payroll, credit cards, online ticket purchases, etc. It was a nightmare. Unpaid bills, some thousands of dollars, kept coming in for months. The current staff had been there for two years or less. I became the only one regularly in the office who knew history of the orchestra and had finance knowledge. With a lot of work by a lot of people the orchestra was resurrected from death. Though still in recovery, we have produced three more seasons. I have subsequently retired from volunteering at PSO.
Today, fourteen years after my retirement from the orchestra, I now enjoy concerts from the other side of the stage. When I show up at a concert or related event, I still get multiple hugs, and I love it.
Spring 2017 Update
I recently learned that the financial recovery of the orchestra is on the mend. A long time benefactor of the orchestra recently passed way. She left a bequest to the Peninsula Symphony that allows us a bit more certainty that we can continue our mission “to enrich the lives in our community with inspiring, innovative, high-quality musical presentations at affordable prices, and to promote music education through engaging programs for children and adults.”
Our non-profit organization will always need the support of our lovers of music, but we hope to continue into the future many more years after this 68th season to bring the quality of performance our audience has come to expect.