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WCS Books Are Closed On Low Note

By Tim Page
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 10, 2004; Page C04

A law firm representing the Washington Chamber Symphony -- which disbanded suddenly in July 2002, only days after it had been soliciting funding, sponsorship and even new board members for a never-to-be 2002-03 season -- has sent out settlement checks to the orchestra's creditors.

"As of September 1, 2004, subscribers and creditors had confirmed claims totaling $301,592.95," according to a letter dated Dec. 3 that was sent out by the firm of Burt, Maner and Miller in Washington. The problem comes with the next sentence: "Cash available for distribution was only $10,848.85."

The letter continues: "Enclosed you will find a check representing your proportional share of the available assets, which have been divided among all those who asserted claims. The available assets amount to $0.03597 (3.597 cents) per dollar of claims."

And so a listener who put down more than $500 for two subscriptions to the announced 2002-03 season ended up receiving a refund check for $19.07 -- more than two years later.

The ensemble was founded by conductor Stephen Simon in 1976 as the Handel Festival Orchestra; the name was changed to the Washington Chamber Symphony in 1987. Although the orchestra regularly sold out its series at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater, Simon, an heir to the Annenberg fortune, and his wife, Bonnie Ward Simon, were regularly forced to use their own money to keep it afloat. When the WCS folded, a tearful Bonnie Simon referred to it as "our third child."

In 2003, Forbes Maner, a Washington lawyer and a supporter of the orchestra, was named assignee for the D.C. Superior Court for the benefit of creditors, a position he held without pay. His letter apologized for the amount of time it had taken to settle; he said the resolution had been delayed first by a wait for the court to review the case and then by a claim from the Internal Revenue Service that would have exceeded the available funds.

"Having been a longtime subscriber to the WCS concerts, I remain saddened by its disappearance from the Washington musical scene," Maner wrote in his letter to creditors. "Acting as assignee was the last service I could offer the ensemble that gave all of us such pleasure over 25 years."

Maner was not available for further comment, nor were the Simons: An assistant who answered the phone at their Kalorama home late yesterday afternoon said they were "currently in flight."

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