Is the Colorado Symphony on a death watch? Barry Fey thinks so.

Categories: Classical Music

barry fey by mark manger-thumb-250x319.jpg
Mark Manger
The Denver Symphony Orchestra, the professional orchestra that called Boettcher Concert Hall home, went kaput in 1989. Twenty-two years later, it's looking like the Colorado Symphony might face the same fate. Barry Fey, the legendary rock promoter who stepped in to save the symphony two decades ago, recognizes the signs.

Despite record ticket sales in the 2010-2011 season, the Colorado Symphony still ran into a $1.2 million cash shortfall in June and has been scrambling ever since. In late September, the 79 musicians in Colorado's only full-time professional orchestra accepted a $530,000 total pay reduction -- and twenty boardmembers resigned.

But there were earlier signs of trouble.

In January, Fey says, he was approached by two members of the orchestra to organize a fundraiser. Back in 1989, Fey's fundraising efforts enabled the orchestra to continue, albeit with a name change. But when Fey shopped the idea of a symphony fundraiser this time, "I found absolutely no appetite in the community or the media to do it," he recalls.

The fundraising efforts in the 1980s were all about making the orchestra accessible to Joe Six-Pack. "The sports-talk people were showing up with busloads of people. It was a great civic experience," Fey remembers.

Fey also helped out the brand-new Colorado Symphony with a $70,000 cash advance and restructured aspects of the orchestra, including putting into place a pay-by-the-show plan for musicians. That idea has been floated around this time, too, but while it would be cheaper, opponents say it would also lower the quality of musicians who'd be willing to play in Denver.

"The old symphony was elitist, and maybe that's what this symphony has become," Fey says. "The bluebloods didn't like my involvement."

Ten years after that first crisis, in 1999, he offered to organize a benefit for the orchestra, but he was refused. He still doesn't get why the orchestra would turn down money, and lots of it; he estimates that he could have raised $250,000 at the time. He hasn't attended a Colorado Symphony concert since.

For a while, there was a plaque dedicated to Fey in the Boettcher gallery, honoring his efforts in 1989. But sometime during the intervening years, that plaque was taken down -- which definitely irks Fey.

"There's not going to be a Barry Fey this time," he says. "If they fail, they fail."

For more of Barry Fey's history, read "The Long Goodbye," Michael Roberts's 1997 Westword feature.

Follow us on Twitter!

Like us on Facebook!

Sponsor Content

My Voice Nation Help
Eleanor R Wells
Eleanor R Wells

Is this an article about the orchestra, or Barry Fey? Or maybe about Barry Fey's plaque? Why is the second paragraph repeated word for word? Yes I AM tired of substandard writings that accomplish nothing except Siphoning attention from actual news.

Zoe W
Zoe W

Barry Fey's in Denver is historical, certainly, but now it is not meaningful whatsoever.

I really don't understand why ANYONE would look to him for any advise or money or advise about money.  Back in the 1970s and 1980s when he was the lone large scale producer in Denver, there might have been value, but now?  There are plenty of amazing "show bookers" and promoters in town who have a current pulse on what is available, what makes money and what could help.  Don't forget this year someone had the bright idea of booking a Pops series that included Pink Martini and Ben Folds which I thought was brilliant and was well received by the community.  

Westword, give up on your promoting Barry Fey please, it's enough.  Just because he picks up the phone doesn't mean you should call.

He is a dinosaur and not at all timely.  What the Colorado Symphony doesn't need is advise from Barry Fey.  His attitude of "if they fail, they fail" is sour and no one needs that energy around.  Let it go Westword.  He was generous once, great, now he is just seems bitter.  Remember he had lots of money once too and could give away money as a write off, but that is doubtful now. 

Let him be irked that some plaque has been removed. He needs to remain retired and do so  gracefully (and albeit quietly) and not irk the community. 

There used to be year round fundraising options for the Symphony, there were radio marathons, there were road races, there were options for people to donate.  Now with the economy it just isn't feasible I am sure. 

Instead of writing an article about a cash strapped Symphony and how Barry Fey is bitter and won't help, why not include a line or two with contact information for someone to call and donate on their own since he won't help?  Why not be proactive Westword? 

Heck I will :  From their website:

Administration General inquiries:

Colorado Symphony AssociationBoettcher Concert HallDenver Performing Arts Complex1000 14th Street, #15Denver, CO 80202-2333 

Phone: (303) 292-5566Fax:     (303) 293-2649Email:


it's an article about barry fey's involvement twenty years ago, and the request for him to repeat that role now. I think that's pretty clear.

but the repeated paragraph was definitely my mistake in editing; I needed to move a paragraph to make the photo fit, and forgot to cut the repeat. We caught that a few hours ago, and fixed it.


If they fail they fail is right! Obviously the Symphony can not afford anything but their egos. They would not be around today if Mr. Fey did not help them in the first place. As for him being a dinosaur, can we still not learn from Ghandi, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King? There ideas seem to still be very valid today. The only thing that has changed in fundraising is the amount of hands that the money must pass through first. Who are these wonderful promoters today? One thing I am sure of is they probably work and were educated by Barry.

If you think they can do better, then go ahead and let's see if Tegan & Sarah can save the symphony.

I believe this article makes a point about looking at our past honestly. They took down the plague because the Symphony is embarrassed of their history of struggle and that is why they are doomed to fail.

Zoe W
Zoe W

My comments were directed completely at the tone of the article, not the Orchestra.  What my point was is: Instead of asking someone who has helped in the past to revisit past "glories" (or not depending on who deserves a plaque or not) why not be proactive, list the organizations contact info and work to not shut down the culture that the CSO provides.  YOU personally might not be interested in going but their sold out Pops series (which DID include Pink Martini and Ben Folds) proves that merging the musical types isn't always a bad thing.  Maybe bringing Tegan and Sarah in wouldn't be so far off base.  Just sayin.

And my guess is that a wall got painted and no one put the stupid plaque back up on the wall.  20 years goes by and walls get painted.  Stuff gets misplaced. Happens but for the tone of the article to be about Barry Fey's bitterness misses the point of what is happening in Denver and in regards to its Symphony Orchestra. 

And as for the promoters in town that could make that happen, I promise all the Symphony would have to do is call probably. Or the promoters could call too, they won't it's not their job.  I don't fault either side on that one at all.  Some of the current promoters in town have been "educated" by Barry and some have not, but asking someone who has a long stated chip on his shoulder about what to do isn't proactive.  And that was my point.

Mr. Fey is allowed to his opinion but I find that in order to present the other side of the coin it was important to show that there is work to be done and certainly something more proactive would have been appreciated.

Ms. Calhoun said that they asked about a request to repeat... that isn't going to happen.  We are in VERY different times today. People aren't financially liquid like they used to be.  Neither Myself, Barry Fey or even some of the current supporters.  Why not re-invent the financing wheel.  Why not help the situation instead of talking about something from 20 years ago?

Now Trending

Denver Concert Tickets

From the Vault