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Nashville Symphony settles with creditors on hall debt

By Tim Ghianni

NASHVILLE, Tenn (Reuters) - Just days before a foreclosure auction of its performance hall, the Nashville Symphony has struck a deal with creditors to settle an $82.3 million debt from the construction of the seven-year-old structure.

It was not immediately clear what was behind the eleventh-hour rescue of the orchestra, whose financial troubles echo those of other classical music ensembles nationwide, as the economy has cut into ticket sales and outside funding.

Under the terms of the agreement, "all of the symphony's obligations to its commercial lenders have been resolved, and the banks' recent foreclosure notice has been withdrawn," a statement from the symphony said on Monday. The auction for the hall had been scheduled for June 28.

The debt was the balance of a $102 million bond issue for the construction of the Schermerhorn Symphony Center in 2006. The Center was severely damaged by a flood in 2010 but has since been repaired. Some of the loss was recovered through federal funds.

The Nashville Symphony has told subscribers that it has been operating at a loss and needs to take aggressive actions to improve its finances.

Nashville billionaire businesswoman and philanthropist Martha Ingram, who helped lead the campaign to build the hall, said she had played a role in averting the foreclosure but would not disclose details.

While she celebrated the resolution, she added, "It is clear now that the symphony organization has work to do to improve its operating results and develop increased annual support."

Though Nashville is known for its country music, the symphony has won several Grammy awards and sells out many performances.

"It is because we recognize the orchestra's importance to this community that we were able to come together and work so hard to make this happen," Bank of America spokeswoman Shirley Norton said in a statement from corporate headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina. The bank is the symphony's lead creditor.

Meanwhile, there has been no resolution reported in contract talks between the orchestra and its 85 musicians. Both the musicians' union and the Nashville Symphony Association have agreed to a media blackout of negotiations.

Several symphonies have been troubled by labor disputes with musicians in the past year, including the Minnesota Orchestra; the San Francisco Symphony, whose musicians struck for more than two weeks in March; and the Chicago Symphony, whose musicians walked out for 48 hours last fall before an agreement was reached.

(Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Steve Orlofsky)

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