SLO Symphony cancels Pops by the Sea, plans new concert instead

The annual Pops by the Sea celebrated its 30th birthday at the Avila Beach Golf Resort on Sunday, Sept. 1, 2013.
The annual Pops by the Sea celebrated its 30th birthday at the Avila Beach Golf Resort on Sunday, Sept. 1, 2013. ldickinson@thetribunenews.com

UPDATE: Why SLO Symphony canceled Pops by the Sea »

The San Luis Obispo Symphony has canceled its popular Pops by the Sea concert Sept. 6, saying that it plans to offer instead a New Year's Eve Pops concert at the Performing Arts Center in San Luis Obispo.

The annual concert has traditionally been held on Labor Day weekend at Avila Beach Golf Resort. It would have marked the beginning of the symphony’s 2015-16 season.

Concertgoers expressed their disappointment Monday via social media.

“So sad,” Aimee Aguilar wrote on The Tribune’s Facebook page. “We go every year, but it wouldn’t be the same without (longtime symphony Music Director) Michael Nowak.”

According to a news release sent at 10:47 p.m. Sunday, the decision to suspend Pops by the Sea this year was made by the symphony’s board of directors and orchestra musicians. It comes as the group is grappling with the aftermath its decision to terminate Nowak’s contract after 31 years with the symphony. The board has not given a reason for his dismissal.

“The orchestra, board and staff will use the time normally spent preparing for Pops by the Sea to collaborate closely on the presentation of our 2015-16 concert season,” symphony Executive Director Edmund Feingold said in the news release.

On Monday, Nowak called the cancellation “a pity,” noting that the Avila Beach concert is one of the symphony’s most successful events.

“It usually does make money,” Nowak said. “It’s also the biggest outreach (the symphony has) with the community each year.”

Board President Liz Summer on Monday declined repeated requests to discuss why Pops by the Sea was canceled, how much money it typically raised for the symphony and how much the New Year’s Eve event would likely generate.

The symphony has been under increasing financial pressure in recent years, reporting a loss of $13,400 in the fiscal year ended June 30, 2014 — the most recent information available.

The Tribune left messages for seven other voting members of the 13-member symphony board Monday, seeking comment. 

India D’Avignon, immediate past board president, said only that she wasn’t part of the decision. But she noted that the joint news release is a hopeful sign. 

“Things are healing between the board and the orchestra,” she said. “We’re collaborating so much more than we ever had (before).”

Sunday’s announcement came on the heels of the resignations of two symphony stage managers.

Sam Moore, who worked for the symphony on and off since 1990, served as stage manager of Pops by the Sea for 13 years before resigning from that post in May.

Stage manager Thor Larsen, who coordinated symphony events at the Performing Arts Center and other area venues, also left his job with the organization.

Moore formally announced his resignation in a letter to Feingold sent May 19, noting his departure was motivated by Nowak’s ouster.

“I thought they had made a great mistake,” Moore said.

By terminating Nowak’s contract, Moore wrote, “(the board is) taking the family atmosphere out of the symphony.”

Moore didn’t know whether his resignation played a role in the decision to cancel Pops by the Sea.

“Quite honestly, they could do Pops without me,” he said.

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