My wife and I are currently “former subscribers” to the San Luis Obispo Symphony. We had been regular attendees for more than 10 years.
The chemistry of our local symphony, with Maestro Michael Nowak and 75-plus outstanding musicians, was a family we were drawn into, even just as subscribers. We are now among the many who have not and will not renew our subscriptions until Michael Nowak returns as
conductor and music director.
Recently, the board decided to publicly insult Michael one more time by asking him to be a “guest conductor.” Interestingly, it made it a public request, because it looks like Michael was taking too long to think it over. How do you fire the music director, insult him with no explanation, and then invite him to be their guest “to acknowledge (his) contributions to the orchestra’s excellence”?
Translation: “We really don’t want you back, but we did not know our subscribers have far more respect for you than they ever had for us, and we are not prepared to admit how wrong we are.”
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I am relieved to hear that Michael has made the most honorable choice and said “no!” Michael is not a “guest conductor,” and the community’s growing respect for him will prove this to be the correct choice.
Longtime generous benefactors have spoken with their hearts and their wallets. They have been clearly shocked by the conduct of the current board. With the exception of some letters to the editor, few of the “common folk” who love this orchestra have publicly stood up to be heard.
As a member of the latter group, many of us have discussed this injustice with our friends. It is time for those of us who are unable to speak with a big wallet to speak out with our voices. It has been hard to watch this symphony board attempt to destroy Michael and the musical family (performers and listeners) he has shepherded for more than 30 years.
Michael and the musicians have now delivered their own first concert (sold out), and they put it together from scratch in less than a month. The board has delivered us
canceled events, composers canceling commissions and zero explanation of any of its actions.
According to a Tribune article (and email to symphony subscribers), “instead” of Pops by the Sea, the organization’s energy will be put into a New Year’s Eve concert. Yet the symphony is not replacing one event with the other. For over a year, both events have been calendared. But they do need to find a new soloist for the evening. After the dismissal of Michael, Soprano Maria Jette, who had been invited to perform, made it very clear she will not be part of this event without Maestro Nowak.
Does this symphony belong to the community or just the 12 board members?
India D’Avignon, the past board president, says: “Things are healing between the board and the orchestra. We’re collaborating so much more than we ever had (before).”
Translation: “We are ignoring the musicians less than we previously did.”
India, in case you did not notice, 60 of them and 500-plus audience members, including former subscribers, together with Maestro Nowak, enjoyed an inspiring concert on June 29. It did not take a “board” to make it happen. It took a community.
The board’s manipulation of the truth to save face is saving it nothing. At least one-third of early renewing subscribers have demanded a full refund. A larger number, like us, have refused to renew. At least two-thirds of the musicians signed a vote of no confidence.
By this time, I would have expected the current symphony board to realize they have lost their hold on a crisis of their own creation. Current board members are clueless about the community’s extensive loss of respect for them.
The best they seem to be able to muster are a handful of letters to the editor and a Viewpoint from a semi-unknown composer who seems to believe Michael Nowak has become irrelevant. In Ted Peterson’s Viewpoint (Tribune, June 27), he seems to think nothing new or different is ever presented under Michael Nowak’s tutelage.
Yet in the recent past, based upon Michael’s relationships with renowned artists, Jose Maria Gallardo Del Ray was commissioned for an original work, “Glosas.” This was an exciting work for the orchestra with soloists on guitar and violin, plus a cajon added. Since my personal preferred musical genre is folk/Americana, I was not startled by this work. I was only awed by its breadth … and the number of attendees saying, “What’s a cajon?” after the concert. Not “new” enough?
Because of Michael’s departure (dismissal), there will be other new and contemporary opportunities falling by the wayside. Joel McNeely had been commissioned for a new work for symphony and violin to be premiered this spring. Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra concertmaster Margaret Batjer was to be the soloist. Joel and Margaret have both publicly made known their choice to withdraw from this project. Their departure was solely based upon Michael’s dismissal.
To the board: You threw out a 30-plus-year community treasure. And the community (your former benefactors) and the musicians are leaving with him. You still don’t get it, do you?