Letters to the Editor

SLO Symphony leaders: Why our decision on Michael Nowak won't change

Conductor Michael Nowak leads the San Luis Obispo Symphony through a rehearsal in 2011.
Conductor Michael Nowak leads the San Luis Obispo Symphony through a rehearsal in 2011. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

The Board of Directors of the San Luis Obispo Symphony recently voted unanimously to terminate its contract with symphony conductor Maestro Michael Nowak. Our board deliberated long and hard before coming to this difficult decision. It is a confidential personnel matter and as such, the details cannot be discussed.

The decision had nothing to do with artistic differences, programming choices or vision for the organization. It was not a reaction to a single incident. We recognize that this is an unsatisfying response to a very public issue. We also believe that anyone in business who has been in a similar situation will understand the frustration of being unable to speak out on a personnel matter. We are bound by legal limitations and privacy requirements.

What we can say is that we exhausted every other option before taking this action. We now find ourselves at the center of a community debate fueled by misinformation and accusation. There are two sides to every story, and we simply are not allowed to tell ours.

We are respected, hard-working, involved community members who volunteer precious hours and donate funds to this organization because of our fervent belief in the symphony and the music it brings to our community. We are passionate about our orchestra, our youth symphony and our Strings in Schools education program, but now the very programs and services we have worked so hard to build are being threatened to punish us for taking an unpopular action. We understand the confusion and anger that has resulted from our difficult decision. We ask your support to ensure the vitality of the organization as we move forward.

Our decision will not change. The symphony has had excessive staff turnover in the last five years, and we must bring stability back to the organization. We must focus on the future as we, like symphonies throughout the country, wrestle with diminishing resources and the need to attract new generation audiences. We recognize Michael Nowak’s sweeping contributions to the organization and his undeniable artistic excellence. His talent was never in question, but as a board, we have legal and financial obligations to protect the organization, its employees, donors and patrons. That is what we are doing. We truly wish things with Michael had ended differently.

The San Luis Obispo Symphony was born from a community’s love for music, and for over 50 years we have steadfastly held to that vision. We are moving forward and beyond this unfortunate personnel matter. The symphony is a community asset, and we need your help to secure its future.