SLO Symphony conductor fired, violists threaten exodus
May 19, 2015
The San Luis Obispo Symphony board of directors has fired its longtime music conductor and director, Michael Nowak, prompting the entire violist section to threaten leaving the orchestra.
Last week, the board announced in a press release that Nowak was stepping down from the conductor position he held for 31 years. But, Nowak’s wife, Zette Harbour, told CalCoastNews that Nowak did not choose to step down.
The board invited Nowak and Harbour to attend a meeting Thursday about the symphony’s future. There, the board told Nowak his services were no longer needed and refused to provide a reason for firing him, Harbour said.
The board has since confirmed that it fired Nowak, but has offered no reason for doing so.
Violinist Bill Alpert speculated in an email Monday that the board was unhappy with Nowak’s “artistic and/or strategic vision for the group.”
On Friday, the viola section sent an email to symphony Executive Director Edmund Feingold demanding that Nowak, also a violist, be reinstated as music director.
“We, the members of the San Luis Obispo Symphony viola section, are APPALLED that the symphony board chose — with a press release — to sever the 31-year tenure of our conductor, fellow violist and friend, Michael Nowak,” the email states. “If Mike is not reinstated, then we — the entire viola section — will RESIGN.”
A change.org petition is also calling for Nowak’s reinstatement as music director and conductor.
“We passionately ask the board of directors to reconsider its decision. He is irreplaceable,” the petition states. “Michael Nowak has become for us a member of an extended family; so personal is this that many of us feel we have lost one of our own and indeed we have.”
The petition has 253 online signatures, as of Tuesday.
On Sunday night, Board President India D’Avignon sent an email to symphony members apologizing for the way the announcement of Nowak’s firing occurred. In the apology email, D’Avignon, a Cal Poly music professor, offered an explanation of how the announcement unfolded.
“Thursday afternoon I planned to send an email about a 9am meeting on Saturday morning that I scheduled for you to discuss this situation. I then found out about Verdi rehearsals and that there was a rehearsal that Thursday evening. It was suggested that I go talk with you after rehearsal instead of waiting until Saturday, so I did not send the email knowing that I would see you in a few hours. But the press release went out and reached you before I did,” D’Avignon’s email states. “I am so very, very sorry.”
D’Avignon made no indication in the email that the board is reconsidering its decision to fire Nowak.
Nowak has performed in and conducted in more than 800 films, the symphony website states. He has conducted scores in films that include Life of Pi, The Hangover, An American Gangster and Spider-Man.