SLO Symphony will no longer work with the board

May 24, 2015

Michael Nowak 2In response to the San Luis Obispo Symphony’s Board of Directors firing longtime director Michael Nowak, the symphony’s musicians said in a press release on Saturday that they can no longer work with the current board.

“We, the musicians of the San Luis Obispo Symphony, resolve that the current Board of Directors has broken our trust,” the press release says. “Therefore, we can no longer work with them, and we proclaim our vote of no confidence. We wish to thank the community for the groundswell of support.”

On May 14, the board announced in a press release that Nowak was stepping down from the conductor position he held for 31 years.

But, Nowak’ did not voluntarily step down. Before his firing, the board invited Nowak and his wife Zette Harbour to attend a meeting 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.

Lat week, 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 9 a.m. 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.”

The board had voted unanimously to terminate Nowak, a decision the board announced they are not reconsidering. While saying they cannot disclose the reason for Nowak’s termination because of privacy issues, the board said in an opinion in the Tribune that there had been issues with high staff turnovers.

Multiple symphony donors, supporters and musicians are questioning Nowak’s termination. Suggestions include forming a new symphony and holding back donations.



  1. SLOthinker says:

    The glaring question this article doesn’t answer is how many of the musicians were supporting the letter? If it’s from all, or a sizable majority, the BOD is toast. If it’s just a few, I don’t know.

    (7) 7 Total Votes - 7 up - 0 down
  2. achillesheal says:

    “Check” – Your move board of directors. Should be an interesting one.

    (24) 26 Total Votes - 25 up - 1 down
  3. CentralcoastRN says:

    I think the Board thought the musicians would simply sit and take it…..

    I have played an instrument for years. It creates a balance to the analytical mind. There is something magical to sit down and create music. To hear something that I, the musician, play. I feel it. I BECOME it. My body slowly sways, my foot slowly taps, my heart softly beats, while my soul soars to the sound of the music I play. If I play with others, they are my companions on a journey. My conductor is a leader in battle if the song is fierce, my shepard if the journey is rough. Music is an adventure.

    The conductor guides the musician and helps push a bit farther. 31 years means the man was CERTAINLY quite experienced and taught many musicians a thing or two to up their craft.

    This brings me to my point; joy. Music is joy. I would not want to have anything to do with this Board if I were a musician in the SLO Symphony. They have demonstrated heartlessness and joy sucking. You don’t fire a 31 year respected conductor in an email at the same time white collar employees are getting 100k plus severance packages for stealing money and having sex on the job. The conductor just wanted to make music man. Yeah, the Board just… sucks. But if they search Youtube, I have seen all KINDS of interesting replacements. A lady can play a kazoo with all of her body parts, there is a whole section who can “arm fart” the musical score to various music, another can “belch” it…. they are all set!

    (16) 28 Total Votes - 22 up - 6 down
  4. Plato says:

    I comment for several reasons. I am from a small city in the Midwest. I would like to point out that the advent of social media means that the parties in this squabble stand to have their dirty laundry aired all over the globe. Your actions will impact public opinion on your organization and community more now that in past years. Good fortune.

    Next I would like to point out that the action of firing the conductor was obviously not thought out well. This is true no matter who you support in this fight. Hiring a new conductor is a large task that is fraught with peril. A mistake can do irreparable harm in a short amount of time. Changing conductors takes a long time and a lot of effort. Further, the release of the conductor on such short notice will cause him a lot of financial harm. With more notice he could have perhaps pursued another position for next season. Both the conductor and the orchestra are in a bad place given the way this was handled. So even if it was time for the conductor to go, the decision to make the change in this manner is suspect and reflects poorly on everyone involved who supported it.

    I am sure all of us in the international music community will be watching to see how this unfortunate drama unfolds.

    (47) 49 Total Votes - 48 up - 1 down
    • hijinks says:

      Plato, you leave out the most obvious problem. What reputable new conductor would be willing to come to work for these clowns of directors given how they treated Michael? The symphony is dead. May as well pack it up and ship it off to the graveyard, unless these directors will get off their ego trip and just resign, making room for some sanity in an insane bunch. They’re all like Ashbaugh on the city council.

      From this ash heap a new symphony, under new leadership, will rise.

      (12) 16 Total Votes - 14 up - 2 down
  5. SamLouis says:

    I suspect the following is extremely germane to the SLO Symphony BOD’s recent obnoxious behavior:

    “Monterey Symphony Executive Director Edmund Feingold (now SLO Symphony’s executive director), after three years on the job, will leave the post to `pursue other interests.’

    `Ed had a three-year contract, which he had fulfilled, and the board of directors chose not to continue his contract,’ said Lee Rosen, chairman of the board of directors, on Friday. `We wanted to pursue organizational changes and move in a different direction. He left by mutual agreement…'”

    Feingold looks like a worm to me (nice Ivy League cut on his suit though):

    (25) 33 Total Votes - 29 up - 4 down
  6. musicman says:

    I would be concerned about a high turnover rate with the musicians rather than the Board of Directors and their staff. It looks to me like this Board could very will cause a huge turnover rate with the musicians and that is very alarming.

    They say they want mediation with the musicians, they don’t mention Michael Nowak. If they were honestly seeking a solution, the mediation would include Michael Nowak.

    Perhaps it is time to start organizing some picketing. Maybe we should have some bumper stickers made that say, “Bring Michael Back.”

    I get the feeling that they think this will all just fade and go away. I think they are wrong.

    (39) 49 Total Votes - 44 up - 5 down
  7. micsca says:

    What the Board does not realize, is that nobody gives a flying F**k about them. It is about the music, and the musicians. So Nowak was fired because of a squabble over a donation. So maybe the Board needs a message. How about we boycott the businesses that the board members work for.
    Hertitage Oaks Bank
    Pacific Western Bank
    Heath Haven Ranch
    Sinsheimer, Juhnke, McIvor & Stroh, LLP
    Glenn Burdette
    Edward Jones Investments
    Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center

    Nobody gives a damn about the arrogant, snobby a—hole Board of Directors, and they need to be reminded of that. The President is some two-bit Associate professor from Cal Poly who thinks she knows best. Perhaps she should consider the possibility that she is the one causing the problems.

    (65) 83 Total Votes - 74 up - 9 down
    • Dave says:

      Tough talk from someone who won’t even put his name to his opinion. You’re going to boycott Sierra Vista? Right.

      You can disagree with the Board’s decision (as do I), you can criticize the board’s decision (as do I), but I draw the line at personal attacks on board members or their businesses. Pacific Western Bank, for example, does not deserve to be punished for the actions of one of their employees unrelated to the bank.

      Sadly, the mob mentality has begun. Shame on all of you who Liked the above Anonymous posting. Careful what you wish for–your business could be next on a different issue.

      Dave Congalton

      (2) 32 Total Votes - 17 up - 15 down
  8. tomsquawk says:

    31 years and this surfaces now? Sounds like newbies whining and somebody wants his job

    (48) 58 Total Votes - 53 up - 5 down
  9. Rich in MB says:

    Time to replace the Board…..

    (62) 70 Total Votes - 66 up - 4 down

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