Nowak rejects symphony offer

July 9, 2015
Michael Nowak

Michael Nowak

Former San Luis Obispo Symphony conductor Michael Nowak announced Thursday morning that he will not accept an invitation to conduct three concerts during the 2015-2016 season.

Nowak, who served as conductor and musical director of the Symphony since 1984, was fired by the board of directors last May for unknown reasons. The invitation to come back as a guest conductor was issued following a public outcry over the dismissal and a lengthy mediation session with symphony musicians.

Lisa Nauful, Symphony marketing director, responded to Nowak’s announcement by saying that the upcoming season continues as planned, with a series of guest conductors being invited for all six concerts, beginning October 3 at the Performing Arts Center.

Nowak also announced that he will host a Pops concert in Avila Beach on Sunday afternoon, September 6, replacing the traditional annual concert from the SLO Symphony. Jazz vocalist Inga Swearingen will perform and KVEC radio host Dave Congalton has agreed to serve as emcee. Tickets will be on sale soon.

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I’ve been in situations where I had to deal with Nowak and he was just rude and pompous. Because of this, I’ve never been a fan of his and I’d suspect he has treated lots of people discourteously during his years in the big conductor seat. It went to his head and he started believing every idea he had was the ONLY idea to be considered.

There are 2 sides to every story. It seems fairly widely reported that he had a very heated conversation, possibly in front of others with his boss. That is just not acceptable. Disagreements are going to happen, at at times tempers flair, but it can’t be a public outburst. Most organizations would look at that as insubordination at rightfully so. It appears that the board recognized his popularity with both the musicians and the public and extended an opportunity for him to lead the group for half of the calender, but, the board could not permit that behavior from a leadership position. I would say that they bent over backwards to please everyone involved. Perhaps that is the real problem. You can’t make everyone happy. If he was insubordinate, he needed to be let go.

I always wondered what the “whole” story was, as the board’s decision to remove Mr. Nowak is pretty severe… however, everytime I wondered, most people jumped in assuming there were sides to be taken, and I was a hostile enemy since I dared question anything.

Oh well, I still think something “more” had to be going on, and your theory of insubordination is interesting. BTW: get ready for the fuming masses.

The board of directors is responsible for hiring just 2 people of the multitude that make up the organization. Can you guess which two positions the board is responsible to hire? The music director does not report to the executive director, both are hired by and report directly to the board. This situation was created by the board of directors on all fronts from the turnover in the executive director position over the past 5 years to the handling of this debacle. They can’t even cancel Pops by the Sea, even though they unanimously voted to do so. They just cannot get anything right and they’ve lost the communities trust and support because of it. There are those that remain hopeful that it will endure, but at this pace a quick demise would be best so that we can truly move on. As he has done for the past 31 years, Michael Nowak continues to serve the community whereas you need to wonder who the board is serving.

You still cannot be loud and hot headed, with a coworker or a supervisor and expect to stay employed.

And in most organizations, the Executive Director has the highest level of responsibility, even if the board hires others.

And that responsibility would include for the need if it arose to have a heated conversation with an employee to do so in private out of respect for both individuals and anyone who might be around, and in this case Mr. Feingold failed over and over.

I have actually worked for people that, although they preferred it not be public, would not stand down nor hold a grudge from a public blowout. In the end, the boss is still the boss, so it’s really not an issue. That is, unless, that supervisor is insecure, has something to hide, ulterior motivations, or is incompetent. And in my experience people that are real sticklers about what is “appropriate” in matters like this are just using that as something to hide behind.