Dueling Comments on the Shocking Termination of California Symphony Conductor Barry Jekowsky

If people never paid attention to classical music, especially the Bay Area classical music scene, they are paying attention now with the news that Barry Jekowsky, the founder and music director of the California Symphony, was terminated last week.

As I reported on Walnut Creek Patch, Michael Soza, the president of the board of the professional, acclaimed California Symphony, told the Contra Costa Times that Jekowsky would be leaving the orchestra after 24 years “to pursue other interests.”
Jekowsky said learned through the press that he was out of a job. He said he didn’t know that board members were meeting to discuss his departure this week and the news came as a “complete surprise.”

Here is what Jekowsky had to say about the events in a press release he issued:

California Symphony founding Music Director Barry Jekowsky says that yesterday’s announcement by Michael Soza, president of the Board of Directors, that “Jekowsky will leave the organization to pursue other interests,” came as a complete surprise. Not only had the board failed to notify him of any departure, Jekowsky was never told that that such an action was even being considered, although the conduct of a few Executive Board members led him to believe that something was awry.

Only seven out of 25 board members were in attendance during Tuesday’s executive session at which the decision was allegedly made. Indeed, according to various board members who were not present, no notice had been given that Jekowsky’s employment was being reviewed, much less in jeopardy.

Upon hearing of the announcement, Michael Wiener, one of the California Symphony’s most active board members, stated in a letter to Soza that “it is with great dismay and disbelief that I heard about the Board’s decision to terminate its relationship with Barry Jekowsky…. When was the decision to terminate Barry introduced, by whom, in what forum, and what discussions were entertained before bringing the matter to the entire Board for a vote? At what point was the consideration to hire a guest conductor made? Was that before or after the board was asked to terminate Barry? There are clearly many other questions that emanate from these. Please provide me some background to permit a rational understanding of the value of this decision, both for the California Symphony and Barry Jekowsky.”

According to Jekowsky, several weeks ago the Symphony Executive Board presented him with a written contract proposal and a demand that it be negotiated within days, even though the Music Director had been asking to negotiate a written agreement for the past eight years. He requested, and was refused, an opportunity to discuss the terms with Soza, Jekowsky says; instead, Soza left a voicemail message that a guest conductor had been hired for the first concert, only two weeks away.

“While I am sad at the recent turn of events, I am profoundly grateful to have been a part of the California Symphony’s unique legacy,” Jekowsky says. “Twenty-four years ago, I had a vision of an orchestra that would celebrate American music, nurture the next generation of American composers, showcase extraordinarily-gifted young musicians, and help redefine the classical experience to appeal to a broader audience. For nearly a quarter of a century, I have been lucky enough to live my dream of making that happen. But it would not have been possible without the dedication of our talented musicians, who are the very fiber of the California Symphony; the scores of volunteers and donors who kept the lights on during tough economic times like these; an amazing staff and the many board members, past and present, who absolutely made it happen.”

Soza fired back with his version of events in an email he sent to symphony subscribers and contributors:

Dear Friends,

I thank you for your steadfast support of the California Symphony in the past. I know the recent news regarding Barry Jekowsky’s departure is surprising and perhaps shocking to some. I am saddened by these events as well. I know that many of you are looking for answers. As often happens, the stories in the press do not accurately reflect the facts and true chain of events.

I don’t believe it is appropriate to discuss details of personnel matters, and I ask you to believe that the Board thoughtfully considered the issues and acted in what was believed to be in the best long-term interest of the California Symphony.

I would also ask you to consider the following before making an immediate conclusion:

The Symphony provides a professional orchestral experience in the East Bay, which is of the highest quality. The Board of Directors is committed to continue this legacy. We have already contracted with an acclaimed conductor, Asher Raboy, to begin our concert series on October 3. We will continue the current season with three more guest conductors and the same high quality musicians that we have always had.

The symphony is not about any one person, but the vision. The vision is shared by the board and will be carried forward.

Barry and Rosalind Jekowsky were visionaries in the creation of the California Symphony. It is our job as stewards of the organization to do the best we can to ensure its survival and ultimate success. The past two years have been very difficult for all of us in trying to make the organization viable and sustainable. Many donors stepped up to help out when we asked. For that, we are grateful.

At this time, I ask that you give us the chance to show you, our Stakeholders, that we are serving your best interests and are being good stewards of your contributions. We are here for the community, not any one individual. Above all else, we must ensure the long-term viability of the organization so that we can continue to enrich lives in our community.

I support the California Symphony because I believe it enriches our community in a way unlike any other organization; a key example being the Music in Schools program, which has contributed to the well being and education of thousands of children in the community.

The recent turn of events also offer us a time to reflect on how we can take the organization into the future. I encourage you to contact us and let us know how we can make the organization better, or consider volunteering on a committee to help us continue to deliver the high caliber of services to our community.

As the Symphony looks forward to its 25th Anniversary celebration next year, we plan to continue and strengthen our role as a vibrant part of the Contra Costa County arts community.

I hope I will see you at the Opening Season Concert on October 3 and at the Ball on October 23rd, and if not, I hope you see that we enrich your community in the coming year so that we earn your trust and respect, and make you consider us worthy of your continued contributions in the future.

15 thoughts on “Dueling Comments on the Shocking Termination of California Symphony Conductor Barry Jekowsky

  1. I think Mr. Soza's comments do nothing to clear anything up. How can seven board members decide something when there are a total of 25 board members?


  2. Barry Jekowsky is an ungrateful and rude egomaniac. The orchestra was actually created by his former inlaws with their money so “junior” would have a place to “conduct”. After many years, many professional musicians won't even play for him. Gee Barry, is the Berlin Phil calling? Oh…, that was a recording…, back to the percussion section.


  3. Anon. #1,

    If you are a member of this community, you should care. I am sure that the music lovers, school children who have benefited from the youth programs and of course the various restaurants and businesses who get business from concert attendees and musicians care.

    A vital and viable symphony orchestra in our town and region a an important part of our everyday life and is certainly good for the financial health of our city.

    Anon #2,

    You sound like a disgruntled musician who may have butted heads with Jekowsky over the years.

    I doubt that Jekowsky is any ruder or egomaniacal than you and he certainly does not deserve to be castigated by an anonymous person on this blog.

    Just so you know, Barry's “former inlaws” are his current inlaws and yes, they did help to fund the California Symphony during the first five years of its existence. Since then the Board of Directors and Barry have worked very hard to garner financial support from the community.

    There is a lot that none of us know about this whole affair and I do believe that it is better for everyone if we don't jump to conclusions without all of the facts. However, when you do present facts, be very careful that you have them straight.


  4. I agree with poster 10:42 on every point except for the last sarcastic comment, which was unnecessary. I played for Barry as well and won't play again. I'm not a “disgruntled” player since I am in a nearby professional orchestra and that's how I make my living. I (and many others) won't play for Barry because of the reasons a colleague listed. A real shame actually.


  5. Please, oh please musicians tell me what conductor is not an ungrateful, rude egomaniac?

    Want to talk about Zubin Mehta? Saw him perform with the New York Philharmonic at the Concord Pavilion and not only was he rude to the orchestra when they were disturbed by the smell of a skunk, he was extremely rude to the audience as well. His steely cold stare at the audience as they dared to applaud at the wrong time was not appropriate, especially for the setting. He actually stopped the opening piece midstream and glared at the few late-comers as they walked quietly down the stairs to their seats.

    I have watched Jekowsky conduct for over ten years and have never witnessed behavior towards an audience such as I witnessed by Maestro Mehta. In fact if you polled Jekowsky's audiences I would bet that well over 90% would tell you that they feel a part of the orchestra family because of the way in which he shows them respect.

    John Beccerra


  6. Oh brother…, conductors like Zubin Mehta are major league. Barry is not, but a very fine drummer. Case closed. You're a Barry-lover, that's fine. Thanks for your opinion, and that's exactly that, YOUR OPINION.

    My my John Beccerra, you comment on everything don't you? Especially on Walnut Creek Patch…


  7. I did not offer the opinion that Barry was in the same league as Maestro Mehta. If he were he would not be wasting his time with unhappy musicians in Walnut Creek.

    I am entitled to my opinion regarding what Jekowsky has done to bring high quality classical music to our area and thank him for it.

    As to my postings on WC Patch, what has that to do with this discussion and how does that affect you? If you didn't hide behind the Anonymous tag then maybe everyone else could keep track of your postings.

    John Beccerra


  8. John (if that's who you are), I believe that you were the one who brought up Zubin Mehta's name, not Anon 7:51. You are entitled to your opinion as the other poster has said. He/she is entitled as well. Too much spin from you I'm sorry to say. And if people want to post anonymously? They can if they want, so give it a rest.


  9. More than a silly and pointless discussion…, more like pathetic. Who cares about spoiled amateur/semi-professional conductors?


  10. We moved to Reno in 2005 – attended a lot of BJ concerts . . .we will always remember his Mahler concerts, also the Nadia S Sonnenberg concerto – all in all, we proably were more energized by the Reno Phil then than now. All the best to BJ


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