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.
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:
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.