Letters to the Editor


March 09, 2003

Thanks for support during ASO turmoil

During my five years as Music Director of the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra (ASO), my responsibilities have been to bring the artistry of our musicians to the highest level and to present guest artists who offer performances that our audiences can appreciate and enjoy. It has been a growth experience for both the ASO and myself. Our combined efforts have met with critical success in Annapolis as well as Baltimore and Washington, D.C. We received national recognition for our innovative composer residency and Painted Violins fund raiser. Moreover, the children in our community have shown a threefold increase in the arts in our adopted school.

In February of 2002, the symphony's Board of Trustees voted to renew my contract for the 2003-2004 season. On Nov. 21, I was informed in a meeting that the Executive Committee had met and voted not to renew my contract and that the decision was final. The full board was not informed of the Executive Committee's decision until after the fact, excluding them from substantive involvement in the decision-making process.

Repercussions have been local, national, and international.

The Executive Committee's decision, and the manner in which it was handled resulted in strong public outcry: letters were written to the Board of Trustees, including a letter of dissent signed by a clear majority of the contracted orchestra members available for signing, a petition signed by former board members, current donors and patrons, former staff, a former Annapolis Mayor, as well as a letter to the Board Chair from Mayor [Ellen] Moyer that read, "The perception of a cavalier act without merit has the prospect of damaging the ASO."

Rumors abounded based on non-information and innuendo given to the press. From within the ranks of the orchestra itself and concert patrons I have been asked directly if I have committed a crime or been convicted of a felony. One international colleague told me that ... quotes from the Board's chair regarding the ASO on the "Musical America" Web site, America's International Directory of the Performing Arts and classical music journal, have been damaging to me in the extreme.

The ASO Board has since expressed mixed and contradictory reasons for the Executive Committee's decision. A November ASO statement to the press suggested sagging subscription sales as a reason for the non-renewal of my contract. Later, the public reason was money concerns combined with a desire among board members for a new musical direction (to date not explained). It has become clear, by the Chairman's own admission, that "The original reasons are not the real reasons." In mid-January, according to the Chairman, "Personnel issues solely related to administrative matters" were the main reason for the decision.

Music directors select programs, repertoire, guest artists, and musicians (through a blind audition process). The personnel manager hires musicians: the Executive Director signs all contracts. The Music Director does not handle either of these administrative jobs. I have sought to promote young talent and guest conductors whose musical ideas and talents help our audience grow in knowledge and appreciation for the classical arts. As in many fields, such exchanges of talent and professional keep the orchestra and the audience dynamic.

I have been asked if race was a factor in the board's decision. I have no reason to believe so: My sensibilities would not infer one. I have no racial agenda.

Though I am disappointed with our current situation, my actions and professional decisions have been forthright, honest, and respectful. They will continue to be so.

On March 10 the Annapolis City Council is slated to vote on the proposed resolution recognizing the many accomplishment we have achieved during my tenure with the ASO, while expressing displeasure at the board's decision. My sincere thanks to Mayor Moyer, County Executive Assistant [Carl] Snowden, Councilpersons [George] Kelley, [Cynthia] Carter, [Classie Gillis] Hoyle and their colleagues for their gracious support. My thanks also to the hundreds of people who have written letters of support, worn ribbons at concerts, and have been outspoken on my behalf: Your offering of solidarity has helped me appreciate the vitality of the Annapolis community.

The ASO musicians continue to provide peak performances during a time of great stress. It is a tribute to them, their respect for this art form, and respect for our audience. My heartfelt thanks are extended to all of you. I have come to love Annapolis: Your warmth and welcome have made me happy with my choice to live here.

Leslie B. Dunner


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