Dispute over orchestra director leads to flurry of newspaper ads

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Dispute over orchestra director leads to flurry of newspaper ads

Published Monday, December 6, 2010   |  704 Words  |  

The dispute over the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra's decision to not extend music director Mary Woodmansee Green's contract is being waged with dueling newspaper advertisements.

The latest ad -- spanning two full pages Monday in The Island Packet -- was purchased by Green's supporters, apparently in response to a full-page ad paid for by supporters of the nonprofit orchestra's board of directors. That advertisement appeared Nov. 3 in the Packet as a response to a "Save our Symphony" petition circulated by Green supporters.

Green could not be reached for comment Monday.

A list of nearly 600 petition signers and an open letter to the orchestra board appeared in Monday's ad. It criticized the board's decision to let Green's contract expire in June. The petition requests that Green be offered a three-year extension as music director "on mutually acceptable terms" and no significant changes occur to the music selection.

"There's no other way we can get through to the orchestra board than to do something like this. ... We met a stone wall," said George Gorski-Popiel, an orchestra donor and one of eight who signed the open letter to the orchestra board. "The petition got itself going. We merely measured and documented the widespread unhappiness and deeply felt disagreement with the actions by the board. ... Whether we will succeed or not, I don't know. I hope so."

Orchestra board chairman Ed Parrish and executive director Mary Briggs said the group has a right to campaign and solicit supporters, but the board has no intention of changing its position.

"In the long run, this will rejuvenate the orchestra experience for the community," Briggs said of the changes.

As to the controversy, she said, "I wish this weren't the way things were going. I don't know what more can be said. We hope people will get supportive of the decision."

Orchestra officials have said they want new direction and to attract a more diverse audience through broader programming. Green has said she was open to program changes.

Another factor was the orchestra's finances. It lost $240,000 in the 2006-07 season, forcing the board to tap reserves. It has lost money each year since and had about $150,000 in reserves at the end of June. That figure used to be about $400,000, Briggs said.

Between 2008 and 2009, revenues were down about $331,000 -- $187,000 in lost investments and $117,000 in reduced contributions and grants -- according to the latest tax filing for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2009.

The orchestra lost $422,104 in 2009 and $158,486 in 2008.

Briggs said the orchestra hopes to hire a part-time development director through "one-time donor support" to seek corporate contributions and grants.

The orchestra also applied last week for $100,000 in town accommodations-tax revenue to cover expenses and begin to rebuild reserves.

Gorski-Popiel and other petition signers argue financial losses the last three seasons were caused by the national recession, not Green's performance.

"Maintaining the financial stability of the organization is the job of the board, not the job of the music director. I think Ms. Green has done her best," said Thomas Tucker, a former orchestra board member and donor. "I think questions of the programming offered is a matter of taste."

Gorski-Popiel and others also argue Green provided a wide variety of musical styles.

"She is the one ingredient that is, financially, the biggest draw," Gorski-Popiel said. "It's a mystery why they don't want to go along with our suggestion, and the only reason seems to be the orchestra doesn't get along with Mary Green, which we don't see as a good reason."

More than 100 people have applied for Green's job, Briggs said.

She said the orchestra will accept applications until Dec. 15. The field will be reduced to six candidates by March 30, and they will perform with the orchestra during the 2011-12 season. The board hopes to name a new music director by the end of March 2012. The director would start in July, Briggs said.

Green was paid $113,940 for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2009, according to the orchestra's latest tax filing.