Port Angeles Symphony Orchestra lets Seattle conductor go

By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — As of this week, the Port Angeles Symphony Orchestra is seeking a new conductor and programmer.

The symphony’s board of directors voted Tuesday night not to renew its contract with Adam Stern, the orchestra’s music director since 2005.

“We want to make this a better symphony for the community as a whole,” longtime board member Chuck Whitney said of the 82-year-old orchestra, whose 55 musicians come from Port Townsend, Sequim, Port Angeles and Forks.

The Port Angeles Symphony’s players are volunteers. They’re also members of the only North Olympic Peninsula orchestra with a professional music director from Seattle.

But “we felt a new conductor could satisfy our goals,” Whitney said.

Stern, 58, also conducts the Seattle Philharmonic Orchestra and teaches composition, film music history and conducting at the Cornish College of the Arts.

He had come to Port Angeles for the symphony’s annual meeting Tuesday night. After that, the board met and “debated very strongly” its future with or without Stern, Whitney said.

The conductor was driving back to Seattle when Mary Ann Unger, the newly elected board president, phoned. They didn’t connect until Wednesday morning.

“It was not an easy call to make,” Unger said.

In an email to the Peninsula Daily News, Stern wrote: “The decision to leave PASO was, emphatically, not mine.

“In the course of nine years, there were inevitable challenges and disagreements, but nothing that couldn’t have been worked out had more individuals been open to doing so,” he added.

“When ill will is allowed to fester, when the object of the ill will is not dealt with directly, then catastrophe is a virtual certainty.”

The conductor declined further comment, while Whitney sought to describe the situation differently.

“I would say there was no ill will. There was great admiration for Adam’s talents as a conductor and a musician,” he said.

But Stern’s goals of “how to make the symphony effective for our community” differed from the board majority who voted to end his contract.

Stern’s goal was to make the symphony “a world-class orchestra. And we wanted a community orchestra,” Whitney said.

“For one thing, we would like to have a director who lives in Port Angeles or in the Port Angeles area.”

There’s more to it, Whitney said, though he didn’t want to elaborate.

Stern, who succeeded 18-year conductor Nico Snel after his death in 2003, raised the bar for volunteer orchestras, according to the symphony’s statement issued Thursday.

Unger, for her part, said the symphony will begin its search for a new conductor this summer while preparing for the 2014-15 concert season.

The first two are the “Pops and Picnic” events Sept. 26 in Sequim and Sept. 27 in Port Angeles; then, from November until May, come five Port Angeles Symphony Orchestra concerts and six Port Angeles Chamber Orchestra performances.

“I’m anxious to see the variety of options we may have available to us with a new conductor,” Unger said, adding that the board will seek input from the orchestra’s musicians.

“There is a lot of potential for growth,” she said.

The search for a new music director will start here in Port Angeles, added Mark Wendeborn, symphony executive director.

“Second, we’ll talk to a number of friends in the music world and have them suggest candidates.”

The search could take up to a year, he estimated, while candidates may come to town as guest conductors during the season.

Whitney and Wendeborn would not disclose the salary range, saying only that Stern was paid “a half-time salary.”

In his years with the symphony, Stern brought in many guest soloists from Seattle’s classical music community, including singer Kamila Dameron, whom he married in March 2013.

After Dameron’s Saturday night performance with the orchestra, Stern announced they had wed that very afternoon in Port Angeles.

Stern’s skills as a music director “are unparalleled for any community symphony that I’m aware of,” said Whitney, who after leading the conductor search committee back in 2005 made the call to hire Stern.

“Maestro Stern’s dedication,” Wendeborn noted, “will be missed by our community.”

Stern will be busy this summer: Besides his work at Cornish and with the Seattle Philharmonic, he’ll guest-conduct two Seattle Symphony programs at Benaroya Hall, with guest vocalist Mary-Chapin Carpenter on July 8 and in “Pixar in Concert” performances July 11 and 12.

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Features Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5062, or at diane.urbani@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: May 22. 2014 6:57PM
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