Letters to the Editor


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


'Village' opposition is unreasonable

I am sick and tired of reading about the anti-development misinformation being spouted by Donald Yeskey and his activist group concerning the Brilliant Property.

Now that they have intimidated a majority of the council from approving the property's development as a mixed use "Village," they now oppose rezoning from R5 single family (which was in place long before the Annapolis Mall, located directly across the street, was ever built) to R15 townhouses. They oppose it because, they say, R15 will lead to a "domino effect" of high-density development along the rest of Bestgate Road and thereby exacerbate traffic problems. The assertion is, in a word, ridiculous. For one thing, there is no more vacant property on Bestgate that can be developed. For another, even if traffic engineering studies supported that claim -- in my view, a dubious proposition at best -- how will 15, instead of five residences per acre, clog Bestgate Road? No permits could [be issued], and no residential construction could take place, until the county was satisfied that all public facility concerns, including traffic, had been met. Mr. Yeskey is not only putting the cart before the horse; he's trying to take the wheels off it. And, he doesn't even live on the road.

The fact is that the Brilliant property is located directly across the street from the Annapolis Mall and a four-story office building. It is part of what the Parole Growth Management Plan (a document which Mr. Yeskey relies on, but only when it suits his purposes) calls the "Parole Growth Impact Area." It was given that name because the planners recognized that office buildings and single family homes don't do well next to one another, and there needed to be a gradual transition from the commercial uses permitted in the Growth Area, to the residential use within the Impact Area. If that isn't going to be mixed use, it should, at the very least, be the R15 designation. That would fulfill the PGMA's directive, found at pages 139 and 140 of the Plan, for a "functional," an "aesthetic," and a "compatible" relationship between where commercial use ends, and residences begin. It would also meet the need, which nearly everyone who lives closer to Bestgate Road than Mr. Yeskey agrees is there, for affordable residential housing in Bestgate.

William N. Zifchak


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