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Thursday, July 9, 2009 03:52 am

No strings attached

Deal’s new contract with Illinois Symphony frees her to roam

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Karen Lynne Deal
PHOTO BY TERRY FARMER

The Illinois Symphony Orchestra has renewed its commitment to Maestra Karen Lynne Deal, announcing a new multi-year contract with the conductor at the ISO board of directors’ annual meeting in late June. The renewal comes despite concerns raised by ISO musicians who voted 72-2 against Deal earlier this year in a formal no-confidence vote. The players are now taking steps to unionize the orchestra [see “Out of tune,” May 14].

This new contract differs slightly from Deal’s previous agreements in that it omits the clause requiring her to reside in one of the communities where the orchestra performs — Springfield, Bloomington or Normal. Some members of the search committee who hired Deal find the deletion of this clause curious, since residency was one of the ISO board’s top priorities when Deal was hired in 2000.

“They wanted someone who could live in town and be the head of the musical community here,” says Becky Kemp, who represented the ISO Chorus on the search committee. “That [requirement] just X’d out a whole bunch of candidates. It was one of the first questions we would ask when we interviewed them, and if they said no, then that was it.”

Elizabeth Hare, interim executive director of the ISO, would neither confirm nor deny the deletion of the residency clause. “The terms of the contract are confidential,” Hare says.

However, a source who has seen the contract says the clause has been deleted. The source also says the contract sets Deal’s salary at approximately $85,000 per year, and expires in 2011.

The ISO board also elected a new president, Carole M. Ringer, of Bloomington, at the June meeting. Ringer — a longtime board member with a masters degree in music education from Northwestern University — succeeds John Wohlwend, the Bloomington jewelry store owner who served as ISO’s president for the past year. Wohlwend, who is a staunch supporter of Deal, chose not to seek a second term as president in order to focus on his business and personal life, Ringer says.

“He felt he needed to regroup himself personally. It had nothing to do with the symphony itself,” she says.

Ringer grew up playing violin and piano, but concentrated on vocal music in college. She believes her experience playing in orchestras helps her perspective as a board member. As early as 1970, she served on the board of the Bloomington-Normal Symphony, which merged in 1993 with the Springfield Symphony to become the ISO.

“I will not claim to be an expert in any of this,” she says, “but I have enough knowledge to know where I don’t know things, and certainly having the experience of playing helps round out one’s understanding of the orchestra.”

Ringer was also a member of the search committee that hired Deal. Although Ringer echoes Hare’s refusal to verify contract terms, she does confirm that residency was a priority back in 2000.

“At the time, when we were doing the search, we did feel quite strongly that we needed somebody who could be in the community, be available to the community in ways that we hadn’t had in a while, and I think that Karen is known. She is a known persona in the community. That’s something we needed at the time,” Ringer says.

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