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Wednesday, April 22, 2009 01:02 am

Modulation at Illinois Symphony Orchestra

ISO gets new exec as musicians vote no-confidence in their maestra and move to unionize

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Embattled music director of the Illinois Symphony Orchestra Karen Lynne Deal.

After almost a year with no one officially at the helm of the Illinois Symphony Orchestra, the board of directors has hired a new interim executive director, Elizabeth Hare. She joins the organization at a particularly tumultuous time, as the musicians are taking steps to unionize, and have conducted an official no-confidence vote expressing their displeasure with Music Director Karen Lynne Deal.

Neither Hare nor Deal nor ISO’s director of development, Cheryl Snyder, returned e-mails seeking response. John Wohlwend, president of the ISO’s board of directors, told Illinois Times that he would not have any comment until after he had met with the board’s executive committee “later in the week” of April 27.

The board learned of the musicians’ survey regarding Deal on February 8, through a letter from Mary Ann Webb, a Bloomington accountant who had been commissioned to conduct a formal vote of the players. According to Webb’s letter, ballots were sent to 99 musicians, and 74 were returned. Of those 74, all but two indicated no confidence in Deal.

“We feel that the institution is at risk due to the musical and professional failures of music director Karen Deal,” Webb wrote. The letter concluded with a request for the board of directors “as a whole” to meet with musicians.

Later that month, a four-member ad-hoc subcommittee of the board met with a small group of musicians and heard examples of their complaints regarding Deal. But although musicians describe the discussion as open and cordial, no follow-up meetings have occurred.

Last week, the musicians sent the board a letter officially notifying management of their intent to use the American Federation of Musicians as their collective bargaining agent.

Mark Moore, ISO’s principal tuba player for 18 years and professor of tuba and euphonium at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, says that the decision to organize has nothing to do with the no-confidence vote, but rather is a natural progression in the maturation of the orchestra. “It’s a growth process that all musicians and management go through,” he says.

The orchestra members aren’t asking for more money, Moore says; they simply want to formalize guidelines for “governance” matters, such as how auditions are held and how long rehearsals last. “Management and musicians formulate the document together. We’re not at odds with management; we’re working together for the improvement of the symphony,” Moore says. “It’s good for both sides. Most of the things that we want to have codified, we’re already doing.”

Some musicians told Moore that they received telephone calls from Hare, apparently using Wohlwend’s phone, on Monday night. Moore, however, hasn’t had a call from the new executive director.

“I have no problem with them calling and talking to us. That’s called communication. Communication is good,” Moore says.

Hare attended an ISO fundraiser last weekend, and plans to attend the orchestra’s final concert of the season in May.

Press reports indicate that she’s a native of Houston and educated at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music. She was an associate artistic administrator of the Chicago Symphony, general director of Chicago’s Grant Park Music Festival, orchestra manager and artistic administrator of the Honolulu Symphony, and CEO of the Chattanooga Symphony Orchestra and Opera. The most recent news articles about Hare chronicle her tenure from 1998 to 2000 as executive director of the Florida Philharmonic Orchestra, then the largest performing-arts organization in the state.

“She has quite a bit of experience. It’s good to have someone with experience,” Moore says.

However, Hare’s two-year term with the Florida orchestra was tainted by rancor and ended badly. Already unstable when Hare was hired as the fifth executive director in seven years, the orchestra’s musicians had “barely ratified” a contract just before her arrival. She told the press that she wanted the players to feel more involved. “I really believe we are a family. We are in this together,” she was quoted as saying.

But when that contract expired in 2000, the players went on a month-long strike, at one point picketing in front of the Broward Center for the Performing Arts with their children chanting “Elizabeth Hare is not fair,” according to a report in the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. Hare resigned soon afterward, and the Sun-Sentinel’s music writer, Lawrence A. Johnson, gave her a scorching send-off:

“Under Hare, the smoldering hostility between musicians and management erupted into a raging conflagration, and as executive director, she had to be held responsible,” he wrote. He blamed her for the orchestra’s “artistically barren administrative leadership,” particularly a series of pop concerts that resulted in the cancellation of a subsequent pop series.

“It doesn’t take a genius to realize that booking Frank Sinatra Jr. for four pops concerts — FOUR! — was an act of madness,” Johnson wrote.

The FPO declared bankruptcy in 2003 and no longer exists.

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