P.A. Symphony parts ways with conductor

Adam Stern conducts a recent performance of the Port Angeles Symphony, which he conducted for nine years. Recently, the symphony’s board of directors decided not to renew his contract.  - Submitted photo
Adam Stern conducts a recent performance of the Port Angeles Symphony, which he conducted for nine years. Recently, the symphony’s board of directors decided not to renew his contract.
— image credit: Submitted photo

After nine years as the face of the Port Angeles Symphony, music director and conductor Adam Stern will no longer lead the symphony.

Mark Wendeborn, symphony executive director, said its board of directors voted not to renew Stern’s contract at its monthly meeting May 20.

“They’ve chosen to do what they feel is best for the orchestra and what is best for the community,” he said.

Stern said the decision was wholly unexpected.

“Look at the hard-copy or online season brochure for the 2014-2015 season,” he said. “I had programmed it and fully intended to conduct it as no one had led me to believe otherwise.”

Stern was selected more than nine years ago by the symphony’s board of directors following the death of longtime director Nico Snel.

Mary Ann Unger, symphony board president, said they’re putting together a timeline for the symphony to begin a search this summer for a new director and that it could take up to a year to find a replacement. Candidates will serve as guest conductors for one or more concerts during the 2014-2015 season, which Unger said they are making adjustments for to accommodate the leadership change.

“I don’t see (the change) impacting the quality of the symphony,” Unger said. “We are looking for an equally talented and skilled conductor.”

Stern remains a professor at Cornish College of the Arts and the director of the Seattle Philharmonic Orchestra, which both begin in the fall, and will guest-conduct the Seattle Symphony at Benaroya Hall twice in July. In October, he’ll debut a new piece at the Seattle Philharmonic October concert centered on Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “Spirits of the Dead.”

On his dismissal, Stern said there were some disagreements with some board members over the years but nothing insurmountable.

“What really saddened me was a constant lack of directness over the years on the parts of some board members,” he said. “I was forever hearing about grousing about me or my programming or my leadership from second-hand sources, but rarely from the bothered ones themselves.”

Unger said the symphony and Stern have different goals for the orchestra, which includes making families an important component of performances and including local youths in the orchestra.

For its upcoming season, children 16 and under can attend concerts for free.

Wendeborn said they’ve seen a recent decline in attendance and ticket sales due to an increase in entertainment competition.

“But we’re starting to notice that young families are using that (16 and under discount) opportunity to come and bring the whole family without breaking the bank,” he said.

Wendeborn said Stern was a pioneer for the symphony outreaching to children by bringing in the Magic Circle Mime Co. and organizing video game concerts last year.

Unger said Stern is a consummate musician.

“His technical skills are beyond reproach and his knowledge of music is amazing,” she said.

In his tenure, Stern said he’s most proud of widening the orchestra’s repertoire and he’ll miss the rehearsal process the most.

“I already miss the fun of watching the level of the orchestra’s performance grow from week to week,” he said. “It’s the most satisfying aspect of being a conductor.”

He recommends the symphony’s board support the new conductor’s musical and artistic choices and only step in if there’s a budget issue.

Stern referred to 19th-century conductor Theodore Thomas, who adored Wagner's music even though it was considered extremely modern and progressive, but programmed it over and over because of his passion for it.

“Someone once asked him, ‘Why do you keep programming Wagner? The public doesn’t like him.’ Thomas’ reply was, ‘Then I’ll keep playing him until they do.’ Needless to say, history has sided with Thomas,” Stern said.

“It’s musicians like that that I admire the most. One must have faith in one’s convictions and program one’s heart, rather than playing it safe with endless repetitions of the “1812 Overture” and “Bolero” and “The Four Seasons.” No one benefits, especially the art of music.”

The Port Angeles Symphony’s first concerts of its new season begin with its Pops concerts in Sequim and Port Angeles in September.

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