Board’s actions threaten Albany symphony

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

I’ve been tryin’ to get down to the heart of the matter, But my will gets weak and my thoughts seem to scatter. But I think it’s about forgiveness, Even if you don’t love me anymore.

— Don Henley

Sylvia Berry and Jane Willson, two of the most passionate supporters of the arts in Albany, used the same word as they discussed the surprise firing of Albany Symphony Orchestra conductor Claire Fox Hillard Monday.


Both said they, other supporters of the orchestra, and Hillard and his family were misled into believing Hillard would return as conductor of the orchestra at the start of the new year after serving a suspension in the wake of his August arrest in Camilla for loitering/prowling.

Willson, one of the orchestra’s primary benefactors, said she and others she’s talked to were caught off guard by the Albany Symphony Association board’s actions.

“I had no idea this was going to happen; I was shocked,” Willson said Monday evening. “I, and others who support the orchestra, was under the impression that Claire would return to the orchestra at the start of the new year.

“Frankly, I was under that impression when I decided to make a ($100,000) donation to the orchestra earlier this year. They were near bankruptcy, and I didn’t want us to lose something that means so much to this community. What Claire did with that group was phenomenal: He took a volunteer orchestra and made it one of the finest in the state.”

Willson stopped short of saying she would no longer support the orchestra.

“I will say that I’m more than disappointed; I’m distressed,” she said. “I’m very concerned for the orchestra and for the Hillard family.”

Berry, who taught music for more than 30 years and whose husband, Arthur, is an acclaimed artist, said Hillard and symphony supporters were “blindsided” by the board’s actions.

“There are tremors in the community among those who support the arts,” Berry said. “The fact that such a vital part of the arts community might fall apart just scares us to death. Claire built that orchestra into something special over his 24 years here.

“I’m just amazed at the people around here who talk about forgiveness, but are not willing to forgive.”

Berry said she was “appalled” by Hillard’s actions at the time of his arrest. In addition to being found wearing only a towel that was given him by the owners of a Camilla flower shop, he initially said he had been attacked and robbed by two black males. Although he eventually recanted that statement, many in the African-American community have condemned Hillard for what they say was a racist accusation.

“By no means is anyone happy with Claire for what happened that night,” Berry said. “In fact, most are appalled at what he did. But it’s time that Albany grew up. It’s time that those people who preach forgiveness on Sunday mornings took the opportunity to actually put those words into action.

“I love the orchestra, and I just don’t know where it will go without Claire. And after talking with him, I know he feels betrayed by this board’s actions.”

Albany Symphony Association Executive Director Karen Allen said on Aug. 30 when announcing Hillard’s suspension that she “expects Hillard to come back to lead the orchestra in January.”

Hillard said at the time, “I seek forgiveness and the opportunity to work to rebuild the trust and respect placed in me over the past 24 years.”

It now appears neither’s expectation will be realized. And the question that many in the community are now asking is will the orchestra be able to survive?

Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at carlton.fletcher@albanyherald.com.


Abytaxpayer 3 years, 11 months ago

Excuse me but Claire Fox Hillard is the one who betrayed the respect and trust of the Albany Symphony Association. He did not just happen to fall out of the sky naked in Camilla. Hillard was given time to resign and move on with his life but he choose to think he was above reproach and could just sweep his moment of indiscretion under the rug. Please tell me where should this soft hearted forgiveness end? I guess we should also forgive Velvet Riggins, Gloria Baker, and Victor Edwards. They all have BETRAYED the public’s Trust and you want to forgive them for making their conscious decision to betray not just themselves but ALL who lookup to them and held them in high regards. Morals used to be something that people valued but stands like this are why Albany is rifled with people that hold no respect for their fellow man let alone what is right or wrong.


ObjectiveEyes 3 years, 11 months ago

I could not have said it better myself. Who said he has not been forgiven? There are consequences for our actions, though.


waltspecht 3 years, 11 months ago

Actions like this are why there are moral terptude clauses in many contracts. However, if those paying the freight still want him, I see no reason not to keep him. For without them, there is no Orchestra.


whattheheck 3 years, 11 months ago

The man was responsible for his own actions and considering the nature of those, how could an organization leave him in such a visible position? Much of what we see today is the result of someone making a "mistake" that has been overlooked--he was a "good boy" who made a "mistake" when he killed his friend. I did notice some time back on 2010 financials that he had made a personal loan to the Symphony--$12,000. Pay it back and let's go forward with a new maestro who values the position.


billybob 3 years, 11 months ago

With all due respect to Ms. Wilson, if the orchestra meant so much to the community, it wouldn't have been near bankruptcy. It would have been generating revenue sufficient to support itself because people were buying tickets, etc.

Second, Mr. Fletcher, as others have said, it is not the board's actions that have threatened the symphony as your misleading headline claims, it is Mr. Hillard's actions. If Mr. Hillard wants to run around South GA cavorting in the nude it is certainly none of my business, but be smart about it. And don't expect to continue in a public role that represents the community when you are caught. Furthermore, I have to question the intellect of any man who is named Claire and does not change it.


GAdoc 3 years, 11 months ago

I forgave. Mr. Hillard would make it right. HE is the symphony.


LuLu 3 years, 11 months ago

Carlton, publicizing the dollar amount of Mrs. Willson's donation was in extremely poor taste.


6AWCX 3 years, 11 months ago

Yes, he was in charge of the symphony for 24 years... But is he a good conductor? No!!! Is he a good musician? No!!! Each part time orchestra around is hiring same musicians to play concerts. No good musician wants to come here to play for Dr. Hillard... He could never make music; he could never communicate with musicians. Every musician in the orchestra disrespect if not hate him, unless he/she is as mediocre as he is. Thanks god he is fired! What Darton College is thinking about? Why they ignore the whole situation? Shame on them...

It's about time to start search for the new conductor. It's a win-win situation, since who ever will get the position can be only better; there is no way to be worse...


samuelviolin 3 years, 11 months ago

Forgiveness is given FREELY. Reconciliation, however, is earned by the offending party.

Furthermore, should it be true that the Albany Symphony became "one of the finest in the state" during Mr. Hillard's twenty-four year tenure, then there should be no problem with finding a music director who will maintain that standard of excellence.


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Don’t mislead our community! by 6AWCX 3 years, 11 months ago

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