Claire Fox Hillard conducts a past Peppermint Pops concert at Albany Municipal Auditorium. Hillard has been reinstated as the music director of the Albany Symphony Orchestra.
ALBANY, Ga. — Claire Fox Hillard will return as music director of the Albany Symphony Orchestra in the 2012-13 season, symphony officials say. That has led to at least three symphony board members and two orchestra staffers’ resignations.
Jim Bullion, president of the symphony association, said Friday that the board on Tuesday reversed its earlier decision from last December and decided that Hillard will return to lead the orchestra.
“It was not an easy year for the board,” he said. “We look forward to working with Dr. Hillard over the summer and getting the next season off to a good start.”
A message left Friday with Hillard seeking comment was not returned.
Bullion said the board also is close to naming a new executive director. Karen Allen is stepping down at the end of the current season. Her husband, Ray Allen, resigned as director of the Chehaw Council Boy Scouts and the couple plan to move to Florida.
The board decided, Bullion said, that Hillard’s ability, his 24 years with the symphony and his record of service before the Camilla incident outweighed the incident. “If we searched the whole country, we couldn’t find a more competent music director,” he said.
Hillard was suspended last year and then not reintstated following an Aug. 10, 2011 incident in Camilla in which he was charged with prowling/loitering and paid a fine. The conductor called police to a Camilla business around 11:50 p.m. that night, where he was found clad in a towel with his clothes shredded.
He at first claimed that two African-American men had assaulted him and cut his clothes before his story broke down and he admitted to police he had been engaged in a sexual encounter behind a nearby business. He said a woman ran when they saw police responding to a prowler call at that first location.
Symphony officials had planned to reinstate Hillard in January, but in December the board voted to not bring him back. The remainder of the season has been directed by guest conductors.
The reinstatement of Hillard Tuesday revealed a deep division among symphony board members and orchestra staff. Three of the 21 board members — Barbara Rivera Holmes, Rachelle Bitterman and Joe Bishop — resigned this week, as did two symphony staff members — Edward J. Trammell, the orchestra operations and public relations manager, and Lynne Sawyer, artistic administrator.
Those resignations follow one earlier this month by David L. Davies, who said Friday his decision was not connected with the conductor issue.
It was unclear Friday whether any of the other board members intended to resign, but there were indications that some others are considering it.
“I resigned about a week and a half ago,” said Davies, who is headmaster at Deerfield-Windsor School. He said he agreed to serve on the committee Bishop chaired searching for a new executive director and resigned after the committee completed its work for recommendations to the board.
“I was probably going to resign a month before that,” he said. “Joe (Bishop) and I are good friends. I wanted to see that (search) process through.”
Contacted Friday by The Herald, two of the three board members who resigned this week said that Hillard’s reintstatement figured into their decisions. Bitterman said she already had been looking to get off some boards on which she serves, but the reinstatement influenced her timing on leaving the symphony board. “I didn’t agree,” she said. “It was a good decision for me.
“I wish the symphony the very best and I hope they have a good season next year and the seasons to come. I’ll always support them. They’ve been a part of Albany for about 50 years.”
Holmes had no comment on the reason for her resignation, but said, “I do wish the symphony the best. I believe in the symphony. It’s critical to the community and it’s important to our youth. I think the symphony can do some great things.”
Bishop, the chief Superior Court judge of the Pataula Judicial Circuit, said he “just didn’t feel like it was a decision that I could live with. It seemed like the problem would never go away. I just thought it would be the best for me and for the symphony if I didn’t serve and chose to resign.”
Bishop said he wasn’t friends with Hillard, but it “appeared that those on the board who had a personal relationship with him felt strongly” about returning him as music director. “I defer to them as a member of the community,” he said, “but not as a member of the board.”
“I was never contacted once by Dr. Hillard with respect to his status or anything he was doing during the time period (of Hillard’s initial suspension) when he was to be brought back in January,” Bishop said, adding that he felt that was “an indication of my usefulness to the board.”
Allen said the board members’ resignations were effective immediately, but Trammel and Sawyer have committed to completing the current season, which has one performance remaining.
“The symphony could not move forward with the board divided,” Allen said. “It seems negative on the surface (for the resignations to occur), but for the symphony to continue moving forward it’s a positive to have a united board.”
Bullion said the symphony has interviewed several good candidates for its executive directorship that is coming open and that a replacement for Allen, who will stay on at least through May, is expected to be taken up at the board’s next meeting in two weeks.
Noting that it has been a trying season for the symphony, Bullion said that Allen “has done a marvelous job this year.”
The symphony’s May 12 season finale performance, “Every Good Boy Deserves Favour,” focuses on Theatre Albany and is a stage play by Tom Stoppard with music by André Previn. The orchestra both provides music throughout the play and forms an essential part of the action, becoming an actor in the production. Steven Byess, music director of the Tupelo Symphony Orchestra, the Arkansas Philharmonic Orchestra and the Colorado Youth Symphony Orchestras, will be guest conductor.