Thirty-two members of the Prince William Symphony Orchestra resigned last week. The musicians said this was a result of months of difficulties with the new executive music director, David Montgomery, and the Board of Directors.
For the musicians, the firing of a 16-year member of the orchestra exacerbated the situation and led to the resignations, including the concertmaster and the personnel manager.
“We’re very saddened by this whole thing,” said Nadine Moehlenkamp, 55, of Lake Ridge, who resigned her violin position with the orchestra. “We really didn’t want to lose this orchestra. We care about this orchestra very much.”
Despite the resignations, the PWSO will perform a winter concert at 8 p.m. on Saturday.
“We have a full orchestra and we’re very excited for it,” said Montgomery. “The orchestra’s excited as well. We have wonderful guest stars and we’re all looking forward to this concert. No matter what has happened, this is going to be a wonderful community event.”
For the upcoming concert, Stephen Tavani, a high school student who performed as a solo violinist at the PWSO’s October concert and “several other students of that quality” will be members of the orchestra, said Montgomery.
“David Montgomery has been doing an outstanding job for us,” said Bob Pugh, president of the PWSO Board of Directors.
However, 18 members who played in the last concert will not be on stage this weekend. Forty-one musicians played in the last concert.
“We’ve been in a conflict for months,” said Susan Katsarelis, 42, of Woodbridge. Katsarelis, who played violin with the PWSO for five seasons, was one of the musicians who resigned last week.
From the musicians’ point of view, it all started when the Board of Directors offered Carl Long, who had been music director for 11 years, the position of principal conductor.
“It’s a demotion,” said Katsarelis, adding that Long, who is respected among musicians, communicated his resignation at the end of June.
Montgomery, who had served as the executive director of the PWSO for a couple months, became the new music director.
“So far, in his duties as executive director, I believe he’s done a satisfactory job,” said Adrienne Caravan, 33, of Manassas, who resigned her violin position with the PWSO. “We don’t have anything negative to say about his role as executive director.”
Caravan, who has been playing with the PWSO since 2003, said the orchestra’s by-laws list two positions – executive director and music director. She added that the position has been combined to “executive music director” for Montgomery – and that no person has ever held both jobs in the history of the PWSO.
“They didn’t look for a music director or conductor,” said Katsarelis, adding that Montgomery receives a stipend for conducting as well as his executive director salary.
Frank Costanza, 61, of Manassas, is an executive board member and the treasurer. He has been on the board for three months and attends church with Montgomery. He said that the board asked Montgomery to step in as music director because Montgomery, an accomplished musician, was already there. This would save the time and money for a search – important for an organization with limited resources.
“He knows his music,” said Costanza, adding that Montgomery is “swamped” between his duties for both jobs. “We’re hoping in the future we can do a regular search.”
Chris Moehlenkamp, 51, of Lake Ridge, who has played cello with the PWSO since 1988 (with a four-year break), said that a conductor search typically entails advertising the position, guest conductors at every concert of the season, input from the musicians and final say from the board. He is married to Nadine Moehlenkamp.
Caravan said that according to the by-laws, two orchestra members are a part of the board – but no orchestra members were present at the meeting when Montgomery was approved for the position of music director.
“I was notified of that meeting the night before,” said Katsarelis.
For the musicians, the trouble started when Montgomery asked to change the policies on the letters of intent, said Chris Moehlenkamp.
Letters of intent, said Chris Moehlenkamp, are agreements to hire the musicians and includes policies for the musicians and management. He added that he thought the board supported Montgomery’s changes, basically giving him a free rein to do what he wanted, including to hire and fire.
The personnel manager, Sandra Quaschnick, was uncomfortable with Montgomery as well, and her job of recruiting musicians.
“I felt like I was a con artist or something,” said Quaschnick, who has played trumpet with the PWSO since 1994. She has served as personnel manager since 2001. “I’m really broken up to have to leave the orchestra, to be quite honest … the God’s honest truth, he just treated people poorly. It’s just not a professional thing to do.”
She resigned on Nov. 26.
“As everyone can see, [Montgomery has] made himself an autocrat,” said Katsarelis. “At the same time, we had no communication from the board or David Montgomery about this change of leadership … this is a prescription for trouble.”
She added that a climate of concern and mistrust developed. Katsarelis, with the Musicians’ Committee, a group of orchestra members that act as a liaison between the orchestra and music director or executive director, met with three board members in August, in response to changes in the letter of intent. She said they agreed to look at the revisions.
“We tried to warn them about how uncomfortable we were,” said Katsarelis.
Caravan said that the board told the musicians they would deal with this after the first concert of the season, on Oct. 13.
Two days after that concert, a 16-year member of the orchestra was fired.
From the musicians’ point of view, this member was fired over a “minor exchange” with Montgomery at a rehearsal prior to the concert. This was “without due process, in our view,” said Katsarelis.
Caravan said this dismissal was approved by the executive committee of the board of directors, based solely on Montgomery’s account of the altercation.
“If that had not happened, we wouldn’t be at this point yet,” said Chris Moehlenkamp.
Costanza, who said he was present at the rehearsal, said Montgomery came to the executive board before the dismissal.
“He really didn’t know what to do,” said Costanza. “It was obvious that [this player] was not working to the best of his abilities … he didn’t seem to be a team player.”
Costanza added the executive board thought this player should be dismissed because they were causing stress to the orchestra.
Some of the musicians didn’t see it that way – and that this was an unusual procedure for a dismissal.
Katsarelis said that typically players are warned and put on probation, usually for artistic differences, absences or insubordination.
“This was a big deal,” said Caravan. “There was no chance for this person to rectify this situation.”
This wasn’t the only thing to upset the musicians at the rehearsal before the concert. A dress rehearsal, said Caravan, is typically two-and-a-half hours long.
“[Montgomery] dismissed us after 45 minutes,” said Caravan, adding that the musicians did not know why the rehearsal was cut short. “We were paid for all of that time … that’s wasting money. We could have been playing all that time … the performance certainly could’ve been enhanced during that time.”
Chris Moehlenkamp added the PWSO is partially publicly funded.
Katsarelis said that the board wanted the musicians to work out their differences with Montgomery, who did not respond to two meeting requests.
However, Costanza said that it was the musicians who did not want to meet.
Finally, musicians, including concertmaster Allison Bailey, met with Montgomery on Nov. 5. The concertmaster is the first violinist and symbolic leader for the orchestra.
“He wouldn’t discuss the firing of this player, period,” said Katsarelis. “He described himself as a benevolent dictator.”
There was also disagreement on how to collaborate between Bailey and Montgomery.
“What he said to her was if she wasn’t going to do it his way, she shouldn’t be compensated at the level of a concertmaster,” said Katsarelis.
Bailey resigned the following day.
“I auditioned for and became a member of the Prince William Symphony at the age of 10 and have considered it a privilege to work among such dedicated and talented musicians throughout these many years,” wrote Bailey in a letter of resignation. “Unfortunately, this orchestra is under new leadership, and I am not willing to work under the direction of a conductor who demeans the members of the orchestra and who exhibits behavior that is distasteful and unacceptable. I have loved and supported the Prince William Symphony for over 27 years, and I look forward to returning when David Montgomery is no longer associated with this organization.”
Even though Bailey was out, her father, Dr. Zuill Bailey, the current conductor of the Youth Orchestra of Prince William Wind Symphony who knew members of the PWSO board, stepped in as a mediator.
“I was very upfront and I told [the board] the things that I had heard, that I was concerned about the symphony,” said Zuill Bailey, 67, of Woodbridge.
He helped the musicians secure a meeting with three members of the board’s executive committee on Nov. 20 at Grace United Methodist Church in Manassas.
The musicians listed their terms – guest conductors for the rest of the season, a conductor search, a moratorium on hiring and firing and the reinstatement of the dismissed player. They would agree to play with Montgomery for the December concert. Caravan said the musicians requested a response by Nov. 30.
For the board, these demands were unacceptable. Costanza said that the timing of the whole thing – right before Thanksgiving and the December concert – was terrible.
“There were just a couple demands that we just weren’t going to do,” said Costanza. This included reinstating the fired player. Costanza said they had already replaced that musician and that Bob Pugh, the president of the Board of Directors, wanted to set up a meeting after the concert, to work out the differences.
Instead, the musicians resigned.
“We felt that we really couldn’t wait any longer,” said Chris Moehlenkamp. We didn’t want to hold out to resign so shortly before the concert that it would look like we were trying to wreck the concert.”
So, would these musicians return?
“Under the right circumstances, and I can’t say what that is at this point,” said Chris Moehlenkamp, adding that all the musicians have other freelance work. In fact, 29 of the former 32 members will perform with the Manassas Ballet Theatre as the Manassas Ballet Theatre Orchestra on Dec. 15 and 16 for “The Nutcracker.”