Members of the Santa Monica College Symphony are calling for the college to reverse its decision to let their conductor’s contract expire.
Since Brian Stone was hired to conduct and direct the symphony two years ago, he has doubled attendance at concerts, brought in professional musicians to mentor symphony members pro bono and halved the symphony’s budget, orchestra members said. That’s why they were shocked when SMC chose not to renew his contract in June.
“He really elevated the quality of what we were playing, and our audience kept growing,” said Rebecca Hogan, who plays French horn with the symphony.
Stone attended elementary, middle and high school in Santa Monica before receiving a bachelor’s degree from Bennington College. He then received a doctorate in music at the Peabody Institute and worked as the director of orchestras at the University of Delaware.
Hogan said Stone’s personal connection to Santa Monica made him singularly invested in the symphony. He went out of his way to mentor orchestra members and recruit more Santa Monica residents to join the symphony, she said.
“In his mind, this is his community, not just an orchestra,” Hogan said.
Orchestra members have circulated a petition online to reinstate Stone that has received 298 signatures, which they presented at an SMC board of trustees meeting in July.
Robin Ramsdell, an SMC counselor, wrote on the petition that Stone has been dedicated to growing the orchestra and helping its members succeed.
“He is very passionate about the work he is doing, and he works tirelessly to put together programs that will be interesting for his orchestra members as well as his audiences,” Ramsdell said.
Tim Battig, the symphony’s principal horn player, said the orchestra has received no clarity on why the music department and the vice president of academic affairs did not renew his contract.
Battig said he believes the decision was driven by an orchestra member’s personal animosity against Stone. That member advocated for his firing to the music department chair, he said.
“What happened was definitely a power struggle,” he said.
Battig said he intends to leave the symphony after 35 years in protest of Stone’s termination.
“I’ll lose some income, but I have to take a stand here because of how this situation with (Stone) took place,” he said.
Stone declined to comment on his contract but said he greatly enjoyed working with the orchestra and its members.
“We were on an outstanding trajectory and I was very proud to be onstage with them,” he said. “I’ll really miss the music department and I hope I’ll get to return someday.”
SMC spokesperson Grace Smith said the college cannot comment on reasons for any hiring-related decisions.
“SMC recognizes the value and contributions that community members make to the longstanding orchestra program,” Smith said. “We look forward to continuing the tradition of collaboration between the college and local community in support of our mutual treasure, the SMC Symphony Orchestra.”
Elizabeth Stoyanovich, who previously directed the orchestra at Pacific Palisades Charter High School, will conduct the symphony this fall, Smith said.