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Vol. LXI, No. 32
Wednesday, August 8, 2007
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Princeton Symphony and Long-time Director Part Ways Over Contract

Nancy Plum

In a sudden, late summer move just weeks before the launch of its new season, Princeton Symphony Orchestra announced last week that it will open its 2007-08 season without music director Mark Laycock, who had conducted the ensemble for more than 20 years.

In an August 1 press release, the Symphony Board of Trustees announced that Mr. Laycock "has concluded his long tenure" with PSO and that guest conductors would lead the concerts of the 2007-08 season. Although no specific reason was given for Mr. Laycock's decision not to return to the Symphony this year, it has been reported that he and the orchestra had not come to terms on a new contract.

The terms of the conductor's separation agreement with the PSO are confidential, said Melanie Clarke, PSO executive director, adding that the board had tried to renew his contract. Mr. Laycock, who has also served for four years as music director for the Lake Placid Sinfonietta during the summer months, has not announced his future plans.

Mr. Laycock became the conductor of the orchestra in 1986 when he took over what was then known as the Chamber Symphony of Princeton after the death of its founder, Portia Sonnenfeld.

Robert L. Annis, the dean and director of the Westminster Choir College, has been chosen by the PSO board to head up the search for a new conductor. The guest conductors leading the concerts during the 2007-08 classical season, Pops concerts, and BRAVO! performances are likely candidates for the open conductor's spot, Ms. Clarke said.

Upon his arrival at PSO, Mr. Laycock was recognized for his theatrical style, often pushing the musical boundaries in an effort to raise the performance standards for individual players while extending the repertory.

Caren Sturges, president of the PSO Board, expressed the PSO board's appreciation of Mr. Laycock's "many productive" years as conductor. "We thank Mark for his role in developing the orchestra into such an important community asset through his imaginative programming and openness to new opportunities," she said. "We wish him well in his future endeavors."

Mr. Laycock was not immediately available for comment.

Recognizing that the ensemble was the Chamber Orchestra of Princeton, Mr. Laycock made the community part of his concerts, including a memorable performance featuring Chinese dissident and Princeton Astrophysicist Fang Li Zhi playing the triangle in Leopold Mozart's Toy Symphony. In the 1999-2000 season, dubbed by Mr. Laycock as his "Schoenberg year," he conducted Schoenberg's Verklärte Nacht for the Princeton Symphony and volunteered to sing with the Philadelphia Singers and the Philadelphia Orchestra in several performances of Schoenberg's Gurrelieder including a performance at Carnegie Hall.

Also under Mr. Laycock's leadership, the orchestra expanded its offerings from four classical concerts each year to a classical series, a pops series, and an extensive educational program.

The PSO season described in the brochure just hitting Princeton households includes one guest conductor for one concert. Jens Georg Bachmann, currently assistant conductor of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, is scheduled to conduct a program of Russian orchestral music.


Mr. Laycock, who began conducting at the age of 16, made his debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra at the age of 21, beginning a relationship that resulted in numerous re-engagements. He has also conducted L'Orchestre Symphonique d'Montreal, the Philharmonia Orchestra of London at Royal Festival Hall and the Barbican Centre, and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. He holds the distinction of being the first non-Russian ever invited to appear at the Moscow Autumn Festival, where he conducted a program at the famed Tchaikovsky Hall. He also conducted the inaugural concert at the new Cairo Opera House in 1988, as well as the sold-out first concert in Amman, Jordan.

The Sinfonietta that Mr. Laycock is involved in is a professional summer chamber orchestra in residence in the Adirondacks from July 4 to August 12. Mr. Laycock also previously served as associate conductor of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra and as music director of Orchestra London, Canada. A published composer, his works have been performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra, New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, Alabama Symphony Orchestra, Canton Ohio Symphony Orchestra, and the Princeton Symphony Orchestra.

Fritz Marston contributed to this report.

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