Sidlin's Supporters Take Their Fight Into Concert Hall

Times Staff Writer

Supporters of Murry Sidlin took their campaign to save his job with the Long Beach Symphony to the concert hall last Saturday night. One result was a standing ovation for the popular maestro as he stepped onto the podium of the Terrace Theater. Another was an informal vote by more than 500 concert-goers asking that Sidlin be retained as music director of the 85-musician orchestra.

"This proves our point," said Norman H. Gottlieb, founder of a group called the Committee to Retain Our Symphony and Sidlin, which orchestrated Saturday's demonstration. "This is not a small minority."

Countered Mary Newkirk, the symphony's general manager: "We acknowledge the fine contributions Sidlin has made to the orchestra, and the standing ovation recognized that. But the symphony has made its position clear and that position is not changing: In June, Sidlin and the symphony will part company."

Gottlieb, a local attorney, formed his committee--called CROSS--last month after the symphony's board of directors unexpectedly announced that Sidlin's contract will not be renewed at the end of the current season.

Board President George M. Murchison attributed the decision to the symphony's desire to do better artistically than it has under Sidlin, who has been director since 1979. In addition, Murchison said, the symphony needs a director who is willing to spend the majority of his time in Long Beach, a commitment that some believe would have a favorable impact on the orchestra's public relations and fund-raising efforts. Sidlin, a resident of New Haven, Conn., commutes regularly between the East and West coasts.

But the announcement was met by a barrage of complaints from musicians and symphony patrons who, among other things, flooded local newspapers with a stream of critical letters. And it was that sentiment that CROSS members hoped to capitalize on Saturday as the orchestra formally opened its season with an evening of music by 19-Century Austrian composer Robert Schumann.

"We don't feel that they've polled us," said Sybil Beach, a longtime symphony subscriber and one of more than 20 committee members attending the concert.

Stationed at strategic points outside the theater, they distributed leaflets to those entering the hall urging them to show support for the maestro by standing up when he came on stage. The leaflets included a tear-off portion on which patrons could call for Sidlin's retention.

Standing Ovation

A majority of the estimated 2,700 in attendance participated in the standing ovation. And of the 1,450 who took leaflets, a committee member said later, 506 returned them on the way out with votes to retain the music director. Some of these were strongly worded, and they included 41 from subscribers who said they would cancel if Sidlin leaves.

"I'm delighted to see this effort," said Karl Stranberg, an organizational psychologist who enthusiastically signed the tear-off. "I like Sidlin; I think he's provided a lot of excitement."

Said Leslie Carrasco, a secretary: "I think he's wonderful. He's doing a lot for the symphony and it's rotten that they're letting him go."

Mayor Critical of Effort

Not everyone agreed.

During Sidlin's traditional 30-minute lecture in a separate theater preceding the concert, several audience members were overheard grumbling about what they perceived as the inappropriateness of distributing leaflets before a symphony performance. And Long Beach Mayor Ernie Kell, interviewed in the lobby after the concert, criticized the effort to save Sidlin as both ineffective and misguided.

"The symphony has lost a lot of good public relations by its director not being local," Kell said. "(Sidlin's) not here, but the other movers and shakers are. I always thought it was a mistake for the symphony to have a director who didn't live in Long Beach; he would always give a concert, then catch the first red-eye out."

Armed with the results of their informal survey, CROSS members say they hope to meet with the symphony's major corporate donors later this month to persuade them to exert pressure on the symphony's board to reverse its decision.

Sidlin, while expressing gratitude for the outpouring of public support, has refused to comment directly on the issues pertaining to his employment by the Long Beach Symphony.

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