Punta Gorda Symphony conductor, musicians outraged by last-minute concert cancelation

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The Punta Gorda Symphony’s musicians and conductor have voiced their dismay after the board of directors canceled their final performance of the season at the last minute.

On Sunday night, people traveled to the Charlotte Harbor Event and Conference Center to hear the Punta Gorda Symphony, only to find the musicians outside on the curb telling people that the event had been canceled just hours earlier.

Conductor Raffaele Ponti tells WINK News that a few hours before the concert he was told he had to get off the property or he would be arrested.

“It took me 10 years to build this great orchestra and only five days for the board of directors to destroy it,” Ponti said.

Ponti and principal clarinetist Stacey McColley feel the board of directors canceled the symphony’s final performance, “Cinematic Sounds,” in order to silence the musicians.

“It’s having a huge financial and emotional and reputational impact on all of these musicians in one fell blow, and nobody cares,” McColley said. “We’re just disposable.”

Ponti believes the board planned to make changes as far back as June 2022. He remembers a conversation he had with the chairman of the symphony’s board on the last day of his contract negotiations.

“He calls me at 5 p.m. and says, ‘We’ve decided to go in a different direction,’ and I thought he was joking,” Ponti said. “I was dumbfounded, and then I asked, ‘For what reason? Did I do something wrong? Am I not good? Does the orchestra not sound good?’ He just kept saying, ‘We’ve decided to go in a different direction’; that’s all he would say.”

The last straw for the Punta Gorda Symphony musicians came in an email on March 27. The board chairman wrote that everyone had to submit an audition tape by March 31.

“If you know anything about taking auditions, people prepare for up to eight weeks for an audition,” McColley said. “They’re not giving us enough time to present our best.”

Ponti says he planned to make the audience aware of the board’s actions at Sunday night’s concert. He believes that’s why it was canceled.

But a spokesperson for the symphony says the board was saddened to learn about a series of discussions that led to what they interpreted as physical threats, which resulted in the last-minute cancelation.

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