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October 24, 2011

Fired Conductor Ronald Braunstein and VYOA Reach Settlement

Sota-RB-headshot-largeNearly a year after the Vermont Youth Orchestra Association fired Ronald Braunstein — and seven months since the former conductor-director sued the nonprofit — the parties have reached a settlement. You're probably wondering, for how much?

So did I. But today the VYOA issued a not-very-informative statement that basically suggests the opponents have kissed — or at least shaken hands — made up, and agreed to never say any more bad things about each other.

Here it is:

"The Board of Directors of the Vermont Youth Orchestra Association and Ronald Braunstein are pleased to announce the resolution of their disagreements and the termination of litigation.

"VYOA wishes to make clear that under Mr. Braunstein's conducting, VYOA's students were inspired to reach new levels of musical excellence. As described by Board member Nancy Waples, 'It was truly remarkable to experience the connection he had with our students. The orchestra performed some of the most exhilarating concerts in the history of our organization and their passion was palpable throughout the concert hall.'

"Unfortunately, there were concerns expressed about Mr. Braunstein that related to the performance of his job. In hindsight, Mr. Braunstein and the Board now recognize that Mr. Braunstein was experiencing the effects of Bipolar Disorder, which since then has been treated and managed. The VYOA and Mr. Braunstein regret that the local newspapers sensationalized the situation creating misleading implications."

Now, just wait a minute. This is the media's fault? Since when is reporting the facts misleading? I can't speak for any other media outlets, but I reported that certain individuals in the VYOA organization were disturbed by Braunstein's alleged erratic behavior, and more than one person implied "inappropriate" behavior with the students. That usually means but one thing. The baser allegations were never supported in fact, but the damage was done. The VYOA terminated Braunstein. He responded with a lawsuit. Here's what I wrote in a Blurt post on March 16, 2011:

Now Braunstein is suing the Vermont Youth Orchestra Association and its founder, Carolyn Long, for libel, slander, "breach of implied contract" and discrimination. The lawsuit, which was just made public, sheds light on what led to Braunstein's dramatic dismissal, including allegations he sexually harassed a student — which the conductor flatly denies — and problems arising from Braunstein's bipolar disorder.

The media did not create this drama, nor any "misleading implications." Individuals at the center of the brouhaha get all the credit for that. But I digress.

The VYOA's statement concludes:

"Mr. Braunstein salutes the VYOA and its students, parents and alumnae for the outpouring of support they have shown to him. The VYOA thanks and commends Mr. Braunstein for his passion and excellence as a teacher and youth conductor."

The VYOA referred questions to its attorney, Eileen Blackwood. However, she told Seven Days there was nothing she could reveal beyond the contents of the VYOA's letter.

So here we are: The VYOA admits it canned a gifted conductor, and regrets that it misunderstood Braunstein's mental condition. In retrospect, he was awesome. Braunstein gets the allegations expunged from his record and a public "outpouring" of support from at least some members of the organization. Everybody's happy, right? Let's hope so.

We still wonder what it cost.

Meanwhile, Braunstein and Caroline Whiddon, his friend and executive director, continue with the nonprofit ensemble they launched this fall, ME2/orchestra, which welcomes musicians and audience members who suffer from mental disorders. The group rehearses Wednesday evenings at North End Studios in Burlington.

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