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Originally published December 16, 2009 at 8:12 PM | Page modified December 17, 2009 at 10:21 AM

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Seattle Symphony president stepping down

After just 2-1/2 years, Thomas Philion is reaching his coda. The Seattle Symphony president and executive director announced Wednesday that he won't renew his contract when it expires in June.

Seattle Times staff reporter

After just 2 ½ years, Thomas Philion is reaching his coda. The Seattle Symphony president and executive director announced Wednesday that he won't renew his contract when it expires in June.

In a vaguely worded statement citing the search for a new music director, Philion said, "The Symphony is entering a new era. ... Having navigated through the challenges of the last three seasons, I feel it is the right time for a change."

He declined in an interview to give more specific reasons for leaving.

"I just really decided that it was time for me," Philion said. "I'm very proud of what we've done the last two-and-a-half years in terms of everything from the financial accomplishments to doing some inventive new programming. When an organization goes through a transition like this, someone in my position pauses and reflects and thinks about what makes sense, and I've decided it's time for me."

Asked what he'll do after he leaves, Philion said, "I have a bunch of things I'm looking at right now. I can't get specific about that."

Before the Seattle Symphony, Philion was president and CEO of the Eastern Music Festival in North Carolina. He came aboard during a tumultuous period of financial trouble, discussions of bankruptcy, infighting at the symphony, and after a recruiter who had tried to fill the executive-director job quit in frustration.

Philion led two years of balanced budgets for the symphony. But it ended its most recent fiscal year on Aug. 31 with a $1.2 million deficit and accumulated debt of $4 million.

The symphony has not yet come to agreement on a new contract with the Seattle Symphony and Opera Players' Organization, the musicians union. The current contract, in place since 2001 and already extended twice, expires at the end of this month. Negotiations have been ongoing for months, and a mediator is involved. Philion declined to comment on the negotiations.

"I think that he leaves the orchestra in a good position," said Bremerton-based freelance music critic Bernard Jacobson, who has written for The Seattle Times. "He came in at a time when there were problems. He contributed very greatly to calming things down and building up a new strength in the board."

While Jacobson said short tenures like Philion's aren't uncommon in that line of work — Philion's predecessor had a similarly brief run — he said, "I regret it because I think he's very good. I've been very impressed by his way of handling things."

Mark Rahner: 206-464-8259 or mrahner@seattletimes.com

Staff reporter Janet I. Tu contributed to this story.

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