Matthew Savery, Bozeman Symphony

Matthew Savery, music director and conductor of the Bozeman Symphony, poses for a photo in the Bozeman Public Library on Monday, August 27, 2018.

Every now and then, you have one of those nights: A night where, as a performing artist, the music making far surpasses expectations—where the music transcends the ordinary, and you feel like you are touching the heavens. Those nights do not happen often, yet the experience is precisely what keeps us coming back for more. There were many nights like this in my 25 years with the Bozeman Symphony—nights where the orchestra and choir took the music far beyond what we thought possible. It was magical!

When I arrived in Bozeman in 1994, I was filled with optimism and high hopes for the symphony’s future. It was my dream to broaden the symphony’s reach throughout our community and beyond, make the symphony accessible to all, add concerts and widen the scope of our programming, pay our musicians who had all been volunteer, actively commission new music, and to generally help a community organization take the steps necessary to grow into a professional organization.

We enjoyed many successes over the years, both in the concert hall and as an organization. Right from the start, we began to see packed houses, and from that point, up until the economic downturn of 2008, packed houses were something we took for granted. We added subscription concerts and family programming, and both outdoor and indoor pops concerts. We increased our outreach activities and added family dress rehearsal passes. Then, in 2001, our efforts paid off in the most spectacular way when we sold out our entire season in subscriptions—something few orchestras can boast. As a result, we began to offer two performances of each program. Our audience increased to a point where we were regularly bringing in over 3% of our metropolitan population.

The orchestra went from being volunteer to paid, we added a piano recital series, and we commissioned roughly 30 compositions, many of which have received performances in other cities throughout the United States, and one of which appears on a Grammy-winning recording with the London Symphony Orchestra. We’ve seen our budget grow more than tenfold, and for most of those years we operated in the black. And, as subjective as it may seem, it is undeniable that the artistic quality of the orchestra and choir grew dramatically and, as such, the Bozeman Symphony is now able to offer exciting performances of almost all of the symphonic repertoire. There were many more successes too, both big and small. These are just some of the highlights.

Many have asked why I chose to resign. Because it has been my privilege to serve the Bozeman Symphony for a quarter of a century, its mission and success for the future have long been my top priority. Uninvestigated claims sent to the media before a systematic review could occur made it impossible for everyone involved to successfully carry out the mission of the symphony. Therefore, for the good of the organization, I chose to move on.

As my family and I prepare to leave Montana, my mind harkens back to April 7, 2018—just one year ago, when the Bozeman Symphony Orchestra and Symphonic Choir, joined by the MSU University Chorus, gave a performance of Gustav Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony, a work of monumental proportions and one that is extremely demanding for the performers. It was one of those nights. Each and every performer gave 100 percent, and the results were stunning. A former professor of mine from my days at New England Conservatory of Music was in attendance and described what he witnessed as “world class,” and as moving as any performance of the piece he had ever heard played by a major orchestra. But what’s most important to me is that I saw musicians—several who started with us as amateurs many years ago—playing extraordinarily complicated music with confidence, skill and passion.

Then something even more amazing happened—we came back the next day and did it again! It was just as superb and just as transcendent as the night before. We hit that level two days in a row. Dizzy Gillespie was once quoted saying, “The professional is the guy who can do it twice,” and twice we did. It was our finest hour.

Excellence is not achieved quickly, but rather takes commitment and hard work over the long haul. As I leave Montana, I will take with me inspiration from the dedication, hard work and true grit that I observed from the musicians of the orchestra and choir. Growing with them has been one of the great joys of my life. I’ve learned about what makes people achieve greatness, and those lessons will be with me for the rest of my days, as will the music—such glorious music!

Matthew Savery resigned as music director of the Bozeman Symphony in February amid an investigation ordered by the symphony’s board of directors regarding allegations of bullying and verbal harassment. Savery denied the allegations.