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Conservatory will not rescind Zander firing

Officials rebuff letter from family

Essdras M Suarez/ Globe Staff

Conductor Benjamin Zander, rehearsing the Boston Philarmonic.

New England Conservatory says it will not reconsider its decision to dismiss conductor Benjamin Zander, even as Zander’s supporters push for his reinstatement.

The latest volley came yesterday from a two of Zander’s family members. In a 5,175-word letter with detailed footnotes sent to the conservatory’s board of trustees, former Harvard University president Neil Rudenstine and the conductor’s older brother, Michael, a legal scholar based in London, laid out the case for giving Zander his job back.

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Under the heading “Has Justice Been Done?,’’ Michael Zander and Rudenstine, who is married to Benjamin Zander’s sister, concede that Zander made a mistake in hiring a convicted sex offender to film at the conservatory, but they state that the conductor should not have been fired. They portray Zander, 72, an acclaimed faculty member who taught at the conservatory for 45 years, as being blindsided by a “brutally summary process [that] was far below the standard expected of a respected educational institution.’’

Last month the conservatory fired Zander, who also led the school’s Youth Philharmonic Orchestra, for knowingly hiring the sex offender Peter Benjamin as a freelance videographer to film concerts, rehearsals, and master classes, without telling conservatory officials of Benjamin’s past.

Benjamin went to prison in the 1990s for the rape and sexual assault of three teenagers, but he has not been accused of any crimes at the conservatory or at the Walnut Hill School for the Arts, a preparatory school affiliated with the conservatory. Zander, who taught at Walnut Hill, had hired Benjamin to do work there.

Yesterday, after receiving the letter, conservatory officials responded with two short statements confirming their decision.

“When a faculty member exercises extraordinarily poor judgment that compromises the safety of our Prep School students, an institution like the conservatory must hold that faculty member accountable,’’ said Steve Friedlaender, chairman of the board of trustees. “Mr. Zander is a distinguished conductor and teacher and we appreciate his years of dedicated service; however, this does not warrant special treatment in this situation. Nothing contained in recent correspondence changes our position on this matter.’’

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“I can appreciate that family members would feel compelled to go to bat for a relative who finds himself in a difficult situation,’’ said conservatory president Tony Woodcock. “However, the basis for our decision hasn’t changed. This story has been covered extensively, and the public has been fully informed. It is time for the conservatory to move on so that we can focus our attention on educating our students.’’

Michael Zander said that the letter was prepared without his brother’s knowledge. He said he expected the letter to be taken seriously, even if it was written by family members.

“The fact that we are relatives is an issue, but I think the letter stands on its own feet and requires rather careful consideration,’’ he said.

Rudenstine declined to discuss the letter in detail.

“I want the document to stand on its own terms,’’ he said. “There had been a great deal of conversation about the issue, and it seems to be time to try to put the facts down as clearly as they could be understood.’’

Benjamin Zander, reached at his home, said he found the letter moving. “It so clearly speaks for itself,’’ he said. “There’s nothing I can add.’’

When asked if he wanted his old job back, Zander didn’t hesitate. “Of course I want to conduct the youth orchestra,’’ he said. “Absolutely.’’

Since the dismissal, Zander, who also conducts the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, has apologized publicly for the anguish he caused by hiring Benjamin at the conservatory, and some members of the Youth Philharmonic Orchestra have spoken out against the decision and tried to resist the school’s attempts to replace the conductor.

More than 700 have signed an online petition urging Zander’s reinstatement. But the conservatory has been steadfast in insisting that the decision is final.

Geoff Edgers can be reached at gedgers@globe.com.

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