Just in: Orchestra sacks conductor who is 'arrested wearing only a towel'

Just in: Orchestra sacks conductor who is 'arrested wearing only a towel'


norman lebrecht

December 06, 2011

The details are sketchy, but what is clear is that a conductor has lost his job in apparently compromising circumstances.

Claire Fox Hillard has been the mainstay of the Albany Symphony since 1987. He told police, who were called to a store in a town called Camilla and found him dressed only in a towel, that two men had cut off his clothes and robbed him. They say he had been engaged in activity of a sexual nature with a woman. He was kept in jail overnight but not charged with an offence.

The orchestra sent him on four months’ leave, presumably to shop for new clothes. Those four months have now expired and the orchestra say that, after 24 years, they won’t have him back. That seems rather harsh for one sartorial offence. Normally, Claire’s quite a smart dresser.


  • Just to clarify: Albany, Georgia; not Albany, NY. Rather a difference, small southern town vs capital city of New York State.

  • Samuel Thompson says:

    Mr. Lebrecht: Your sensitivity is greatly appreciated.

    I refer to your sensitivity due to the fact that while you have recounted the story in great detail, there is one very important component of the story missing. (If I may) Maestro Hillard, when found by the police, told them that he had been attacked by two (specifically) African-American men.

    Yes, in “twenty-first century post-racial America”, a conductor who greets and works with winners of the Sphinx Competition for African-American and Latino string players, was cognizant enough to tell the OLDEST lie when caught in what can only be called a compromised position.

    Both the Albany (GA) and Meridian (MS) symphonies do extensive community engagement and musical activity involving the African-American populations in their respective cities. I am truly interested in finding out the REAL reason that Mr. Hillard was terminated.

  • Staple Falingus says:

    This is an outrage. No man should loose his job for the want of pants. Couldn’t the board lend him a pair of slacks?

  • Samuel Thompson says:

    Mr. Lebrecht: Having taken a moment to review the articles published when the events leading to Mr. Hillard’s dismissal took place, I must correct you. Mr. Hillard was indeed charged with a crime:


    Furthermore, this articles clearly shares all of the events that took place – and I’m quite confident that any person with any moral conscience surrounding ethnic relations will be horrified.

    • And this happened in the same state where Troy Davis was executed. http://www.democracynow.org/blog/2011/9/28/troy_davis_and_the_machinery_of_death “Davis was sentenced to death for the murder of off-duty Savannah police officer Mark MacPhail in 1989. Seven of the nine nonpolice witnesses later recanted or changed their testimony, some alleging police intimidation for their original false statements. One who did not recant was the man who many have named as the actual killer. No physical evidence linked Davis to the shooting.”

    • I understand the political trouble that all of this brings about, especially with the already evident and too often extreme racist tendencies in this area. I’m also quite disturbed by the media attention and by the amount of sensationalist hype. I’m dizzy trying to figure what went on after reading this for 3 days. Claire evidently told the police a false story about being robbed by two black males, a story he recanted. And then the next day told the same false story to the newspaper. The newspaper had to contact the police to hear the true story? Claire later apologized: “I acknowledge that my actions have damaged my reputation in the Albany community, (and) hurt people and an institution that I love and respect,” Hillard said in a statement issued by Allen his attorney. “For this, I sincerely apologize. I seek forgiveness and the opportunity to work to rebuild the trust and respect placed in me over the past 24 years.” I have to say that I went to the same high school as Claire, that we played in the same orchestra, and he even accompanied me at a solo and ensemble playing Vivaldi’s flute concerto La Tempesta di Mare. I never noticed any racist behavior from him, and he was really just a good guy. I’m assuming that Claire given the chance would be happy to say that he didn’t intend to be racist and was in a frantic attempt to cover up what happened. He had already recanted his story to the police. Perhaps he would be the first to admit that such stereotyping was terrible. One could only hope that Hollywood and corporate media might follow suite.

      http://www.albanyherald.com/news/2011/aug/13/conductor-hillards-arrest-report-released-by/ http://www.albanyherald.com/news/2011/aug/26/albany-symphony-orchestra-suspends-conductor/ http://www.albanyherald.com/news/2011/dec/05/hillard-out-symphony-director/

      If people really cared about music, wouldn’t it be a different world?
      What’s real about any of this?
      The best remark might be one someone else left listed as Jacob : “That horse is dead. It’s ok to stop beating it now. I’m sure he is regretful that he is not perfect like you and Jesus.”

    • Janae says:

      Folks — Clearly most of you don’t know much about Albany, GA, or Claire Fox Hillard. First: There is absolutely nothing “post racial America” about SW Georgia. Just saying….cause nobody else will. And, the experience of living in SW Georgia will tell you that the odds of being assaulted by some poorly guided, fatherless black male are high. You respectable, indignant, educated black men in the world should seriously contemplate what might help with this problem and not get mad at the people who call it what it is. So, the maestro find himself in a compromising situation and he’s rattled — and likely embarrassed. So he makes up the most believable lie he can — not because he’s racist, but because IT REALLY IS THE MOST BELIEVABLE LIE. Just saying….cause nobody else will.

      Second: My last knowledge of Dr. Hillard, was that he was practically joined at the hip with a wonderful black man — a fine and gifted black leader in the Albany community. I don’t know, but I could guess that this black man is still his friend…they seemed to have a really great friendship and a really fantastic ability to bring out the best in each other. So, there again, I don’t think the lie was rooted in racism. I just can’t see it. I have multiple memories of Dr.Hillard being about the only white guy in a room full of black friends.

      So, please…there were many regrettable things done and any number of things to apologize for…but, get off the racial soapbox. Not everything is about racism!

      • Samuel Thompson says:

        My only response to this: so, is telling “THE MOST BELIEVABLE LIE” under any circumstance acceptable?

        Furthermore, while I must admit that I know nothing of Mr. Hillard save for what I have read since following this case and do understand the wellspring of good wishes and defense being brought forward on his behalf, it is INEXCUSABLE UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES to sink to those depths. “The soapbox” to which you refer, and the outrage at Mr. Hillard’s statement (although it was recanted), is due to the fact that there was a time in American history – not so long ago – during which false accusations were levied against African-Americans on a regular basis, those accusations either resulting in death by mob action, wrongful arrest, or wrongful imprisonment. This cannot be ignored. Considering that history and the large number of false accusations levied against African-American men TODAY (as well as wrongful, life-destroying convictions), I personally cannot accept your statement here.

      • And this is calling it like it is when someone resorts to stereotyping? Of course it should be pointed out that such stereotyping is not acceptable. Although it would be how you attend to what’s going on, someone again reporting that a black male committed a crime he didn’t commit, does not inspire the police and everyone else who reads about it to rummage in their piggy bank and donate money to help create charity to alleviate the dire poverty and oppression that causes what didn’t happen. Not even with fireworks and the Ode to Joy in the background. And what was the REAL reason he was terminated when he might have been happy to point out himself that such stereotyping is unacceptable?

  • Your sensitive manner in sharing this, Norman, is truly commendable. I must say, I have worked with Maestro Hillard in Albany, oh perhaps ten years ago. He brought the orchestra into Ellen Taaffe Zwilich’s “Millennium Fantasy” project for the Georgia state premiere, and we enjoyed our performances together. I am joining the throng, and sorry to see this change of events, and wish Claire and the Albany Symphony a better future following their departing ways.

  • Samuel Thompson says:

    Janae: Someone doesn’t have to have racism in their heart to do something racist.

    Should you truly wish to have a discussion, i would be pleased do. However, I refuse to make any attempts at dignifying your incendiary and arrogant commentary with a response.

  • Samuel Thompson says:

    Janae: Someone doesn’t have to have racism in their heart to do something racist.

    Should you truly wish to have a discussion, I would be pleased. However, I refuse to make any attempts at dignifying your incendiary and arrogant commentary with a response.

  • Janae says:

    No lie is acceptable.
    No false accusation that might harm an innocent person should be tolerated. That’s why such false accusations are felonies.
    The lie was recanted. That’s good. The lie was retold to The Albany Herald. That’s disappointing.

    It seems we both agree that there was likely not racism on Claire’s mind or in his heart. Beyond that I am sad that any of it happened.