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Violin News & Gossip, Op. 2, No. 40

June 29, 2006 at 11:19 PM

It’s long been an open secret that being a Seattle Symphony Orchestra player is scarcely a bed of roses due to the orchestra’s contentious relationship with its Music Director, Gerard Schwarz.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports that a survey of SSO musicians, described by one trustee as "explosive," is expected to be released next week, expressing their unhappiness with music director Gerard Schwarz.

Following are excerpts from the article: “Trustees said the survey showed a high level of dissatisfaction over Schwarz's artistic leadership and his three-year contract extension, announced in early May, as well as board leadership in ignoring the opinions of the musicians regarding Schwarz's new contract.

…The executive committee of the board asked the musicians to delay making public the results of the survey until after the end of the fiscal year on Friday because it could potentially harm fundraising efforts, said Scott Wilson, chairman of the Seattle Symphony and Opera Players Committee. However, Ronald Woodard, board chairman, denies that such a request ever was made. Neither the full board nor musicians have been given the results of the survey.

The most divisive issue for the musicians, some trustees and musicians agreed, was the extension of Schwarz's five-year contract, due to expire at the end of the 2007-08 season.
Shortly after the extension of Schwarz's contract was announced, SSO second trumpet Geoffrey Bergler, a widely admired musician, wrote a letter to The Seattle Weekly, the first SSO musician to speak openly about its terms.

He wrote: "The vast majority of Seattle Symphony musicians are shell-shocked and dismayed: They recognize the need for change. The issue is not Maestro Schwarz personally. If anything, I'm biased in his favor. He's a friend, was my teacher at Juilliard (School in New York), and he hired me for this job. He has brought a lot to the organization and is enormously popular with our major donors. However, it is time for fresh artistic leadership for the symphony."

Less than two weeks later, Bergler said he was given notice by principal trumpet David Gordon, on direction from Schwarz, that his playing was no longer adequate. Bergler equates the warning with "retaliation." Schwarz refuses to talk about Bergler.

As Schwarz has his allies on the board, he has allies in the orchestra who are fervent in their support of the maestro. Each side calls the other a minority voice. What the survey should establish is which side is the majority in the orchestra.

Another musician, considered an ally of Schwarz, said: "A lot of people are tired of Jerry. He has been here a long time and has angered many, a danger of any long tenure. There is a lot of frustration that has been pent up, but I am not sure releasing the results of the survey is a good idea. It does not help sell tickets."

Read the entire article here:

Musician News

6/29/06 – Violinist Joshua Bell returns to his hometown of Bloomington, IN, to perform the Vivaldi Four Seasons and the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. He has been WFIU-FM’s artist of the month for June.

6/28/06 – The Penderecki Quartet is also playing in Bloomington. Pianist Jeannette Koekkoek will join the quartet for Schumann’s E-Flat Piano Quintet.

6/25/06 - In a Florida Orchestra season wrap-up, the St. Petersburg Times included the news that Acting Concertmaster Jeff Multer has officially been named Concertmaster, filling a two-year vacancy. "I thought it was important to have Jeff in place before some other things could happen,'' Music Director Stefan Sanderling said. The paper explains, “Without a permanent concertmaster, the top leadership position among the players, the orchestra was slow to deal with turnover in the ranks. Not entirely coincidentally, with a concertmaster finally onboard, a flurry of audition winners was announced at the end of the season.” Oleg Chelpanov and Nancy Chang won permanent positions in the violin section. Violinist William Kang won a one-year position. Two leading violin positions are also up for auditions next season: principal second violin and associate concertmaster. The article also notes that former concertmaster Amy Moretti has been concertmaster of the Portland (OR) Symphony for two years now. “Base pay this past season for Oregon Symphony members was about $41,000, while scale for their counterparts in the Florida Orchestra was about $27,000. Until the orchestra upgrades wages, it will continue to be vulnerable to losing players. Negotiations for a new musicians contract will get under way next season.”

6/23/06 – The Indiana University Jacobs School of Music’s most recent newsletter proudly trumpeted the news that violinist Yura Lee, an active member, had won First Prize in the 6th International Leopold Mozart Violin Competition in May. This is understandable since Lee studied at IU as a teenager with Miriam Fried and Paul Biss. But here’s what really grabbed my attention: “Biss remarked that Lee is possibly the best student he has ever heard.” Wow! Accolades like that are seldom uttered publicly, let alone in print.

6/22/06 - Keith Lockhart, conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra and music director of the Utah Symphony, has been named artistic advisor of Brevard Music Center effective Oct. 1, 2007, reports the Asheville Citizen-Times. “Lockhart, 46, an alumnus of the center who has conducted there a number of times, will succeed David Effron, also an alumnus, who is retiring after 11 years as artistic director following the 2007 summer season ... Under the terms of an initial five-year contract with Brevard, Lockhart will spend at least two weeks at the center each summer and lead up to four concerts."

6/20/06 – Violinist Samuel Thompson performed at the New Haven International Festival of Art and Ideas in a multimedia performance honoring life and the spirit of New Orleans. Thompson performed Bach's Sonatas in G and A Minor for unaccompanied violin, Eugene Ysaye's Sonata No. 2, Thomas Benjamin's Shapes, for Violin Solo. Photos of New Orleans families and events were projected on a screen during the performances.

Orchestra News

6/25/06 – The Missoulian (Mont.) reports that the Missoula Symphony Orchestra announced its five finalists for the position of artistic director, which was vacated by the departure of 21-year veteran Joseph Henry at the end of this past season. “The finalists are: Morihiko Nakahara, associate conductor of the Spokane Symphony Orchestra; Arthur Post, music director of the San Juan Symphony in Durango, Colo.; Darko Butorac, director of orchestras at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff; Adam Flatt, former associate conductor with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra; and Anthony Spain, music director of the Northwest Symphony Orchestra in Seattle. In addition to conducting concerts, the five finalists will each spend two weeks in Missoula, meeting with civic leaders and visiting schools.

6/25/06 - A major donor to the Fort Wayne (Indiana) Philharmonic wanted to join the board. The orchestra is having attendance and money problems. But the orchestra's board refused to have him join them, reports an op-ed in the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel. Why? "I'm very controversial to some people, because I want to make things better,” says Don Willis. “Board members think it’s their orchestra." In addition to serving on many of the city’s leading boards, Willis donated $90,000 to the orchestra last year alone. He believes the Philharmonic could market itself more aggressively and effectively. “Last year, subsidized with $70,000 from Willis, the Philharmonic offered discounted season tickets, and 40 percent of the people who purchased them renewed this year for a full season – at full price.” The Philharmonic’s musicians, meanwhile, last month passed a resolution supporting Willis. “Beyond the gossip value of mostly well-to-do people squabbling over control, why should you care? Because, as [the key participants] agree, the Philharmonic is a treasure: musically excellent, with the potential to make Fort Wayne and the region more appealing to arts-conscious prospective employers. That’s important, even if you can’t tell Bach from the Beatles. In fact, it’s so important, that everyone involved should put their personal agendas aside and work together for the common good. But will they?”

6/23/06 – The Norwegian musicians' union has called off a month-old strike that could have crippled the nation's many state-supported symphony orchestras, after musicians accepted a draft settlement proposed by a mediator, reports the Aftenposten (Oslo). "The strike began in Bergen in late May, disrupting the opening of the west coast city's annual music festival. It later spread to the National Opera and the Oslo Philharmonic, which was forced to cancel its Asian tour. The musicians were protesting annual salaries that average NOK 350,000 ($58,300) and the fact that they have to pay for their own instruments and their own gala clothing that's worn during performances."

Other Music News

6/27/06 – The Boston Globe provides an update on the sale of and possible frequency change for Boston classical music station WRCB-FM (102.5): "The Globe has learned that [buyer] Greater Media is in negotiations to sell its 99.5 frequency -- currently country music station WKLB-FM -- to New Jersey-based Nassau Broadcasting," which in turn "hopes to launch a classical music format on 99.5 and then apply to the Federal Communications Commission for the WCRB call letters." Louis F. Mercatanti, president and CEO of Nassau Broadcasting, comments: "We believe that there are a few markets in the country that do extremely well with classical, and Boston is certainly one of them ... You have a unique market, a product that is a niche format so it doesn't have any competition, and you have a marketplace that wants the format to stay." Mercatanti says he hopes to maintain WCRB's current staff.

6/27/06 - Los Angeles County will more than double its budget for arts grants in fiscal 2007, from $2.2 million to $4.5 million, reports the Los Angeles Times. “The county board also awarded 5 percent of a $400 million surplus in fiscal 2006 to cultural institutions…On the state level, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed a $5.1-million budget for the California Arts Council -- a $1.8-million boost that relies on projected income from arts lovers' voluntary purchases of special arts license plates. California ranks last in the nation in per capita arts spending.

6/25/06 – The Saratogian (NY) includes an article about the Saratoga Performing Arts Center's new logo, unveiled in late February, which features an image of a left-handed conductor. “Marcia White, SPAC's president and executive director, comments: "It was a design that worked, and when we researched, we found that the baton could be in either hand." The paper adds: "White emphasized that SPAC would never design a logo that wasn't accurate. But errors do occur in design and printing, and it's not uncommon that musical images, in particular, are reversed ... Designers don't seem to realize that it matters if an eighth note has its flag to the left, instead of to the right, and it's common to see sharps and flats where they couldn't possibly belong. If an editor or graphic designer doesn't have a good musical background, it shows in the end result -- but only to those in the know." The paper also cites Peter Nero and Donald Runnicles as examples of left-handed conductors.

6/26/06 – The New York Times reports that KTPB-FM, the classical-music station of Kilgore College in Texas, is being sold to "a Christian-music broadcasting company from California, which will pay the college $2.46 million over 10 years." The station's supporters have formed a group, Save Our Arts Radio. “They have advertised in the local paper and generated at least 175 letters, many of them sent to the Federal Communications Commission, which must still approve the deal." Nancy B. Wrenn, the executive director of the East Texas Symphony Orchestra, comments: "Just because we live out here in the middle of nowhere doesn't mean we have to be a cultural void ... This radio station has reached people who have no other access to the arts." The paper adds: "KTPB, the only classical music station between Dallas and Shreveport, La., a distance of 190 miles, has about 15,000 listeners and reaches a population of 300,000 to 400,000 ... The school, a junior college in this town of 11,000, has been increasingly strapped financially, and the money it was using to subsidize the station -- about $125,000 a year -- was better put toward educating students, officials said."

From Jim W. Miller
Posted on June 30, 2006 at 10:44 PM
I'm curious if Seattle audtions are anonymous. Bergler sort of implies they aren't, the way I read it. Which orchestras audition anonymously and which don't?

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