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Violin News & Gossip, Op. 2, No. 66

September 27, 2006 at 11:51 PM

Robert McDuffie’s All-Star Effort

There will soon be another conservatory option for string players in the United States. Internationally renowned violinist Robert McDuffie announced Sept. 22, 2006, the establishment of the Robert McDuffie Center for Strings at Mercer University in Macon and named Amy Schwartz Moretti, who currently serves as Concertmaster of the Oregon Symphony in Portland, as the director.

The Robert McDuffie Center for Strings is a special institute within the Townsend School of Music of Mercer on the Macon campus. The program will accept up to 10 to 12 string students for the 2007-2008 academic year. Total enrollment will be limited to 26 students, which will include 12 violinists, six violists, six cellists and two double bassists.

“The focus of the Center is to provide highly talented string students the opportunity to learn with some of the nation's renowned string musicians, who will hold the title of distinguished artist at the McDuffie Center. Every student will have direct access to each distinguished artist during their regular monthly visits on campus, and will participate in private lessons, master classes, chamber music coaching sessions, and orchestral sectional work. The McDuffie faculty will impart a sweeping view of music and demonstrate the kinds of career paths available from completion of an advanced string program. Many of the distinguished artists who will teach hold principal positions at major symphony orchestras across the nation, and all maintain prominent solo and chamber music careers.”

Among those who will teach are Andrés Díaz, concert cellist; David Halen, Concertmaster of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra; Christopher Rex, Principal Cellist of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra; Sabina Thatcher, Principal Violist of The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra; and Paul Murphy, Associate Principal Violist of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

Andreas Cardenes, Concertmaster of the Pittsburgh Symphony and Roberto Diaz, violist and president of the Curtis Institute of Music, will make two visits per year as members of the Diaz Trio. During those visits they will coach and teach master classes. Eugene Levinson, principal double bassist of the New York Philharmonic, will join the faculty in 2008.

"Students selected for the Center will be Mercer students, which means they will receive an academically well-rounded education that a conservatory cannot provide," McDuffie explained. "However, their music instruction will be that of conservatory quality, giving them the best of both worlds and preparing them for the real world."

McDuffie, who grew up in Macon and studied at The Juilliard School, apparently envisions the Center filling a void for music students, particularly for those in the South, who want a conservatory-quality music education within a broader academic program.
"The McDuffie Center will train musicians not for short-term glory, but for long-term artistry and curiosity," he said. "The students will not be trained just to win competitions, but to have rich, productive and satisfying careers."

Moretti will join the University in January 2007 to prepare for the incoming class next fall. In addition to her role as director of the Center, she will hold the academic rank of associate professor as well as the Caroline Paul King Chair in Strings.

As director, Moretti will be responsible for the overall management of the Center, coordinating the schedule of the distinguished artists, as well as the coaching, lessons and master classes, and the recruitment of students in coordination with the faculty. In addition to organizing and coaching chamber music groups, she will give private lessons to the Center's violin students and a handful of selected high school students preparing to enter the Center. She will perform with the Center's faculty on a regular basis.

9/26/06 – Clearly, the departure of Amy Schwartz Moretti, the Oregon Symphony's concertmaster, is big news in Portland, reports The Oregonian. Between Jan. and May 2007, Moretti will commute between Atlanta and Portland. “Her decision to leave Portland was doubly hard, she said, because it meant uprooting her drummer husband. It wasn't easy to tell her boss, either. She phoned music director Carlos Kalmar earlier this month, at his home in Vienna. ‘He was surprised’, she said. ‘He was also concerned that as a performer, was I giving that up?’

Moretti, who joined the Oregon Symphony a year after Kalmar took over as music director, brought multiple skills to her position, playing a key role in the maestro's plan to improve the orchestra. The musicians admired her amiable leadership, keen rhythmic style, ability to demonstrate the conductor's wishes and willingness to collaborate in performances outside the orchestra.”

The orchestra will soon begin a search for her replacement; candidates will audition as temporary concertmaster for certain performances.

Other Musician News

9/27/06 – SUNY Buffalo has announced a benefit concert that will raise scholarship funds for students pursuing internships and careers in public interest law. The concert will be held Oct. 19. Second-year law student and violinist Larissa Shahmatova will be the headliner. The Russian violinist, who holds both undergraduate and graduate degrees in violin performance from Juilliard, has soloed with the Moscow Philharmonic, Moscow Chamber Orchestra and the St. Petersburg Chamber Orchestra. More recently, she has performed solo appearances with the Oregon Symphony and multiple concerts in Avery Fisher Hall and Alice Tully Hall in the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City.

9/26/06 – Fresh from her win in the Canada Council Instrument Competition last week, Toronto violinist Yi-Jia Susanne Hou (pronounced ee-jah Susanne how) will open the season for Symphony Nova Scotia with a performance of Paganini’s Violin Concerto No. 1. "The Paganini explores every ability the violinist has," Hou said over the phone from her Mississaugua home on Friday. "It starts with huge leaps and bounds and in the third movement there are double-harmonics which are extremely difficult to play." Hou does not agree that Paganini was a light-weight composer. "He gets a bad rap for being superficial but his music has the qualities of Italian opera — dramatic, maybe even melodramatic — but sincerely felt. If you suspend disbelief and put yourself into that dramatic world you will feel it. It’s up to the musician to create that sincerity." One fact that didn’t come out in last week’s news coverage of Hou’s win is that, prior to twice winning the use of her Guarneri, she also won the use of the Avery Fisher Stradivarius violin for six years at Juilliard.

9/26/06 – The Hartford Courant is reporting that conductor and violinist Peter Sacco has died at age 59. “Sacco had been in a coma since suffering a brain aneurysm on Sept. 11. He was removed from life support Wednesday at Yale-New Haven Hospital with the consent of his family. Sacco, director of orchestral activities at the University of Connecticut, was assistant conductor of the New Haven Symphony and guest conductor of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, where he designed several Discovery Concerts, Family Concerts and Chamber Orchestra outreach programs. He was also music director of the Connecticut Youth Symphony. Trained as a violinist at Juilliard and Yale School of Music, Sacco founded the award-winning Alexander String Quartet in 1980 and was principal second violinist of the New York Chamber Symphony for 13 seasons. He played violin in the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, American Ballet Theater Orchestra, and the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra. Sharon Dennison, principal violinist with the Hartford Symphony, recalled the passion for music Sacco brought to the festival orchestra from its first concert: ‘I loved every minute of it. We would all arrive for the first rehearsal of the season and Peter would remind us all to lay aside our egos and remember what we were there for - the joy of playing music. And that's what we did’.

9/25/06 – According to, violinist Susie Park has joined the Eroica Trio on a permanent basis. She replaces Adela Peña, one of the original members of the group. The Evansville Courier & Press of Indiana reports that the ensemble gave its first performance together with its new official lineup on September 16, performing Beethoven's Triple Concerto with the Evansville Philharmonic Orchestra. Park, an Australian, has filled in on a number of occasions over the past few months for Peña, who, according to the Courier & Press, has been out of commission due to illness since February. The trio's other members are pianist Erika Nickrenz and cellist Sara Sant'Ambrogio.

9/23/06 – In reporting the death of Sir Malcolm Arnold, the Guardian (UK) writes: "The tormented but irrepressible career of Sir Malcolm Arnold, the most recorded British composer of all time and the first to win an Oscar, ended last night with his death at the age of 84. Arnold, who won an Academy Award for his score for 'The Bridge on the River Kwai,' passed away in hospital in Norfolk after suffering a chest infection ... Arnold was prodigiously talented but had a tumultuous private life, plagued by severe depression, chronic alcoholism and attempts at suicide. He repeatedly ended up in hospital for insulin treatments and electric shock therapy. Yet he found sufficient peace to compose 132 film scores, including those for 'Whistle Down the Wind,' 'Hobson's Choice' and 'The Belles of St Trinian's.' His prolific output also included nine symphonies, seven ballets, two operas, one musical and more than 20 concertos." The paper quotes cellist Julian Lloyd Webber: 'Because he had humor in his music he was never fully appreciated by the classical establishment. He was a total genius but a very badly behaved genius -- but then so was Mozart’."

Orchestra News

9/27/06 - The Vienna Philharmonic makes its Australian debut tonight, with Valery Gergiev conducting the first of four concerts to be given through Saturday in the concert hall of the Sydney Opera House.

9/24/06 – According to Channel 10 News in Syracuse, the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra musicians rejected a contract proposal from the orchestra's administration. “The Symphony and representatives from the union have been in negotiations since January of this year to replace a five-year contact that expired last month. The symphony offered musicians a three year deal that would have included benefits and salary increases. But the union turned it down. The new season will start as planned; both sides say they will continue to work on a resolution.”

9/23/06 – The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ran a profile of the Cobb Symphony Orchestra, calling it the Cinderella story of the Atlanta classical-music scene. "Three years ago, it looked like the orchestra might go bankrupt: It was performing three expensive concerts a year on a budget of about $100,000 and was saddled with almost as much debt. Then something magical --- or at least significant --- happened: An enlightened board of directors stepped in, hired an energetic young conductor named Michael Alexander and put the orchestra on a back-to-basics management plan. Today, the budget is $300,000, the Cobb Symphony gives some 16 concerts a season, and the debt has shrunk to $15,000. Now Cinderella has a new ballroom, too: the Dozier Centre for the Performing Arts, a private arts-and-education multiplex in Kennesaw that has made the Cobb Symphony a resident ensemble."

9/21/06 – Also from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Musicians from Atlanta Ballet are trying to drum up public support for keeping live music part of the production. “Citing costs, the ballet declined to rehire the musicians when their three-year contract expired at the end of August. Using taped music could save more than $400,000 a year, said production director David Tatu….But in a statement released Wednesday, musicians say the orchestra accounts for less than 5 percent of the annual budget, and that recorded music could turn off patrons. The move also makes Atlanta the largest American city without live music as part of its ballet performances, said Mary Kenney, a cellist with the Atlanta Federation of Musicians Local 148-462. So far, reaction from patrons to the ballet's decision has been muted. Tatu said a handful of season ticket holders have canceled their subscriptions. Season and single tickets "have nearly matched last year's ticket sales," he said. The musicians have filed a charge of unfair labor practices with the National Labor Relations Board, saying the ballet proposed an 85 percent pay cut after announcing it wouldn't renew their contract. The NLRB is investigating the complaint. The ballet has offered a severance package of $228 per musician, or the equivalent of two performances or rehearsals.”

9/21/06 – The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra and its musicians have ratified a four-year extension of their current labor agreement, reports “The existing contract, which had been due to expire at the end of the current season, gave the musicians 4 percent raises in each of the last two years after a number of years with no pay increases at all. The new extension offers annual 3 percent pay raises, an additional 1 percent pension contribution by the ESO administration, and improvements in health benefits.”

From Virginia Jones
Posted on September 28, 2006 at 6:04 PM
Today's (9/28/06) New York Times has an interesting article about the Iraqi National Symphony.

Also beware of a variation of the Nigeria e-mail scam. Starts with an inquiry for lessons, 2nd email wants to send you too much money with a refund to be given to a 3rd party. The scammer used a address.

From Charlie Caldwell
Posted on September 28, 2006 at 9:26 PM
I am very appreciative of the Cobb Symphony Orchestra being mentioned in this forum. I live in Cobb County and study with the concertmaster of that orchestra. The Dozer Center is amazing from what I have heard from my friends. The Dozer Center hosts a community youth orchestra lead by Dr. Alexander as well as hosts the Cobb SO concerts. I've met Dr. Alexander before and he is very nice and enthusiastic and has a talent for making groups sound their best. I remember two years ago my high school orchestra had a fall retreat and Dr. Alexander was our guest conductor. I really learned a lot from him.

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