Concertmaster Harrassed, Or Deserving of Removal?

April 15, 2005 at 04:54 AM · Has anyone else been follwing this harrowing tale of concermaster politics? It's about concertmaster Ilkka Talvi being removed from the Seattle Symphony Orchestra by none other than Gerard Schwartz.

Replies (25)

April 15, 2005 at 05:31 AM ·

April 15, 2005 at 06:35 AM · Shows how dangerous one's own postings on the web can be.

By the looks of nate's "post," I rest my case ;)

April 15, 2005 at 12:56 PM · Yes, I’ve been reading Talmi’s blog since March. Unfortunate situation. Whether Talmi’s contract should have been terminated in the first place, it’s gotten to the point where I don’t see how he can stay with the Seattle SO as long as Schwarz is MD.

April 15, 2005 at 06:06 PM · Yeah sad situation. I just didn't want my comments to be critical of either party involved in this that's why I erased my first message. I just wish there was a lot less of this going on in the music world. There are many other problems like this that I have heard of that are not out in the open. Musicians should really just stick with playing and practicing music and perfecting their art which is hard enough as it is...I am really upset to read this.

April 15, 2005 at 06:12 PM · Right, Nate. If you're concertmaster of anything you ought to just shut up and be happy. I'd be surprised if he didn't start it, but who knows.

April 15, 2005 at 06:45 PM · Well, there's a limit to the "we should be happy with what we have" school of thought. In the labor-intensive world of orchestras, the management is going to do everything it can to keep personnel costs down. Left unchecked, the management could abuse the power that's given them to take unfair advantage of the musicians.

I don't think that Talvi has gone about his grievances in the right way, because this public airing of dirty laundry ensures that there can be no amicable solution. But he has a right to protest if he thinks he's being treated unfairly.

April 15, 2005 at 06:53 PM · Ok, can someone gives me the "Talvi Issue For Dummies" version of this whole thing? I heard something about this dispute, but what was this all about?

April 15, 2005 at 07:13 PM · I ended up reading his blog last night and he expresses a lot of opinions and impressions of life in an orchestra and the life of an orchestra, as well as careers of musicians, whether a talented student should be steared toward or away from music as a profession etc. Has anybody read the blog as a whole and had impressions or reactions?

April 15, 2005 at 09:20 PM · I live in Seattle. I know people on different "sides" of this issue, from peers of mine who study/studied with Talvi and his wife, to people who are good friends with Gerard Schwartz to people who played under Schwartz in the past and don't care for his style. Personally, I don't have an opinion since I don't really know the details of the whole situation and it's obviously a very complicated matter. however, I admire Ilkka's courage in creating his site:

It's really unfortunate the SSO is having issues. When I go to concerts, a lot of the players seem bored and apathetic during the performance, sitting there like wooden boards and just playing the notes. apparently, SSO is auditioning new concertmasters in an interesting way: they chose a certain number of candidates, each of whom comes to play a concert with the symphony, has dinner with some important people, gives a recital, and plays an audition. So, each time I go see the symphony, there is a different guest concertmaster!

April 16, 2005 at 04:50 AM · I think Ilkka Talvi has a really good blog ! My only question: why is he writing it on Blogspot and not, where you have the option of community comments, contact by protected e-mail, and the possibility of being featured on the front page of this fine website?

If I could e-mail him I'd invite him to join us!

April 16, 2005 at 05:30 AM · I'm with Pieter. Would someone please explain what's going on?

April 17, 2005 at 12:16 PM · Hi,

What is happening is something that is both very common and run-of-the-mill in the orchestral business. The only difference is that this time, the person is fighting it and doesn't mind creating a scandal, where as usually, both the concertmaster and the orchestra try to avoid that kind of bad publicity at all costs.


April 17, 2005 at 12:52 PM · Laurie, this will take you to his contact info.

April 17, 2005 at 02:08 PM · Christian wrote:

"What is happening is something that is both very common and run-of-the-mill in the orchestral business. The only difference is that this time, the person is fighting it and doesn't mind creating a scandal, where as usually, both the concertmaster and the orchestra try to avoid that kind of bad publicity at all costs."

There's some added drama to this for some of us Seattleites for two reasons. Schwartz seems to be revered by many in this town, and yet his international reputation is falling apart, with trouble in Great Britain and New York-- much critical bashing, especially over the previously moribund Mostly Mozart series there.

Talvi's criticism of our new hall has also rubbed the powers-that-be the wrong way. (I agree with him.) This town has a long history of embracing emporers with no clothes, including, for many years, the old Opera House where the orchestra used to play. Seattle has the collective puffed-up ego of the insecure; we like to call the medoicre "great" without really knowing what we are talking about. We are unjustly proud of our "sophistication" and "taste." Standing ovations are the norm here, which really says it all.

Although I have never heard Mr. Talvi play solo, and I have no doubt that he has been abrasive to the management, I give him the benefit of the doubt in this public argument. I actually walked out of a perfomance of a Mozart symphony with Schwartz conducting. How could he manage to ruin such a fine composition? Easy. No dynamics to speak of. None at all.

Seattle has a long history of embracing lousy conductors and putting them on pedestals, viz., Milton Katims (a fine violist who was a travesty as a conductor). I view this conflict as a battle between powerful camp-followers and sycophants and a lowly (if a concertmaster can be spoken of as lowly) truth-teller. As added info, Gerard Schwartz promised Illka Talvi that "You will be here as long as I am here."

April 17, 2005 at 11:06 PM · Some sectional players posted on in the past. Please share your thoughts with us.

April 18, 2005 at 04:45 AM · The basic (VERY basic) outline of the story is:

Schwarz hired Talvi to be concertmaster about 20 years ago. For about 19 of those years, everything seemed (to Talvi anyway) to be just peachy between the two of them.

There had been several seasons where, due to some bureaucratic delays, Talvi had played without a contract, and when he finally signed it it was retroactive, so everything was fine. So this latest time it happened, it didn't worry him. Then he was told out of the blue that he was fired, and the reason they could fire him was that his contract hadn't been renewed. He's fighting it because he doesn't think it's legal. If I remember correctly, however, it's not a question of trying to fire someone who has tenure, because concertmaster (in Seattle anyway) is not a tenured position - he keeps his job at the pleasure of the music director. So they're going to court to decide which point of view is going to win. Meanwhile, Talvi is using his blog to tell his side of the story.

I might have some details wrong. If so, sorry.

My own personal take on it is, if you want to fire one of your musicians, this was NOT the way to go about it. A personal conversation would have been unpleasant, but it would have been the better thing to do. In fact, this reminds me of what happened to a friend of mine in her personal life: she was away from home at an audition, and her fiance (who was in a different orchestra) called her hotel and left a message with the front desk breaking off the engagement - just as he was leaving on a 3-week tour of Asia with his orchestra.

Another example of "how not to do it."

(So she didn't do very well at that audition... and when she got back home, his mother called to discuss plans for the wedding, and she had to break the news to his mother. This was years ago and she has since married someone much nicer.)

April 18, 2005 at 05:21 AM · Thanks, Jim. I don't have AIM though!

April 18, 2005 at 08:58 AM · Hi,

Again, I understand the story, but I will repeat, it happens. I have seen it happen in a number of ways. San Fran did it publically a number of years ago, while another orchestra, who shall remain nameless here, did it by asking the person to retire to avoid the bad press of firing their concertmaster (much better). The only difference here, is that most concertmasters know that can be part of the job, while Talvi is actually fighting it. In a way it's good, and in a way it's not. Certainly won't help Talvi to keep his job, and if he does, he will have the bad press and bad relationship with the conductor following him for years which will just make things worst. I think that normally in a case like this, keeping quiet and dignified is the best, in both your own interest and that of the orchestra. IF the conductor is wrong, best to let him look like the jerk. Professional ethical conduct at all times is best as a concertmaster.


April 18, 2005 at 09:37 AM · At the beginning or end (or both) of our symphony performance, the conductor and concertmaster shake hands. Is that traditional for most symphonies? Wonder if they put up this pretense of civility on performance nights?

April 18, 2005 at 11:25 AM · Gee Laurie, it sounds hopeless then.

April 18, 2005 at 11:52 AM · Hi,

Yes, Evelyn, that is the tradition everywhere. And that's all it is.


April 18, 2005 at 08:17 PM · Some big-time CM's have been forced to retire by being insulted and harangued during rehearsals, by the conductor, natch.The same fate has also met some top-tier section leaders as well... not a pretty sight.

April 21, 2005 at 11:54 AM · I heard that Talvi had a lifetime contract and the fact he was let go conflicted with his contract.

August 9, 2005 at 07:31 PM · I actually studied with the Talvis and lived at their home for about half a year. They are very nice people and I especially could get along very well with Ilkka. He has done true miracles for my future as a violinist.

At the same time I have met Gerry Schwarz several times now, last november I was in Liverpool where I played for him. I asked him what had happened between Ilkka and him, because I had never heard a bad word out of eithers mouth about eachother. And Gerry was very graceful and again spoke only of all the good things about Ilkka.

I think it is just a very sad situation in which it seems impossible to let something good come out from it. I don't think sides are important anymore, I mean I have my own ideas, but just like everybody else, we don't know what happened for real.

I just hope that somehow music can still win in the end.

August 9, 2005 at 07:59 PM · Checking his blog just now, I see he has some comments there about hte NY discrimination suit.

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