The Seattle Symphony, rebounding from a sweepingly critical article in The New York Times, has some good news to start the new year with. Music Director Gerard Schwarz was picked on short notice to conduct a German tour of the celebrated orchestra, the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, when its regular conductor, the ageless Sir Neville Marriner, withdrew. The tour runs from January 8-14, visiting Hamburg, Cologne, and Munich among other cities. Schwarz's next important gig, outside Seattle, is conducting the Helsinki Philharmonic, in Helsinki on March 5-6, with soprano Jane Eaglen. Other good news came from record December ticket sales and contributions. Apparently there was no negative financial effect from the New York expose. It was the most successful December in SSO history, says Executive Director Tom Philion, exceeding the budget for ticket sales by $250,000. That provided some catchup, putting the Symphony ahead of total ticket sales budget by $150,000, according to Philion. He adds that contributions were also very strong, ahead of the previous December figures. The strong December is partially a result of very popular, holiday-themed programming all month. It will help validate Philion's approach of appealing to targeted segments of audiences, including those who may not attend many other, more traditionally classical programs, and broadening the spectrum of kinds of music the Symphony presents. Meanwhile, relations between management and musicians remain testy. The latest dispute is over the bizarre four-concertmaster arrangement that Schwarz unveiled at the start of the current season (really one lead concertmaster, Maria Larionoff, and three occasional guests). Musicians have raised questions about "contractual inconsistencies," in the words of timpanist Michael Crusoe, head of the players' union, but neither side is saying anything further about how the negotiations are going. Union contracts generally frown on offering part-time posts for senior positions. Another uncertainty for the Symphony is waiting to hear from the IRS about its request to defer last year's pension contribution to the musicians. Citing financial strains, the Symphony petitioned the IRS to structure payment, about $1 million a year, over the next five years or so. Still no decision from the IRS, reports Philion. If the IRS says no to the request, the Symphony would have to scramble to replenish the pension fund, fast. The Symphony, which the Times' described as lurching from crisis to crisis in recent years, is doing better at mobilizing its board for fundraising, appealing to broader audiences, and trying to table internal debates about whether to renew Schwarz's contract, which expires after the 2010-11 season. Its court battle with an unhappy violinist, Peter Kamen, who has sued over an allegedly abusive climate engendered by the Symphony and Schwarz, will likely be settled or dismissed next month. The players' contract expires in August, 2009. And the big push, still in the quiet phase, is to solve the orchestra's structural deficit by raising $50-75 million for its undersized endowment.