The concertmaster post (leader of the first violin section) is proving a hot seat in Seattle. Marjorie Kransberg-Talvi, longtime leader of the Pacific Northwest Ballet Orchestra, has resigned that post, unhappy at criticism of her playing by conductor Stewart Kershaw, effective the end of this season. Ingrid Matthews is taking a one-year leave from being leader of Seattle Baroque Orchestra, citing a need to take some time off. And turmoil continues at the Seattle Symphony.
The Symphony story is the most complex, with a jury-rigged, four-concertmaster arrangement likely to continue at least through next year. The arrangement, put together this year after three years of fruitless searching for a permanent concertmaster, touched off a protest from the Seattle Symphony Orchestra Players Association over various contractual interpretations. The main point of contention was whether management could appoint part-time positions, as three of the concertmasters are; the fourth, who spends most of the time in the hot seat, is full-time orchestra violinist Maria Larionoff. Management agreed to back off the "quartermasters" arrangement, defining the visiting concertmasters as guest artists.
Both sides are claiming victory in this dispute. SSO Board President Susan Hutchison says, from the audience's perspective, next year will be "exactly the same," with the three guest concertmasters appearing infrequently and Larionoff in effect being the concertmaster. "As Jerry Schwarz sees it, everything is the same," Hutchison reports. (Schwarz was unavailable to comment.) The musicians, meanwhile, feel they made their point that musicians in the orchestra should be full time, with full benefits. And the audiences get the benefit of some very fine guest concertmasters, though they are not around long enough to have much impact on the section's playing.
Bad feelings continue to characterize orchestra relations at the Symphony, where many players complain of not being listened to or included in key decisions (such as the sudden dismissal of Ilkka Talvi as concertmaster in 2004 for reasons never explained and producing an expensive lawsuit). The latest diplomatic slight is a new policy that musicians now need to inform Hutchison in advance if they want to attend board meetings. But at least this latest dispute over the concertmaster was solved without arbitration.
Talvi's dismissal, after 20 years of being SSO's concertmaster, is often attributed to his low-profile role in fundraising and schmoozing, as well as conductor Schwarz's frustration with the first violin section of the orchestra, which doesn't always play together and contains several of the conductor's chief detractors.
Another factor with the SSO's string sound could be Schwarz's preference for dividing the first and second violin sections, one to his left and the other to his right. There's