Seattle Symphony, Searching for a Concertmaster, Settles on Four

Classic Arts News   Seattle Symphony, Searching for a Concertmaster, Settles on Four
In an arrangement likely without precedent in the U.S., the Seattle Symphony Orchestra has engaged four different concertmasters for the coming seasons. Even more unusually, two of the new appointees will keep their current positions at other orchestras, and a third is a veteran soloist and chamber player with relatively little orchestral experience.

The four violinists, whose names the orchestra revealed last week, are:

  • Frank Almond, concertmaster of the Milwaukee Symphony and former concertmaster of the Rotterdam Philharmonic and London Philharmonic.

  • Emmanuelle Boisvert, concertmaster of the Detroit Symphony and the first woman to hold the position at a major U.S. orchestra.

  • Ani Kavafian, soloist and chamber musician, longtime artist member of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, and professor at the Yale School of Music and SUNY-Stony Brook.

  • Maria Larionoff, the Seattle Symphony's acting concertmaster for the past three years.

As each of the appointments is part-time, Almond and Boisvert will keep their current positions, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

The four replace Ilkka Talvi, who was fired by SSO music director Gerard Schwartz in 2004 after 20 years with the orchestra. (Talvi promptly sued and the case went to arbitration; a settlement was reached in May 2005.)

While most full-time professional orchestras in the U.S. have violinists with the title of associate or assistant concertmaster, this is the first time that four musicians have shared the top title in this country — although Schwarz maintains that the arrangement is common elsewhere.

"There's no such thing as four [concertmasters] at one symphony in the U.S. or even two," he told the Post-Intelligencer. "In Europe, it's the opposite. I can't think of a major European orchestra with a single concertmaster. [...] I like to think in Seattle we are willing to be less traditional when it matters.

"This model is right for us," he continued. "I think it's going to be sensational artistically. They [the four new concertmasters] all play in a similar style, and they're all great. I think it will be refreshing. I'm the constant at the orchestra. I live here, I'm the leader, and I participate in the cultural life of our community."

Schwarz has been the Seattle Symphony's music director since 1985, and last year his term was extended through 2010-11, despite some reported tension between the conductor and a number of the musicians.

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