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Sunday, September 05, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Ruckus at Royal Liverpool

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Gerard Schwarz's 2001 departure from Mostly Mozart left room in his schedule for a career expansion overseas, and he signed on for five years as the music director of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. There were warning signs, many of them financial, in Liverpool, but Schwarz was favorably impressed with the board chairman, chief executive, staff and players, who shared his vision for what could be accomplished.

"I believed, as I did here, that if you work really hard and produce excellent concerts, the public will come and issues of support will be there," he says now. "Here, it happened. There, it did not."

Although the orchestra attracted growing audiences and made some fine recordings with Schwarz, financial troubles continued. The number of players was cut; so was the number of concerts. Schwarz fired some players, including the concertmaster, and made changes in the concert lineup.

Just after the Seattle Symphony's East Coast tour last spring, it was announced in the British press that the Liverpool musicians had met and held a no-confidence vote in their conductor. Schwarz says that those reports were incorrect, a fact acknowledged to him by the chairman of the orchestra committee. Whatever happened, it certainly made a ruckus — though ironically the orchestra played so well for Schwarz thereafter that the local and national press printed highly favorable reviews.

Though Schwarz was offered "a significant continuing relationship" with the RLPO, according to the orchestra's chief executive, he declined to stay on following the end of his contract in 2006. Liverpool will celebrate the 800th anniversary of the city's founding in 2007, and its election as the European Capital of Culture in 2008 — but without Schwarz on the podium.

New York Times critic John Rockwell, pointing to Schwarz's departure and also that of American conductors Leonard Slatkin (BBC Symphony) and Kent Nagano (Manchester's Hallé Orchestra), wrote last week speculating whether there is anti-Americanism in the British orchestra world.

"A calmer assessment of the situation suggests that if there are troubles in these relationships, they speak more to the state of British orchestras and opera than to the failings of a few Americans," Rockwell wrote. "Or Jewish Americans, since Mr. Slatkin and Mr. Schwarz are both Jewish and one London critic spoke speculatively of a certain residual, genteel anti-Semitism in Britain. Which every one else stoutly denied was a factor."

Norman Lebrecht, a noted critic and author, also wrote at length recently in The London Evening Standard about the Liverpool situation, and "came down squarely on Mr. Schwarz's side in that controversy," as Rockwell put it.

Meanwhile, Schwarz says, "I took Liverpool very seriously. It's a huge weight off my back."

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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