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Originally published February 23, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified February 23, 2007 at 2:25 AM

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Q&A | Conductor Gerard Schwarz explains lengthy search for right hire

The clock has been ticking — and the parade of guests and candidates at Benaroya Hall goes on, as the Seattle Symphony continues its search for a new concertmaster. It's been a long search...

Seattle Times music critic

The clock has been ticking — and the parade of guests and candidates at Benaroya Hall goes on, as the Seattle Symphony continues its search for a new concertmaster.

It's been a long search. In fact, we're halfway through the third season of searching. Time for an update from music director Gerard Schwarz, who ultimately gets to make the crucial hiring decision.

Q: Everyone's wondering: Why has the search taken so long?

A: In our defense, let me say that other orchestras have taken even longer — up to seven years at the London Symphony Orchestra, and in San Francisco, the concertmaster search took three years. When I was in the New York Philharmonic as principal trumpet, they went through three concertmasters in four years before finally selecting Glenn Dicterow, who is still there. It's just not an easy process.

Q: What makes it so difficult?

A: Hiring a concertmaster is like adding a senior family member. This is the most important hire that I will ever do. Yes, there is an urgency — everyone wants to know who the new leader is. But we don't want to make a mistake. We have the luxury of being able to take our time to ensure the right choice in concertmaster. Presently we have a great violinist, (acting concertmaster) Maria Larionoff, leading our orchestra, with many others supporting her. This is not about speed. This is about one of the most important artistic and leadership positions in our orchestra.

Q: Haven't any of the concertmaster candidates, including some top players from major orchestras, been impressive enough?

A: We have had some great players audition. But the only one we thought was right in all the areas was not available. We are not counting out the earlier candidates, however, who have been here in the past seasons.

Q: Do you think the issues of discontent among some of the players, which first surfaced publicly last summer, have had an impact on the concertmaster search?

A: The negative press is behind us. It is a new beginning. I know that all of our guest concertmasters, without exception, have had wonderful weeks with us, and we are very grateful to all of them. Their enthusiasm for our artistic product has been unanimous, as well as their admiration for our hall, city, and audience. Therefore, I am extremely confident that those positive qualities that we have in abundance will reign.

Q: So how is the fundraising going? The orchestra posted a sizable deficit last summer.

A: Again, we are at a new beginning. Recently, we have been left with a difficult situation on many fronts, and we have been afforded the opportunity, like with the concertmaster, to take our time in choosing our new executive director. We are very lucky to have Mary Ann Champion as our interim executive director. She is doing a fantastic job, and in the meantime, we will find the right person to lead our staff and our fundraising. We are also extraordinarily lucky to have Susan Hutchison take on a leadership position with our board.

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The support from our audience is strong, and we are at the highest artistic level. We have embarked on many exciting new projects, including our series [of chamber music] at The Triple Door, our upcoming New European Festival, several exciting new CDs, including one in conjunction with a local major corporation, and our upcoming collaboration with Dale Chihuly on Bartok's "Bluebeard's Castle." In addition, we are very proud of our collaboration with KCTS in our extremely successful television broadcast of the Shostakovich Eighth Symphony. As a result, our recent performance of the music of Kernis, Kodaly and Brahms was taped for future broadcast.

In the month of December alone, we sold almost $2 million in ticket revenues. I believe that right now we are poised to become stronger than ever in our history.

Q: Anything different about the concertmaster search process as time has gone on?

A: Our approach to the search now is slightly different. Originally, we had all candidates play auditions and chamber music in addition to their time with the orchestra. Now, we are inviting guest concertmasters to play with the orchestra without as formal a program.

Certainly I'm getting fire over this [length of time]. All I can tell you is I'm going to get this job filled as soon as I possibly can, but it must be with the right person for our orchestra.

Melinda Bargreen: mbargreen@seattletimes.com

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