The following story isn’t exactly the kind of press coverage that most arts organizations are hoping for. The New York Times published an article by Dan Wakin and James Oesterich about long-simmering discord within the Seattle Symphony. Titled ‘In Seattle, a Fugue for Orchestra and Rancor‘, the article states:
And to judge from alarmist reports coming from here over a dozen years or so, the Seattle Symphony Orchestra has carried disharmony to new heights, lurching from crisis to crisis. There have been allegations of vandalism aimed at players, including a dented French horn and a razor blade planted in a mailbox; a players’ survey that condemned the conductor only to be deep-sixed by management; and lawsuits filed by players accusing the conductor of mental if not physical abuse.
It is a cautionary tale of how the relationship between performers and a long-term leader can go awry and how, in an artistic hothouse, a tangle of emotion and politics can veer out of control and take on a life of its own.
Read the complete article here. It documents the Seattle Symphony’s increasing national profile, balanced budget, and active recording projects, all of which could easily make comparable U.S. orchestras green with envy. At the same time, the article documents the tension between longtime conductor Gerard Schwartz and the musicians, describing him as follows:
He has been the kind of music director often held up as the ideal, heavily involved in fund-raising for the orchestra and active in the civic affairs of Seattle.
But like many long-serving maestros Mr. Schwarz has also made enemies and generated reservoirs of ill will among the players. Now a lawsuit brought by an orchestra member, scheduled for trial next month, suggests a more complete picture of dysfunction at the Seattle Symphony. It paints a damaging portrait of Mr. Schwarz, 60, who was long prominent on the New York music scene: as trumpeter at the New York Philharmonic, founding music director of the New York Chamber Symphony and music director of the Mostly Mozart Festival.
At least 15 current or former members of the Seattle Symphony have signed sworn declarations on behalf of that member, Peter Kaman, many of them creating an image of Mr. Schwarz as a vindictive, harsh taskmaster who has undermined morale. Even given the strong feelings players in many orchestras have historically had about their conductors, the degree of public criticism is stunning.
Cases of player/management and player/player mental abuse, acts of vengeance, and allegations of physical threats are also mentioned in this recent Times story.