David Stabler of the Oregonian broke the story earlier today:
A good friend returns to Portland to close out the final concert of the Oregon Symphony’s 2011/12 season. Violinist Jun Iwasaki is scheduled to appear as guest concertmaster to lead the players in Igor Stravinsky’s famously furious “Rite of Spring,” May 20 and 21.
Iwasaki was a popular leader among his Oregon colleagues and audiences. Blessed with brilliant technique and agile musicianship, he held the orchestra’s concertmaster position from 2007 to 2011, before becoming concertmaster of the Nashville Symphony. He comes to Portland from New York, following Nashville’s performance at the 2012 “Spring for Music” festival in Carnegie Hall. Iwasaki played there with the Oregon Symphony during the festival’s inaugural season last May.
The “Rite of Spring” concert, led by music director Carlos Kalmar, includes Liszt/John Adams’ “The Black Gondola,” Adams’ “City Noir” and Antonin Dvorák’s “Nocturne.”
It’s been about 18 hours since the news broke that Oregon Symphony concertmaster Jun Iwasaki was leaving the OSO for the concertmaster post with the Nashville Symphony. I’ve had quite a few thoughts flit through my head yesterday, but I thought that it would be better to just sleep on it and see what would develop as the day went on. There have been quite a few people that have been wondering “what this means” in the context of the Oregon Symphony and its standing in the world of American orchestras. I think that it both means something and that it doesn’t mean much of anything.
I don’t know Jun’s motivations for leaving the Oregon Symphony – they’re his concern, not mine. Some people have noted that this seems like a lateral move (instead of moving up to an orchestra like Dallas, for example), and were perplexed by what would draw Jun there. Elain Calder’s comment on the move in the Oregon Symphony’s press release does spell out a few clues to the other, more tangible aspects that may have had something to do with the move:
“It’s hard to accept that Jun is leaving us after only four seasons, but the Nashville Symphony has a $23 million budget and a new, acclaimed concert hall. They record regularly on the Naxos label and have received six Grammy awards in the past decade. We wish him all the very best, and will now turn our attention to finding a gifted new concertmaster. In the meantime, we are fortunate in Peter Frajola, our Associate Concertmaster, and we know that the performance standards we demonstrated at Carnegie Hall last month will continue under Carlos Kalmar’s inspired direction.”
So, here’s my translation of the first two sentences of that statement (which may or may not be at all accurate):
“We don’t have as much money, so our pay base is lower than theirs, which means that we can’t match their offer for compensation, and our hall is terrible. We have recorded only one disc with Carlos Kalmar, and that hasn’t yet been released, and we don’t know when or if we’ll be able to produce another recording in the foreseeable future.”
I think that time, more than anything else, made Jun’s decision for him. Four years is a good amount of time for a first major position, and in the orchestra business, the longer you stay in one place, the more likely you are to stay put (ask me how I know). There will likely be even more major positions opening in the next few years, and it helps immensely to stay on the audition circuit and have your name out there for orchestras who are in the hunt for a new concertmaster.
So what does this mean for the Oregon Symphony? Not much, I think. We’ll attract and invite some very highly qualified candidates for this next audition, and I have no doubt that we’ll find someone very good. I remember very clearly the thought that we’d never find anyone to take over for Amy Schwartz Moretti, but Jun showed up and was hired. Not to mention that there was at least one other approved candidate in the field with him in the last audition. So, life will go on.
Perhaps just a bit over a decade ago, there was a comment made during discussions at a violin audition that the Oregon Symphony was more of an ‘entry level’ job. I don’t think that that is so much the case any more, certainly as far as artistic standards go. But in income and benefits, we’re gradually falling behind orchestras who used to lag behind us in decades past. Recruitment and retention are aspects of the business that are always hammered on by the musician members of the contract negotiating team, and this loss of a leading player should prompt some lively discussion of the matter in the currently ongoing negotiations.
Oregon Symphony concertmaster of four years Jun Iwasaki is leaving for a new post with the Nashville Symphony beginning with the 2011-2012 season.
From the Nashville Symphony press release:
Nashville Symphony has appointed Jun Iwasaki as the orchestra’s new concertmaster. Currently concertmaster of the Oregon Symphony in Portland, he will officially assume his post at the start of the 2011/12 season, which opens on September 9 at Schermerhorn Symphony Center. Iwasaki has already appeared as guest concertmaster with the Nashville Symphony twice this season and will return for the orchestra’s performances of Mahler’s Second Symphony on June 2-4.
“Jun is an elegant, technically gifted player who brings a wealth of experience and a high level of professionalism to this position,” says Music Director Giancarlo Guerrero. “The orchestra’s stellar reputation has allowed it to continue attracting fantastic musicians from around the world. When we worked with Jun as a guest concertmaster earlier this season, the chemistry was perfect, and I knew he was the right person for the job. In addition to his phenomenal musical sensibilities, he possesses a natural ability to lead and to communicate, which is a key part of the concertmaster’s role. The concertmaster is the conductor’s ‘right hand’ and essentially represents the members of the orchestra – when I shake hands with the concertmaster onstage, I am acknowledging and thanking each musician.”
Iwasaki will make Nashville his home, working closely with Guerrero to help implement the conductor’s artistic vision. As concertmaster, he will establish a particular bowing style for the violin section and for the rest of the strings, which in turn will shape the music’s phrasing and buoyancy. Through this process, Iwasaki will play an important role in continuing to develop the sound of the Nashville Symphony in the beautiful and acoustically superb Laura Turner Concert Hall in Schermerhorn Symphony Center. In addition, he will play most of the violin solos required in the symphonic repertoire, and will appear on occasion as a soloist with the orchestra. “I am looking forward to working with Maestro Guerrero and the entire Nashville Symphony organization, says Iwasaki. “I hope to continue building a musical tradition with all of the musicians, in one of the most magnificent concert halls in the world.”
And here is the Oregon Symphony’s press release, issued this morning:
(PORTLAND, Ore.) – Oregon Symphony President Elaine Calder today confirmed news from Nashville, Tennessee: that concertmaster Jun Iwasaki is leaving Portland to assume the role of concertmaster for the Nashville Symphony Orchestra.
Iwasaki joined the Oregon Symphony in the fall of 2007 and quickly established himself as a consummate artist and an audience favorite. In addition to his performances with the orchestra he has participated in chamber music concerts, taught privately, coached Portland’s youth ensembles and appeared as a soloist with the Columbia Symphony and the Portland Youth Philharmonic. Early in 2009 he performed the Korngold Violin Concerto with the Oregon Symphony and he was scheduled to play the second Violin Concerto by Max Bruch at concerts in February 2012. He has regretfully withdrawn from the 2012 performances and a violin soloist will be named as quickly as possible.
In confirming Nashville’s announcement Calder said, “It’s hard to accept that Jun is leaving us after only four seasons, but the Nashville Symphony has a $23 million budget and a new, acclaimed concert hall. They record regularly on the Naxos label and have received six Grammy awards in the past decade. We wish him all the very best, and will now turn our attention to finding a gifted new concertmaster. In the meantime, we are fortunate in Peter Frajola, our Associate Concertmaster, and we know that the performance standards we demonstrated at Carnegie Hall last month will continue under Carlos Kalmar’s inspired direction.”
Music Director Carlos Kalmar commented: “It is very sad to see Jun go. As a concertmaster he helped tremendously and had a crucial role in the growth of the orchestra during the time he was here. His artistic presence, his commanding musicality and strong leadership were very important for the orchestra and for me personally. I am sure Jun will have an equally positive impact in Nashville. They will be thrilled to learn about his discipline and artistic standards.”