When I accepted the concertmaster position for Northwest Chamber Orchestra in 1984, after a thrilling escapade serving as first chair for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Institute under Michael Tilson Thomas and Leonard Bernstein, I envisioned part ownership in the NWCO, an orchestra bursting with potential, ready for the launch pad. A few of the players lacked adequate training and skill, but in general, the overall musicianship standard was respectable, due to the musicians' dedication. I felt pride as the appointed leader, and took my role seriously, substituting Vogue and Cosmopolitan Magazines for miniature orchestral scores during flights to and from Los Angeles, where Ilkka and I maintained part time residence. I fancied myself a Seattle version of the late Iona Brown, indomitable leader of St. Martin-In-The-Fields turned into a force-to-reckon with Music Director of Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.
The NWCO was repeatedly in the throes of financial turmoil, but always some benefactor, in the last minute, out of mercy, prior to bankruptcy, would dig into his or her pockets, sometimes refinance a mortgage, and grant a merciful stay of execution. Once or twice, an antiquated audience member left this world—no fault of ours, and we'd find the NWCO named as beneficiary. In such magic moments, the orchestra heaved a collective sigh of relief. We carried on—business as usual—while fantasizing that NWCO was one of the jewels of Seattle's community; too precious to lose.
This might be the year of magical thinking for a number of musicians and arts organizations, but nothing beats a good fantasy. Some groups, such as this one, are on the brink of reality. I wonder what would have happened if the Northwest Chamber Orchestra had reorganized, cloaked itself in a new identity, and tossed the archaic bargaining agreement before calling it quits. The ensemble had, after all, many top-notch artists at the helm, including Sidney Harth, Ralf Gothoni and Joseph Silverstein.
Well, I can still dream, can't I? As long as my fantasy ensemble doesn't become the Belly Up Royal Philharmonic – BURP.
Illustration from Disney's Fantasia 2000