Sunday, July 11, 2010

Too much paperwork or politics?

My dear husband, Ilkka, sifted through this morning's Sunday edition of the New York Times, and, while I was still asleep, tossed an ad for Seattle Opera's summer production of "Tristan und Isolde" into the recycling bin. I discovered the ad in the late morning, as I was searching for some missing paperwork. You know how it is, when you wish to find one thing, you stumble upon another.

When I chanced upon Seattle Opera's flyer, I felt the pangs of grief and torment that "psychological warfare" produces for, as it has been pointed out by former colleagues, I have been treated as collateral damage. My husband  was Seattle Opera's concertmaster for over twenty years from 1984 until 2004, and I was a regular substitute first violinist during that time. After the illegal termination of employment of his concertmaster position by the Seattle Symphony, which came to a resolution through mediation, we were both assured that our livelihoods would not be compromised or imperiled, and that Ilkka and I would enjoy a continued working relationship with Seattle Opera.

In May of 2004, an e-mail from Mr. Jenkins. (Note that he is referring to the sudden termination of Ilkka's SSO contract):

Dear Ilkka,
----]I am shocked at your message. No one at the opera had any idea of this at all.
We do have a little bit of time before anything will happen in this area. We are in some ways tied to the Symphony and the players. On the other hand I am certainly happy with your work and very appreciative of the dedication you have always shown to Seattle Opera. We have also benefited not only from your leadership but mostly your superb playing, which is technically excellent and adapted to the different styles of whatever opera we perform.
Know that you have my trust and confidence. I will do some work on this and find out what I can. I so appreciate all that you have done, do and will do for the Opera.

And here, a heartfelt letter which I wrote and sent to Mr. Jenkins in 2008. Unfortunately, Mr. Jenkins did not have the decency or courtesy to respond. Perhaps seeing this letter on my blog will jog his memory.

Dear Speight,
I am aware that you were placed in a difficult position regarding Ilkka's contract back in 2004, and it disturbed us both greatly. The Seattle Symphony and Gerard Schwarz treated my husband with complete disregard, as they deprived him of his career and livelihood without any warning or articulated basis. As you can imagine, these actions resulted in financial hardship and emotional duress to our family. Though his case was eventually resolved through mediation, a signed agreement stipulates that Seattle Symphony, Seattle Opera and their leadership refrain from all discriminatory behavior against Ilkka and me.
As you may recall, I was consistently placed on the hiring list for both Seattle Symphony and Seattle Opera in the first violin section, as a substitute, for as long as Ilkka served as concertmaster. I was regularly hired during summer opera productions. As of 2005, I have not received information with regard to orchestra vacancies, and have not been offered any extra work by Symphony or Opera. 
---We understand that during the year Seattle Opera is bound by an arrangement with SSO. However, the Opera summer production is a separate entity. I'm enclosing an exchange of e-mails between you and Ilkka dating back to 2004, where you praise his work, and assure him that he will work for you in the future---
I look forward to hearing from you.
Marjorie Kransberg-Talvi

In summary, Seattle Opera is an organization that continues to fight for its survival. I believe it's crucial for donors—past, present and future—to learn about the internal politics.
photo of Speight Jenkins in his office © Rozarii Lynch