The next step at Seattle Baroque

After concluding its successful 10th season in June, the Seattle Baroque Orchestra announced that harpsichordist Byron Schenkman will step down as artistic director. Violinist Ingrid Matthews will take his place.

"Since the beginning, Byron and I have been sharing the leadership responsibilities," said Matthews, who has been the music director of Seattle Baroque since she founded the Capitol Hill company with longtime friend Schenkman in 1994. "Byron did more of the scholarship and more of the programming and I led the rehearsals, so the biggest part of his job happened before the concert week and the biggest part of my job happened the concert week."

This schedule gave Matthews plenty of time to tour, and she has performed extensively outside of Seattle with such organizations as Tafelmusik, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Joshua Rifkin's Bach Ensemble, as well as working as a concertmaster for the New York Collegium, under the direction of Andrew Parrott, and for the Boston Early Music Festival Orchestra.

But Schenkman took up solo, modern piano a few years ago and was looking for a schedule that gave him more flexibility just as Matthews decided this year to spend more time in Seattle with her husband and a new baby.

"He felt it was time for him to let go of his artistic director responsibilities, although he'll continue to play for us and I'm really happy about that," said Matthews. "But I'll take over the programming and the other administrative parts of the job. And that works out well for me. Having just had a baby, I can stay home more. Byron wants to be traveling more and I want to be traveling less, so it works out for both of us, but it's a lot of transitions right now."

As combined music and artistic director of Seattle Baroque, Matthews is feeling very upbeat about the company's future, despite the fact that the orchestra suffered the same drop in funding that affected all Northwest arts organizations.

"We had a sharp incline in growth in our audience, but then, in 2001, we did hit a rough patch with the economy slumping as it did. It was sobering for us and we began to program more conservatively and look more closely at the expense of our projects," said Matthews. "But this last season, our audience has been picking up again. While the big grant money is down, we've had more individual donors and more ticket buyers this year. We've had good audiences all year and soldout a couple of times at Benaroya. While people aren't writing checks as large, we have more people writing smaller checks and buying tickets, so it all works out in the end."

A close examination of expenses led Seattle Baroque to drop their North End concerts at a church in the University District.

"We are changing venues and rearranging our nights as part of an overall plan. We'll be playing on Friday nights in Kirkland, and then playing Saturdays and Sundays at Benaroya," said Matthews. Traditionally, the orchestra had played Fridays in the U-District, Saturdays downtown, and Sundays in Kirkland. "It's economics, like everything else. The Benaroya concerts sell the best and draw the biggest audience."

Eventually, however, Matthews would like to see the orchestra expand to more concert nights and have more education events connected with their performances.

"This year we're doing our first tour, and we do have another recording planned for next season," she said. "For awhile, we were doing a recording every year, but we had to cut back. So it's nice to be getting back into recording."

Seattle Baroque did one recording last season which will be released in 2004/05, featuring many lesser-known pieces of the 17th century.

Besides her CDs with Seattle Baroque, Matthews had done numerous recordings as a soloist, ranging from the early 17th-century Italian repertoire to Bach's sonatas and partitas for unaccompanied violin.

Seattle Baroque's next recording will be Handel's "Gloria," which they will perform in April 2005 for their "Handel in Rome" concert. The 2004/05 season will be built around the theme of the great capitols of Europe and the music composed there, starting with "The Grand Tour" concert in October.

Ellen Hargis, the soprano scheduled for the "Handel in Rome" concert, was featured on the very first recording done by Seattle Baroque. "She's a wonderful singer," said Matthews.

As she takes on her new responsibilities at Seattle Baroque, one thing that Matthews won't consider is playing more modern pieces. "Although I was trained as a modern violinist, I sold my modern violin more than 14 years ago," she said. "I don't play modern violin any more."

Season tickets are now on sale for Seattle Baroque Orchestra. More information can be found at or by calling 322-3118.

Rosemary Jones writes about arts and entertainment and can be reached at healingpgs

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