The Long Read: When a music director unseats a concertmaster

The Long Read: When a music director unseats a concertmaster


norman lebrecht

November 13, 2015

This weekend’s long read delves into some serious backstage turmoil at the Utah Symphony, an orchestra that appears to have been shaken out in quite old-fashioned ways by its Swiss music director, Thierry Fischer.

There has been high player turnover under Fischer’s direction. A popular concertmaster, Ralph Matson, has been demoted.

In June, the only mention of Matson’s change of status came in the form of a statement on the Utah Symphony website: “Thierry Fischer, Music Director of the Utah Symphony has initiated a search for a new concertmaster of the Utah Symphony. Auditions for the position began in February 2015 and are ongoing. Auditions for the Utah Symphony are conducted by the Music Director and the Musician’s Audition Committee. After a new concertmaster has been selected, the Utah Symphony’s current concertmaster, Ralph Matson, will continue with the orchestra in the position of associate concertmaster.”

A guerrilla campaign is being mounted behind the scenes: One former symphony member created Facebook posts offering “Free Ralph” T-shirts, “Just pay attention to the message on the T-shirt” the post reads. “Very bad things are happening in Utah.”

Read the full article here. It’s polite, but quite ugly.


utah symphony


  • Milka says:

    It is possible the concertmaster has seen better days as a player and the conductor
    is correct , Mr. Silverstein had he been a gentleman would have kept his mouth shut
    considering his past history with the orchestra, Mr. Matson seems to be playing this
    out for all it is worth .As a player if indeed his days are done with, he should retire
    with his dignity intact , but if he stays it will only be as a distraction, sort of sitting
    there with a begging bowl letting us know of his so called cruel treatment .

    • Holly Mulcahy says:

      In my summer performances with the Grand Teton Music Festival, where Ralph Matson is also concertmaster, I can assure you he is still very much in his prime. Silverstein’s words are well chosen and offer a unique perspective to this situation. I do believe if one was to be playing this out for all its worth, they would have fought publicly and not stepped back so soon.

      • Milka says:

        Baloney ! .. playing it out as a hapless victim always gets the sympathy vote and he
        will always stand out as a sore thumb … he should be gone .It is none of Silverstein’s
        business his day has come and gone …there is a new conductor ,if you don’t like his
        methods of treating what he considers has been players then fire the conductor and
        you can have all the mediocrities you want .

    • David Irwin says:

      I disagree strongly. Frim all reports, Ralph is doing a great job, and still in his prime.

  • MacroV says:

    Most orchestras turn over about 3 positions a year; Utah is doing about twice that rate under Fischer.

    I know nothing about Ralph Matson, so I’ll make the general point that it’s not unusual for a music director to want his/her own person as concertmaster. Nor is it unusual for a concertmaster eventually to step down – usually into the section and not just to assistant/associate CM. 30 years is a pretty long tenure for a CM.

    • Jules says:

      I’ve seen this comment before, without any corroboration. Please tell us where and when an incoming MD has sacked the CM simply to put his/her “own” choice in.

  • Patrick says:

    Abravanel had higher standards than Fischer, but he also understood his Orchestra and his community.

  • Lani Poulson says:

    There is a process for removing a player who is no longer good enough. This was not followed. There was nothing but praise for Ralph from Fischer until the day he was demoted. All Fischer had to do was document the times when Ralph was supposedly not doing his job well enough. He had to put him on notice. Instead, he praised him, in private and in public. I know Ralph Matson well and have performed with him. (I have sung, mostly in Europe, for 35 years.) He is diligent, greatly talented and still able to convey and inspire passion for music. The members of the Utah Symphony rightly respect his efforts at keeping that organization striving for excellence. I find this demotion deplorable.

  • William Safford says:

    When it came time for the long-time principal of one of the string sections in the local orchestra to step down therefrom to be a section player, she was feted on the stage by the conductor and by her colleagues in a subscription concert. This included flowers and accolades.

    I do not know the circumstances, so I do not know if it was voluntary. Irrespective, it sure was classy.

  • Rich Patina says:

    One of the musicians in the Utah Symphony told me that Thierry Fischer played nice to get the gig but has since turned into a tyrant.

  • Orchestral Musician says:

    This is outrageous. Ralph Matson is a superb concertmaster.

    • Shannon Straight says:

      We are long time Utah Symphony patrons & Couldn’t agree more. Our orchestra had a well-deserved reputation & could make any conductor look good, thanks to talented musicians like Ralph Natson!

  • Ed Makowski says:

    The picture shown is of the Mormon Tabernacle, not Abravanel Hall, the home of the Utah Symphony since 1980. The City Weekly is a free weekly publication found in news stands around town. I am surprised I have not read anything about Raph’s situation in The Salt Lake Tribune. I think the orchestra sounds great ! I thought Ralph was doing a wonderful job. I do believe that the Symphony has performed well under Fischer. I think he is the best conductor we have had here in Salt Lake since Abravanel. This news is a major surprise, however, I will await the facts before I pass judgement.

  • harold braun says:

    The orchestra plays really fine under Fischer on the new Mahler 1 Disco,but his conducting is really dull and superficial.Still remember him doing a really lousy,pseudo historically informed Beethoven 7 with BBC NOW at the Proms some years ago.And just think about the story between FWM and Cleveland Principal Clarinet Franklin Cohen.Some conductors have big egos,but not much more….

  • Milka says:

    And now we hear from the dreary arm chair generals who are going to pass judgement
    and remind us they attended a past performance not to their liking .