The Oct. 6, 2012, concert by Seattle Baroque Orchestra is the season opener, kicking off the group's final season with music director and violinist Ingrid Matthews. She founded the SBO with Byron Schenkman in 1994.
With an exciting new season that includes two programs of Bach, trumpet sonatas by Corelli and Handel, the concert debut of a newly restored 1799 English fortepiano and an appearance by soprano Ellen Hargis singing three different versions of the Orpheus myth, Seattle Baroque Orchestra would seem to be pulling out all stops to note the 2013 departure of SBO co-founder, longtime music director and violinist Ingrid Matthews.
Except, says Matthews, she decided to retire after those shows were set.
“If I had planned a farewell season, it might not look much different,” says Matthews. “For one thing, unusually for us, there are two concerts focused on Bach. But I made the decision to leave last spring, after things were planned.”
The first of the Bach programs, featuring his violin concertos plus suites and fantasias by 17th-century British composer Henry Purcell, is Saturday at Town Hall.
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“Bach is the music dearest to my heart,” Matthews says. “The concertos are sublime, all perfectly balanced and wonderful. These are pieces I’ve played a lot, and each time I discover new things. Also, Bach and Purcell really complement each other. It’s a great program Byron has come up with.”
“Byron” is SBO co-founder and harpsichordist Byron Schenkman, who created the orchestra with Matthews in 1994 and (as of this writing) might be a factor in its future direction. That decision is up to the board of Seattle’s Early Music Guild, the 35-year-old nonprofit that presents historically informed music by international artists and which merged with SBO in 2010.
Though Matthews’ announced departure after the 2012-13 season caught EMG Executive Director August Denhard by surprise, he says the merger lessened administrative burdens on Matthews, 45, helping make it possible for her to step down after almost 19 years.
“Our board is plotting the way forward for the orchestra,” says Denhard. “There will be a future beyond Ingrid’s involvement.”
“The merger was an important step for the orchestra,” says Matthews. “It brought great stability and it facilitated the return of Byron, who had gone to New York. Everyone involved has created something that will last.”
Matthews’ reasons for leaving are both personal and professional.
“It’s just time for a change,” says the home-schooling mom who is contemplating family travel and a return to recording. “This is a job I’ve been doing since my 20s. I don’t want to spend my whole life trying to be who I was then. But I still love the orchestra, and that will make this a bittersweet season.”
Matthews was 27 and in heavy demand everywhere when she and Schenkman founded SBO.
“I called Seattle home but was here less than half the time,” she says. “The city had a lot of interest in early music, but there wasn’t really a high-level professional group here the way there was elsewhere on the West Coast. Byron and I had ideas and goals for our ideal orchestra — small, no conductor, playing both well-loved and more obscure music from the 17th century — and Seattle seemed like a perfect place for it.”
Matthews says she isn’t severing ties with SBO.
“I’d like to come back as a regular guest, if that’s a direction the new leadership decides.”
Tom Keogh: firstname.lastname@example.org.