Sunday, October 24, 2004
Hiring of violinist stirs up discord
Many of the arts faculty at Virginia Tech are upset by David Ehrlich's appointment.
David Ehrlich, dismissed by Virginia Tech in 2001 along with the other three members of the Audubon Quartet, has been rehired by the university - to the dismay of some faculty members.
The former Audubon first violinist has a one-year contract to do outreach for the university. Among his other duties, Ehrlich will explore the possibility of bringing an international music festival to Tech, school officials said.
His appointment drew a barbed response from music faculty, who charged that Ehrlich was the wrong choice and asked why they weren't included in the hiring process.
"The faculty is uniformly furious about this," said Wallace Easter, a Tech music professor and respected hornist for the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra. "There's a lot of negative feeling toward him in the music department."
As part of his job, Ehrlich will also be allowed to play a $1 million Italian-made violin, confirmed Tech spokesman Larry Hincker. The Bergonzi violin was purchased for Ehrlich's use by the Virginia Tech Foundation when he was still a member of the quartet.
The foundation has kept the violin under wraps since the Audubons departed, and Ehrlich has expressed concern that it was not being played.
Ehrlich and the other Audubons underwent a highly publicized divorce in 2000, when Ehrlich was ejected from the group by the other three members. Ehrlich sued, and the case has been in court ever since.
Easter said Ehrlich's hiring makes it look as though the university is taking sides in the ongoing battle between Ehrlich and the remaining Audubons, who are now performing with a new violinist, Ellen Jewett.
"Bullpuckey," responded Hincker. "I can't figure out how anyone can draw that conclusion." He noted that Ehrlich's job is not an academic appointment and is not in the music department.
Ehrlich said last week that he was "very grateful for the opportunity," and wants to get along. "I want to cooperate. My interest is not in something that will develop criticism. I'd like to do well for this community."
Still, his appointment seems to have reopened old wounds over Ehrlich and the Audubons within Tech's cultural community.
In a prepared statement, theater department head Patricia Raun delivered a delicately worded criticism of the hiring process:
"I am pleased that the administration has acknowledged the importance of the arts with its commitment of funds to a new position. We would, of course, have liked to have been included in the conversations which led to this decision. The theater arts professionals on campus remain eager to join all future discussions about the arts at Virginia Tech."
Easter said the music department is drafting a "letter of concern" to Tech President Charles Steger.
Ehrlich and others said the exact definition of his job is still being worked out. Asked last week if he had started yet, Ehrlich said, "I think so."
Ehrlich's hiring is part of a Tech initiative to help rural and distressed communities via the arts, university officials said. Based in part on the ideas of economics guru Richard Florida, who believes creativity is critical to economic growth, the program's goal is "to demonstrate the relationship of the fine arts to community and economic development and to reinforce the university's commitment to program excellence in the arts."
"Communities that have thriving arts and culture do well economically," Ehrlich explained. "The idea is, we will try to give them a helping hand."
Ehrlich will be a kind of cultural ambassador, said John Dooley, vice provost for outreach and international affairs, and will spend much of his time on the road.
Dooley said the international music festival is contingent on the building of a new performing arts center at Tech. Ehrlich has talked in the past of bringing such a festival to Blacksburg.
Ehrlich was chosen for the position because he was available and "he's very talented," Dooley said. He said the job is a one-year restricted position, which could be renewed.
Since his departure from the quartet, Ehrlich has operated Renaissance Music Academy in Blacksburg with his wife, pianist Teresa Ehrlich, and has been artistic director of Musica Viva, a chamber music series in which he often performs.
His former Audubon partner, Akemi Takayama, is now concertmaster of the Roanoke Symphony. Audubon violist Doris Lederer and her husband, cellist Clyde "Tom" Shaw, both teach at Shenandoah University in Winchester. The three still perform with new violinist Jewett as the Audubon Quartet.
Asked about Ehrlich's new appointment, Shaw referred questions to his lawyer, Howard Beck, who said he was certain the ongoing court battle would not be swayed by developments at Tech.
"I can tell you one person who doesn't care is the judge," Beck said.