Amy Schwartz Moretti shocked many Oregon Symphony lovers last week by announcing she's leaving her concertmaster job in January to direct a new string-training program in Macon, Ga.

The news was surprising because the 30-year-old Moretti moved to Portland only two years ago to become the symphony's lead violinist. In that time, she has won plaudits for unifying the 88-member symphony's strong sound. But the orchestra also has made major budget cuts in recent months.

Moretti chatted over a nonfat mocha Monday at the Pearl Bakery about why she's leaving to direct a new classical-string training program, the Robert McDuffie Center for Strings at Mercer University, about an hour outside of Atlanta. She also talked about her similarities with Michael Jordan and how much she loves Pops concerts (but doesn't play them).

WW: Why leave a high-profile, well-paid concertmaster position with a regional symphony orchestra in a hip city to teach undergraduates in the sticks of Georgia?

Amy Schwartz Moretti: [laughs] I had played with Robert McDuffie previously, and he called me out of the blue and started to tell me about his vision for this program at Mercer. It's a major move, but the more I heard about it, the more I realized I wanted a new adventure. Teaching conservatory-level students will allow me more freedom. I want to have more time to explore solo and chamber work.

Given that the Symphony is swimming in debt and has made major budget cuts, how is the players' morale?

I've not heard of any cuts for the players. The musicians have always been very good at negotiating contracts. The most promising thing that's happened with the Symphony budget cuts is that they promised us that the artistic side of things wouldn't be cut or compromised. Of course the debt is on people's minds, but I don't think it has affected our music-making in any way. On the other hand, I have seen other orchestras really increasing their players' salaries. It is a full-time job, after all.

Can Portland ever be a major cultural city given the lack of major corporations located here and Portlanders' generally poor reputation for philanthropy?

What I've seen at the orchestra is that individual giving is up. Maybe we don't have all the corporate giving, but it's the community and the individuals that are making it work here.

Did you feel the Oregon Symphony used you by plastering your face all over its marketing materials?

I don't see it as being "used" at all. That's the best way to make a connection with an audience—it's like Michael Jordan, with basketball.

In a few weeks, the Symphony is playing a concert with the Pointer Sisters. Is this type of classical-pop programming truly innovative, or another halfhearted attempt to make classical music "accessible" to younger, more diverse audiences?

Well, I don't play all the Pops concerts, because of scheduling and other commitments. I love Pops concerts, though, and I always go to them. It's a great way for a person who wouldn't otherwise come to the Symphony to come and see us.

What does it say about Portland arts that a young person like yourself with so much promise is leaving so soon?

I feel in the time I've been here I've been totally embraced by the community. I was hoping to be here for a long, long time. This opportunity came along, and it's one I feel very strongly about. If I could do both jobs, I would.

Moretti got her first concertmaster gig with the Florida Orchestra fresh out of college at age 24. She began as concertmaster of the Oregon Symphony in fall 2004.

Moretti, who is married to jazz drummer Steve Moretti, professes a fondness for Vietnamese cuisine and says she "doesn't drink...that much."