Sunday, October 29, 2006

"Orchestra has some lessons to consider"

The Philadelphia Inquirer's classical music critic Peter Dobrin muses about the Philadelphia Orchestra and its music director search in today's paper. With Christoph Eschenbach leaving at the end of the 2006-2007 season, Dobrin says they might not have time to wait for "maestro love":
...Still, the Philadelphia Orchestra seems remarkably firm in its aim to remain one of the world's top purveyors of one of civilization's greatest achievements. All it needs now is a music director who shares that ambition, and a process for getting him or her in place.

Waiting for chemistry could take years, but the orchestra really has no choice if it remains committed to the idea of musical quality as the criterion. No one can afford another arranged marriage. Too much is at stake, and some critics believe that the orchestra is already injured.

So where was the planning for a successor, however far down the road? It's not as if history didn't have worthy lessons. When Sawallisch was named, he had a relationship with the orchestra going back to the 1960s. When Riccardo Muti became music director, it was a promotion from principal guest conductor.

At the moment, the orchestra has that kind of closeness with no conductors except perhaps Simon Rattle and Charles Dutoit. That's an awfully short list.

Why should a slowly cultivated relationship be the way to a new leader? Isn't it the job of musicians (well-paid ones, I might add) to play wonderfully no matter who is on the podium? None of the rest of us gets to choose our bosses, so why should they?

If only it were that simple. Music-making is not accounting or hospital administration. Its success depends entirely on love - even if it is love by way of fear and respect, as it was with Sawallisch. Chemistry counts. The notes on the page are only the beginning. Meaningful interpretation develops somewhere in the air between the podium and the orchestra risers.

If the orchestra makes musical rapport the criterion for music director, that leaves behind a long list of qualities the next search committee should not concern itself with. Please, let's not begin that ridiculous chant about hiring an American, or insisting that the conductor "live" in Philadelphia (no matter how loosely you define that).

He or she need not be friendly to audiences. Many orchestra fans seem pained that Eschenbach does not smile enough, a complaint that's nonsense as far as I'm concerned. If a music director conducts a wonderful Brahms symphony, storms off the podium, and slams the stage door behind him, that's good enough for me. I got what I came for.

A fund-raiser? An "innovator" (one of the marketing tags attached to Eschenbach)? A musical ambassador? It's nice if you can get it. But a great personality off the podium does not always come with a great personality on.

While the orchestra writes a job description, no one should lose focus on Eschenbach's remaining year and a half, not least because the ensemble's health depends on it. The orchestra and Eschenbach have American and European tours to get through together and several recordings to make. Everyone who encounters this partnership in the next couple of years will be listening for problems, and it's in no one's best interest to make them apparent...

Conductor names to keep in mind
The Philadelphia Orchestra hasn't even formed a search committee, let alone begun looking for its eighth music director. But here are some conductors who might be thought of as candidates, and some who should.

Established Relationships
Simon Rattle was the orchestra's first choice last time, and though he chose the Berlin Philharmonic, he maintains multiple-week concerts with Philadelphia every other year.

Charles Dutoit was once considered for the job, but no longer has the same support within the orchestra.

James Conlon garners respect from musicians, but lacks passion.

Peter Oundjian, a frequent guest here and music director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, is mentioned by many listeners as a possibility, though not generally by musicians.

Nascent but Promising Relationships
Vladimir Jurowksi, the young Russian whose first concerts here a year ago were widely considered brilliant, becomes principal conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra next year.

Czech Jirí Belohlávek made a gorgeously polished impression here in 2004. Will he ever come back?

Andrey Boreyko, chief conductor of the Hamburg and Bern Symphony Orchestras, impressed many last summer at the Mann. He returns this season.

Limited or No Experience Here
Ivan Fischer, artistic director of the Budapest Festival Orchestra, makes his subscription debut in December. Valery Gergiev returns in February. Ingo Metzmacher leads a program in March, the second appearance of the conductor with elegant technique. Young Frenchman Philippe Jordan debuts in February, with Ein Heldenleben no less.

Never/Rarely Been Here, but Should Be
Ilan Volkov, chief conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra; Norwegian-born Arild Remmereit has guest conducted widely, as has the French Stéphane Denève, but never in Philadelphia; the Los Angeles Philharmonic's Esa-Pekka Salonen was last here in 1986, when he was 28 - and clearly warrants a return, as does the San Francisco Symphony's Michael Tilson Thomas (whose most recent visit was in 1985); Kent Nagano, absent for a decade and now music director of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, deserves a hearing.

Whatever Happened to...

The Italian Riccardo Chailly was seriously considered once before, and seems to be busy everywhere - except here, where his last Philadelphia Orchestra concert was in 1999.

Paavo Järvi, son of Neeme and a 1988 Curtis Institute of Music graduate, is getting good reviews as music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra but has not been here in several years.

Some orchestra fans seriously suggest the return of Riccardo Muti as music director. For a variety of reasons (like it's just not done), a more unlikely turn of events is hard to imagine.

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