Thursday, April 12, 2007

Let the podium races begin

Tuesday, April 10, 2007
Posted by Janelle Gelfand

Suddenly, there seems to be a lot of baton-passing between American orchestras. People in the know are discussing the shortage of eligible conductors for major orchestras -- even as little-known "wunderkinds" are zooming to the top of the "most valuable player" lists.And what does all of this mean to the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, whose contract with Paavo Jarvi is up at the end of the 2008-09 season? Read on.I'm talking, of course, about the big news this week that Esa-Pekka Salonen will leave the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the end of the 2008-09 season. His successor, announced by the LA Phil in Sunday's LA Times, will be a 26-year-old Venezuelan maestro named Gustavo Dudamel.The news must have been a surprise to John von Rhein at the Chicago Trib, who just named Dudamel as one of the hot potential candidates for the Chicago Symphony's music director vacancy. Chicago, which has a principal conductor (Bernard Haitink) and conductor emeritus (Pierre Boulez) on its conducting staff, has a parade of maestros visiting this season and next -- including Paavo Jarvi, who conducted Shostakovich's Tenth in October. Evidently each of the 11 coming between now and June, as well as the next 11 next season, is a potential candidate for music director.Even so, von Rhein, in his article of March 18, quotes a number of Chicago musicians who believe that in this, the first season without a music director since Barenboim left, the orchestra's musical standards haven't dropped at all. (Does that mean the musicians don't really want a music director at all?) And several other orchestras find themselves without music directors. For instance:1. In Detroit, where Paavo Jarvi's father Neeme Jarvi enjoyed a successful tenure before leaving for New Jersey, the DSO announced it had appointed Peter Oundjian (former member of the Tokyo String Quartet and CCM faculty member) to be its principal guest conductor and artistic advisor -- presumably until it finds Jarvi's successor.2. In Philly, the Philadelphia Orchestra, which will not launch a formal search to replace Christoph Eschenbach until this summer, named Charles Dutoit to the newly-created position of chief conductor and artistic adviser in a surprise move in February.3. In New York, Lorin Maazel will step down from the New York Phil in 2009. (Will that orchestra promote our favorite maestra, Xian Zhang, as a successor?)Meanwhile, Henry Fogel, CEO of the ASOL, points to the scarcity of high-level international superstars ready to take over major musical organizations. Where are the American conductors on these candidate lists?? In Dallas, Dutchman Jaap van Zweden (Jaap who?) will take over as the Dallas Symphony Orchestra's new music director in the 2008-09 season.Salonen, 48, who will have been with the LA Phil for 17 years when he leaves, plans to remain with his family in LA, and concentrate on composing. The Finnish conductor was just 34 when he took over the orchestra. He has raised both its calibre and its profile with his forward-looking programming and dynamic leadership. In 2003, the Philharmonic moved into the new Walt Disney Concert Hall designed by Frank Gehry, a spectacular and much-needed orchestra home. It has become the place to see and be seen in LA.Which brings us back to Paavo Jarvi and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Note that the year 2008-09 seems to be a popular year for musical chairs among major orchestras. Orchestras these days have to move quickly to nab -- and to keep -- the best and brightest talent.

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