Sunday, March 26, 2006

Short Lists

Although the news about James Levine’s most unfortunate fall on stage was a terrible shock, at the same time it has given a golden opportunity for deserving conductors to become better known and create a stepping stone to stardom in the orchestra scene. As it is no secret, Mr. Levine’s schedule with the BSO and the Met is very busy and we are not talking about getting replacements for a few concerts and opera performances but a large number of them. It is interesting to see who has made the ‘short list’ of these famous institutions, as it is a kind of ‘Who’s Who’ of today’s conductors of interest. Obviously the music directors of the Big Six (yes, Los Angeles has to be included), what I call the ‘A’ group, don’t need additional exposure and have their schedules fully booked for years. Group ‘B’ consists of orchestras that are not quite as important, but nevertheless have a global presence because of frequent touring and general excellence. Most conductors of these orchestras would consider an invitation to come to Boston an honor. We also have groups ‘C’ and ‘D’, both strictly regional orchestras that seldom venture outside their home turf. The difference between the two is that musicians in the first make living wages, whereas in the second one they have to supplement their income with teaching or doing something else, perhaps outside the world of music. In truth, a number of the leaders of these groups are talented and promising, but one is not likely to see many names appear on a short list of an ‘A’ organization. Although most of them have had an opportunity to direct such an orchestra, often as a result of sudden cancellation, only some have been invited back. Competition from overseas is also fierce, and traditionally American orchestras have had a very high percentage of foreign maestri. One of the reasons may be the fact that when a person feels insecure about speaking a foreign language, they tend to talk less and often give the impression of being wiser and more knowledgeable that if they were completely fluent. Music doesn’t require a lot of talking, and a diarrhea of the mouth certainly ruins it instantly. – May Mr. Levine recuperate soon and stay in better health.

Another heavyweight, in more ways than one, Sarah Caldwell passed away a few days ago. She was one of the most illustrious characters of the American music scene. The New York Times wrote a fascinating
obituary of her, telling about her life and career as it really was. Not only was Ms. Caldwell the first American woman conductor to become truly famous, she also was, as Andrew Porter put it, "the single best thing about opera in America." Few if any people in today’s opera world would have the guts and the talent this musical giant possessed.