Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Musical Podiums

A lot of changes are taking place in the world of orchestras and their maestros these days. By far the hottest name on the scene is Gustavo Dudamel who'll be taking over the Los Angeles Philharmonic post after an unusually long tenure of Esa-Pekka Salonen, who in turn is going to London. I feel almost sorry for Mr. Dudamel. His every move, on- and offstage, has been dissected, especially during his recent New York debuts, both with his Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic. Reading the New York Times, I couldn't help but get the impression that the folks in Manhattan are trying to convince their audience members and donors that the choice of Alan Gilbert as their new Music Director was the right one. Is it possible that they are kicking themselves for not acting fast enough regarding Mr. Dudamel? He in my humble opinion will feel more at home in the heavily Hispanic Los Angeles area.

Reports from Sweden have been generally positive regarding Mr. Gilbert in Stockholm. However, it is interesting that the offer to return home to New York came at a golden moment for Mr. Gilbert as the Swedish orchestra was ready to replace him after eight years, with another countryman of mine, Sakari Oramo. In spite of the fact that Mr. Gilbert had married an orchestra member and started a family with her, the orchestra decided eight years with a conductor was long enough. In that sense they didn't feel any loss for his departure. While I have no doubts about his musicality and great rapport with musicians, Alan Gilbert is not generally considered a thrilling musician, although a capable one. Time will tell how the marriage in New York works out. The denizens of that city are blessed to have so many visiting orchestras appear regularly; their own band doesn't really enjoy star status in their home turf. Also, it has been a long time since the New York Philharmonic has had an exciting music director, so they aren't even aware of what they might be missing.

Detroit will finally hire a new maestro in Leonard Slatkin whose position in the nation's capital will thus become vacant. The (former?) automobile capital of the world is at last getting someone for a job that has been vacant since Neeme Järvi, the Estonian Soviet-trained conductor, left for embattled New Jersey Symphony, best known for their tragic foray into the world of old Italian instruments . The Detroit folks must have felt that there were no qualified candidates in the U.S. or they would have filled the vacancy in 2005. With the value of the dollar plummeting, it is not as easy as before to hire a European or another foreigner, without breaking the budget. A European conductor (that goes for a soloist as well) has little sympathy for American currency nose-diving: they and their agents want to be paid the same as before, which is bad news here. There was a sad article in a recent New York Times about Americans living abroad, many of them retirees on fixed income, who all of a sudden find themselves poor. A fashion executive living in Paris was quoted as saying a beggar girl in Morocco had turned down a dollar bill, claiming it was worth nothing and demanding more.

The Cleveland Orchestra extended the contract of Franz Welser-Möst to a total of twelve years, not necessarily to everyone's liking as this link shows. Personally, I don't understand why anyone would want to settle in Cleveland. Yes, the orchestra is first-rate but the city itself hardly qualifies as such. They do get a lot of lake snow, so perhaps a Scandinavian wouldn't mind the climate; it would be nice to have a vibrant downtown, however, something any European is accustomed to.

My home town's opera company staged a coup of sorts by naming Asher Fisch as their principal guest conductor. Not only does the city gain a world class conductor for the opera's performances, but having a pleasant Israeli on board will certainly not hurt with fundraising efforts among the local Jewish philanthropists. Mr. Fisch was the first artist to make my wife appreciate Wagner, no small achievement. The company must feel financially secure as they rumored to be interested in the property next to the McCaw Hall, for their offices and other necessary space, at a budget of some $40 million. Surely having the help of Mr. Fisch will come in handy if this idea materializes.

As in every field, people involved in classical music come in a wide variety of character traits. Some are intelligent, knowledgable in other areas, too, but so many are uneducated and even illiterate. People skills are not necessarily their forte. I just received an eloquent email from one of my very favorite writers of music, Norman Lebrecht. With his permission I'm quoting a paragraph of it, in reference to a beloved European maestro:

"The best conductors never allow an ugly personnel situation to arise, always stepping in and dealing with issues personally and face-to-face. When human issues combust, I tend to suspect maestro failure. If you have the privilege of leadership, it carries with it certain responsibilities towards those who are led."