Saturday, October 31, 2009

Choosing a New Conductor

Today we read an interview of Bernard Madoff and how amazed he was that his gigantic Ponzi scheme wasn't discovered earlier. At the end he had to go public with it in order for others to realize what he had been up to all those years. It was as if a conductor, perhaps another Jewish poster boy, would tell his board and supporters that after a quarter century on the podium he was nothing but a a fake, a fraud. May be there is more in common with two such men than anyone could guess, both sociopaths with no conscience.

We are gullible people. As on paper every investor with Bernie got incredibly high returns, nobody questioned how that was possible. Money is God after all. Before our financial meltdown a little more than a year ago, private colleges increased their tuition to the level of more expensive schools, to "prove" that they were equally good. Needless to say they became more popular. Kids and their parents snicker at more affordable state schools, unless they are situated in another state and thus as expensive as private ones. There are people willing to pay top dollar at Neiman Marcus for the very same product found elsewhere for much less. Just because they stupidly insist on overpaying, their acquired goods are "better" than if they had done their homework and shopped at a discount store or online.

In music, you'll find teachers in every city who charge twice the standard or even more. Some parents are impressed by the large fee and are duped into thinking that this greedy individual must be great. Never mind that he/she isn't able to perform in public. Neither can another violin teacher who accepts only students who aspire to become "professionals". After performing a movement or two of the mandatory Khachaturian concerto, learned by imitation at an early age, most of these kids will disappear from the scene. The said piece certainly isn't one of my favorites. I remember the esteemed Estonian conductor Neeme Järvi telling me about recording it in Moscow on a xylophone. The percussive music suits that instrument far better than the violin.

The Utah Symphony, another troubled arts organization, recently chose a new Music Director. The process was done in secrecy and many were surprised to learn that a relatively unknown Swiss maestro, Thierry Fischer, was chosen. Quite a few names had been mentioned as possibly candidates in the Salt Lake City media, among them an individual that the orchestra rejected for the second time, decades apart. Usually orchestra musicians are involved in such an important decision, or they would like to be. But this business has changed a lot and a board chairperson or the organization's executive director acts more like a CEO of a big corporation. We all know how much they value the opinion of a worker.

Many important American orchestras are presently without a music director. Chicago finally has Riccardo Muti as a music director designate, after several years with Bernard Haitink and Pierre Boulez guiding the excellent group under different titles. Philadelphia lacks one, although Charles Dutoit came to the rescue by agreeing to serve as their chief conductor. Leonard Slatkin finally took over Detroit which had been adrift since the departure of Neeme Järvi.

It is interesting how negatively European conductors view American music director positions, although our country would love to have them instead of home-grown ones. Perhaps the good and capable conductors would just like to make music as they do back home, and not be involved in fund-raising and all the brown-nosing that comes with it. Having to repeatedly kiss the cheek of an old dried-up but wealthy lady or to pretend to admire an elderly gentleman's opinion of orchestral sound while his hearing aid whistles may be a turn-off to a true maestro. Too often an American conductor resembles a General Motors or Ford vehicle. Yes, most of the time they transport people as expected, but driving one is hardly as exciting as being behind the wheel of a Porsche, a Mercedes or a BMW.
a Maestro for Halloween by talvi