The NSO has found itself a new music director – and the choice is Christoph Eschenbach. Eschenbach (many years ago an ARD competition prize winner as a pianist) has just been replaced by Charles Dutoit as music director with the Philadelphia Orchestra… a departure not devoid of some less than pleasant noises coming from disgruntled players. It turns out that the problems that led to Mr. Eschenbach’s relatively early departure in Philadelphia – some of which are said to have been much less acute in his last year – are a blessing for Washington. Without them, it might have been impossible to get Eschenbach to move to DC and an orchestra that, to put it kindly, has better potential than a reputation.
Not only is the choice of Eschenbach most welcome for those who desperately want to see the NSO reach the next level and patrons become excited and proud of the capital’s orchestral body again, it is downright inspired. And to think that before Eschenbach’s first season as MD there will be two years of the wonderful Iván Fischer, still, the situation at the helm of the NSO turns from worrisome to exciting. After Rostropovich brought name recognition to the NSO, and Slatkin proper standards, the NSO should be ready for Eschenbach to bring the music.
Eschenbach will also bring attention to the NSO which it hadn’t received in a while. Able to get Philadelphia a recording contract (with Ondine, and very fair results), he might be able to do something similar for the ‘Nats’. And if he could bring himself to sleep in the same hotel as the musicians, even the planned tours of the orchestra should go very well.
Eschenbach won’t likely fulfill his new job without courting at least some controversy, but he will also court many old and new supporters of –and for– the NSO and the Kennedy Center. (Meaning a slight expansion of the NSO job, he will officially be music director of the Kennedy Center – including responsibilities of programming for the entire arts complex, not just the symphony orchestra.) Eschenbach will start as music director designate of the NSO in 2009-10, and according to Anne Midgette’s article in the Washington Post today, he will start holding auditions for the orchestra’s vacancies as soon as November.