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New Main Maestro in Philadelphia while the NSO Keeps Looking.

Charles Dutoit, James ConlonThis is hardly breaking news, but last Friday the Philadelphia Orchestra announcedthat the Swiss maestro Charles Dutoit would be their new Chief Conductor (and Artistic Adviser - very pretty alliterative titles), starting September 2008 and running for four seasons. This is in addition to his role as artistic director and principal conductor of the Orchestra’s annual three-week residency at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center and will include the option to lead concerts when the Orchestra is in residence at the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival. For those who want a little preview of what the Philadelphia Orchestra will sound like under the man who turned Montreal into the best French orchestra, he will perform with them on March 1st in Sibelius, Rimsky-K., and Beethoven's Second Piano Concerto with his ex-wife, Martha Argerich.

Last week I mentioned (amid some other other speculations) James Conlon in one breath with Philadelphia's need for a new Chief Conductor or Music Director. This point is now obviously mute - and Charles Dutoit is one of the few choices that I think is every bit as good if not possibly even better for Philadelphia than Mr. Conlon. Assuming that this time the Orchestra members were more heavily involved in the choice than the last time, when Christoph Eschenbach was plunked upon them, and assuming he knows better how not to alienate them (hint: when you go on tours, don't ostensibly take first class when the rest is in coach... don't stay at a different hotel because the one the players are staying at isn't good enough for you), this should be a very exciting addition to the East-Coast music scene - and every bit as fine as Boston/Levine.

Meanwhile I am endowed with faint hopes that the National Symphony Orchestra's board and direction will come to its senses and not appoint NSO Principal Guest Conductor Iván Fischer to Music Director or Chief Conductor prematurely - but look hard, elsewhere. (Namely, James Conlon!) Not that Mr. Fischer is not a wonderful conductor and musician (and charming in the bargain) who, in that position, has two-and-a-half successful concerts with the NSO to his name (a wonderful mixed program, fine Mendelssohn, a teddy-bear-concert [un-reviewed]). His recordings, too, I am very fond of, as I am of his advocacy of Mahler's music. But great Bartók, Mahler, Brahms, Mendelssohn (notably music all from the same zip-code) – as much as we need them – are not necessarily enough to make a decision such as appointment of a Music Director position upon. Aside, for most of the qualities that Fischer brings to D.C., we already have him! For the National Symphony Orchestra, it might be befitting to continue with an American conductor (the type that also knows the fund-raising business best in the country). Since James Levine (New York / Boston), Michael Tilson Thomas (San Francisco), David Robertson (St.Lewis, slated for Chicago), Lorin Maazel (New York), Kent Nagano (Montreal, Munich) are not candidates (they would not come, even if they could), the NSO should look at conductors like Hugh Wolff and James Conlon, Myung-Whun Chung or Andrew Litton, James Judd or possibly Benjamin Zander, D.R.Davies or Robert Spano... maybe even James DePriest.

True, not all of the above are necessarily realistic choices, or would fit, or be an improvement over Leonard Slatkin (this is a town, after all, where name recognition means more than intrinsic quality), and I remain convinced that among them, James Conlon would be the best fit for Washington, especially if he could work with the Washington National Opera, too… but none should be dismissed and all are worth looking at before we seriously think of making the Prinicipal Guest Conductor the Music Director before his first contract is even up. Indeed, it might be better to have an interim Music Director for the year between Slatkin’s departure in 2008 and Fischer’s contract being up in 2009. It would give ample time to see how Fischer and the NSO gel, should they be on a path toward a more extensive and more intimate relationship... or look for someone else who fits the NSO’s profile, has a good name, and would bring an exciting, wide range of orchestral performances to the District. And if that somebody is a conductor who cares about neglected repertoire and is not afraid of the 20th century, all the better!


Anonymous said...

But Fischer does care about 20th century and neglected repertoire. Ever heard of Enescu, Dohnanyi, Cerha, Kozeluch, Goldmark, Hubay, Benda, Satie? I would love to have Fischer here and he's a much, much better conductor that Conlon. And besides he prooved that he knows how to build an orchestra.

jfl said...

Still the same Zip-code. I am not saying that Fischer is not talented or that we are lucky in having him provide DC with much needed new repertoire or not-so-new repertoire well-done. (Not that Hubay, Goldmark, or Satie among the composers we really would want to listen to, very much; Enescu and Benda, Kodaly and Blacher more likely.)

I am not qualified to remark on whether he is or isn't a "much, much better conductor" than Conlon (concerning what? Technique? Orchestra building? How particular players respond to him or like him?) -- But Fischer, whose every recording (Hungaroton, Philips, Channel Classics) except his latest Rachmaninov, I own, btw., already brings these things to DC in his role as PGC. We might want to extend it, but surely not jump to conclusions.

The NSO may not be great, but is it so bad that it needs to be "built", much? I think it needs a collective kick in the ass, rather.

(Der Fisch stinkt vom Kopf her.)

jfl said... any rate, NSO and Conlon never could agree on the terms of the contract (so I am told) - and hence he shan't come (though would, apparently, have been one of the first choices).

Charles T. Downey said...

The NSO actually wanted Conlon and discussed a contract, and it didn't work out? I'm going to cry now...