Wednesday, April 25, 2007

News from the Big Apple

New York, April 25 — Conceding that the task of finding a music director to succeed Lorin Maazel was "far beyond our capabilities," officials of the New York Philharmonic yesterday announced a plan to make the orchestra's podium available to "anyone who wants to take a crack at" the job.

"After years of trying to locate and hire a music director who would make this organization culturally relevant again," executive director Zarin Mehta said at an imaginary press conference, "we had to finally accept the fact that we simply don't know how to do it.

"I mean, we're flailin' here."

Instead of appointing a single music director whose artistic vision could provide the orchestra with a distinctive character and sense of direction, Mehta said the new plan — which he called the "wiki model" of orchestra management — would divide leadership among a principal conductor, various guest conductors, a composer-in-residence, a festival director, and the guy who brings the donuts to the morning staff meetings.

"If collaborative projects like Wikipedia teach us anything," he said, "it's that the collective intelligence of a community is always better than a single guiding figure. Right here in the orchestra world, you can look at the Pittsburgh Symphony's experiment with multiple leadership — that was a tremendous success.

"Oh wait, no it wasn't."

The New York Philharmonic's move comes on the heels of the Los Angeles Philharmonic's electrifying decision to appoint 26-year-old Gustavo Dudamel as its next music director — a development that Mehta treated with barely concealed scorn.

"This whole idea of conductors being exciting, dynamic, or innovative figures has been completely discredited," he said. "Look, this orchestra tried something similar with Leonard Bernstein, and that was a total fiasco.

"Oh wait, no it wasn't."

The ghost of Virgil Thomson declined to comment.

Update: Matthew Guerrieri maps it out for you.


At 4/25/2007 4:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does the NYPhil really NEED a conductor? They can play the entire body of orchestral music in their sleep by now, and they do.

Let the orchestra run itself. All power to the collective.

"Oh, wait..."

At 4/25/2007 5:11 PM, Blogger nobleviola said...

Great post - just what the rest of us were thinking, oh wait...

At 4/25/2007 7:25 PM, Blogger Lisa Hirsch said...

I will be the first to apply for that spot. I've always wanted a nice orchestra to conduct!

At 4/25/2007 9:43 PM, Blogger Joshua Kosman said...

Richard, the NYPhil may not need an conductor to play concerts — though it helps — but they sure do need a music director if they want to be a cultural entity rather than a bunch of surly guys and gals toting instruments. This ain't Vienna after all.

At 4/26/2007 12:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's the NYPhil's way of saying "We can make this work" to a conductor who's of primary artistic interest to the musicians, but who has limited availability. The NYPhil is biding its time, waiting to see what happens with someone the likes of, say, Christian Thielemann and the Wiener Staatsoper. If named Intendant, his primary commitment will be to Vienna and he'll guest conduct very little in the US. If not, he might be willing to give 8 to 10 weeks a year to New York, but probably not the 14-plus week commitment required of most American music directors. In any case, the NYPhil musicians currently enjoy a music director who has, arguably, the best technique among living conductors. Beyond technique, it's an inspiring level musicianship that they so ardently (desperately?) seek. I'd give credit to Zarin Mehta and the NYPhil board for adjusting to what's out there in the conducting world, and making it possible to attract truly outstanding musicians to the podium as often as possible. There is such a paucity of talent, bid up in the almost frenzied global competition for conductors, that organizations have to change their leadership structure -- temporarily, if not permanently -- to adjust to market conditions. All power to the collective indeed, but Das Lied von der Erde or Ein Heldenleben or the Turangalila-Symphonie needs a real interpreter on the podium. Truly great conductors are rare human beings, not just stick-wavers or figure-heads.

At 4/26/2007 1:38 PM, Blogger Alex Ross said...

That's hilarious and apt, Josh, as is Matthew's chart. Yet I find myself in the unaccustomed position of wanting to defend the Phil. This is a step in the right direction. That they're thinking of a new-music group, festivals, that kind of thing, does them credit. I don't understand why they announced all this without having the conductors lined up — it would been rather more dramatic if they'd waited — but they do seem to be thinking about the future. A lot of these ideas Matias Tarnopolsky already worked on in Chicago, to good effect. So I'm encouraged, batty as some of the announcement sounds. I hadn't heard anything about Thielemann, who, last I heard, was roundly disliked by NYC musicians, but one hopes they're talking to someone like that. I'm dreaming of Chailly.

At 4/26/2007 1:55 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

great spoof!! what do you think of this:

-----Original Message-----
Sent: Thu, 19 Apr 2007 5:57 AM


Although it is full year before he is scheduled to make his debut with the Berlin Philharmonic, Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel will become music director of this orchestra when Sir Simon Rattle's contract runs out after the 2011-2012 season. Rattle emphatically claims that the young Dudamel is "the most astonishingly gifted conductor I've ever come across". This comes as no surprise, as Dudamel has been racking up the appointments and guest conducting engagements with lightning speed. His mentors include Rattle, Claudio Abbado and Daniel Barenboim.
"I love the hot dogs here" said Dudamel at a recent Los Angeles press conference. When he addresses the media in Berlin, all ears will be focused, eagerly awaiting his thoughts on Berlin's delicacy known as curry wurst. Perhaps he will forget the sausages altogether and praise the döner kebap. Whatever he decides to eat, he will have plenty on his plate musically and will be racking up the frequent flyer miles from LA to Gothenburg to Caracas to Berlin and an ever increasing list of places in between.

When Dudamel signed a five-year contract with the Los Angeles Philharmonic beginning with the 2009-10 to succeed Esa-Pekka Salonen (who is stepping down so he concentrate on composing...or perhaps consider accepting a reasonably likely offer from New York Philharmonic?), Salonen called the day "joyous". Dudamel has been named Principal Conductor of Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra as of 2007, succeeding Mario Venzago, who apparently did not make a comment when that appointment was announced. He will retain his position with the Simón Bolívar National Youth Orchestra. Orchestra members from continent to continent are "ecstatic about Gustavo" and one has even said of the young phenom "there is no artifice, no ego". Could he become the greatest conductor in the history of music? It's not El Nino, it's apparently called El Sistema.

In 2004, Dudamel was winner of the Gustav Mahler conducting competition, hosted by the Bamberg Symphony in Germany. (An effort is under way to rename this international competition after the young maestro). A contract with Askonas Holt then followed, and offers have been pouring in. Dudamel debuted with the Philharmonia Orchestra, the Israel Philharmonic, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, among others, in 2005, and also signed a recording contract with Deutsche Grammophon. In 2006 he appeared with yet more world-class orchestras including the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the Dresden Staatskapelle and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. He made his debut at La Scala, Milan with Don Giovanni in November 2006, He will be performing with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in April 2007; in March 2008 he will appear as guest conductor with the San Francisco Symphony.

Regarding the situation in Berlin, hopeful successor to the Berlin throne Christian Thielemann was not available for comment.

Normal Lebrecht is reportedly set to write the young maestro's biography, and recording plans are in the works for new ear-opening cycles of the symphonies of Beethoven and Mahler, as well as the complete orchestral works of the conductor's little-known compatriot Alfredo del Monaco, all of which are in high demand and will be most welcome in the catalog.
Meanwhile in Los Angeles, Disney has expressed interest in creating a new animation film to be titled "Fantasia Three: The Lightning Conductor", a fairy-tale chronicle of the astonishingly meteoric rise of a young man who once roamed the slums of Caracas, to a Deutsche-Grammophone-baton-wielding-wunderkind-instant-cosmopolitan maestro already compared with Carlos Kleiber, ready to call more than three orchestras on more than three continents his own, all at the same time, and at the ripe age of 26. He is now officially "the Next Great Maestro".

At 4/26/2007 4:18 PM, Blogger Lisa Hirsch said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 4/26/2007 4:21 PM, Blogger Lisa Hirsch said...

(deleted to correct a typo)

I'm hugely curious who Anonymous is, who thinks there is a paucity of conducting talent out there. I don't give a damn about Maazel's stupendous technique; he's mostly programming great swathes of Brahms and Tchaikovsky at time when orchestras could stand to get away from being museums of the 19th century and start living in the 21st.

At 4/27/2007 11:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Anonymous" booked international conductors and created programming for several major orchestras in the US and overseas for 20 years, traveling regularly to Europe, the US, Canada and Asia to identify conductors who had something to say in their chosen repertoire and could create rewarding relationships with musicians, management and audiences. Thing is, musicians do care (to some degree) about technique (stupendous or otherwise), especially when so much of their work receives little rehearsal, and an efficient technique can make rehearsals more productive. But musicians care more about real musicianship and the conductors' ability to inspire great playing, which has always been rare and continues to be (perhaps increasingly so). Point taken about Brahms and Tchaikovsky, but many musicians love that music, as do audiences; it's reliable and can be safely prepared in three or four rehearsals. Large performing arts organizations aren't often huge risk-takers, because of money. (Whereas European orchestras receive government subsidy to buffer them from adverse consequences of artistic risk, American orchestras can tank quickly if subscribers and donors don't like what's happening. This is the blessing and curse of America's history of private philanthopy for the arts, and the sorry state of tax-based funding for the arts in the US. And don't get me started on arts education in schools.) For orchestras, grinding routine is the enemy. Cranking out three or four performances of a program for 40-plus weeks a year can deadening to the spirit and soul of the best-intentioned orchestra musician -- especially if what's coming from the podium isn't inspiring. The routine and the economics of running orchestral organizations with highly-paid music directors and musicians create a factory or assembly-line approach to concertizing, and many times programming isn't adventurous. It's a question of artistic leadership irevvocably bound up in financial issues as well. (What else is new?) I'm not saying we should be satisified with this, but major orchestras are incredibly complex organizations. There's no arguing with what people perceive to be right or wrong about what orchestras do (the American consumer takes nearly orgasmic pleasure in his or her right to JUDGE these days), but I'm wary of those who easily criticize with sweeping dismissals of how orchestras make their choices, and have imagined some "THEY" out there with all the answers, possesing resources of money, time and talent that aren't readily at hand. There is no "THEY" -- just us. So often we're quick to judge without really appreciating the intricate dynamics of these choices. Admittedly, the talents of the people who make orchestras work vary WIDELY and there are some very poor choices made. Nonetheless, conducting is, to me, a truly awe-inspiring method of communication among human beings, and great conducting (at the level of the NYPhil) is in very, very short supply. Some humility might be in order. It's actually quite humbling to realize what it takes for 100+ musicians to create a truly fantastic performance. I sincerely appreciate the humor of the spoof (and the organization chart is hugely amusing). Maybe what I'm seeking are comments reflecting more about the reality of how orchestras and conductors create relationships and concerts, and possibly a little less about critical self-righteousness. I suppose the truth has a certain sting to it, too, which prompts all these words...!

At 4/27/2007 6:57 PM, Blogger Lisa Hirsch said...

Excellent points, many of which I have thought or written about. I suspect that is true of everyone reading and commenting here as well. I mean, Joshua and Matthew are certainly aware of what it takes to run an orchestra.

I understand what you're saying about the financial issues and the complexity of orchestral management and fundraising. The relationship between repertory and the health of an institution is also complicated; orchestras are regarded by many as culturally irrelevant exactly because they are so dislocated from the artistic present, hence my "museum" comment above.

I'm not sure if the stuff about the American consumer's perceived right to criticize is aimed at me or not. I'm a little more informed about these issues than the average American. I don't usually trot out my creds in blog comments (and I rarely try to conduct a complex discussing there), but I'm a part-time critic for SFCV, classical music blogger, and chorister. My academic background is in music, though I make my living these days in Silicon Valley.


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