Saturday, March 02, 2013

Musical Chairs

With the tragic death of Principal Oboe William Bennett this week, San Francisco Symphony is left with a most unusual situation in its oboe section.
  • A vacancy in the principal chair.
  • A possible vacancy in the associate principal chair, because Jonathan Fischer is on leave this season, in Houston playing principal chair.
I started a blog posting about this last weekend, when we could still hope for Bill Bennett's recovery and possible return to SFS; at the time, I could not bring myself to finish or post it. 

Here's what's likely to happen.

1. MTT names an acting principal oboe.
2. He holds auditions for the principal oboe position within the year.
3. Chris Gaudi continues as acting associate principal until Jonathan Fischer comes back or stays in Houston.
4. If Fischer resigns from SFS, auditions are held for the associate principal chair.

In MTT's place, I'd be chatting with the principal oboes of orchestras currently in various kinds of death spiral or that recently experienced labor problems. Yes, I'm looking at you, Minnesota, Detroit, Atlanta, Indianapolis, and Philadelphia. Or even where there's leadership instability, where I'm looking at Boston and, uh, the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. 

There's also the wild card of Fischer auditioning for, and winning, the principal oboe chair in SFS; certainly if he were not on leave, he'd likely be appointed acting principal.

Update: Something I left out is that MTT can be...uh...dilatory in filling open positions. Nadya Tichman was acting concertmaster for several years before Alexander Barantschik was appointed concertmaster; Robert Ward was acting principal horn for eight years, an astonishing length of time considering what a great player he is; Geraldine Walther's chair was open for four or five years before Jonathan Vinocour's appointment.


Russell said...

Don't forget - principal timpani will be opening up as well (with David Herbert heading to Chicago). Be interested to see what happens with that one.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Indeed, though that is likely to also be handled with a one-year leave and Herbert making a final decision after a year at the CSO.

There are two other openings as well: principal percussion, follow Jack Van Geem's retirement, and associate principal trumpet, follow Glenn Fischthall's, both at the end of last season. They've held or are shortly holding auditions for both those spots.

Anonymous said...

Is Mingjia Liu still playing with the SF Opera? He played a season here in Kansas City and was a revelation. He's one of my very favorite musicians on any instrument...so much musicality in my estimation.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Yes, he is. He's the principal. Wouldn't be the first time an opera orchestra player crossed the street; that's where Carey Bell SFS principal clarinet, came from.

CK Dexter Haven said...

Here's one intriguing possibility: Oboist Elizabeth Koch and trumpeter Mike Tiscione, both currently of the Atlanta Symphony.

Mr. Tiscione was 3rd trumpet at SFS a couple of years ago and was offered the full-time gig, but returned to Atlanta to be with his wife -- Ms. Koch. At the time, they both made a public pledge of sorts to settle down in Atlanta and not look for positions in other orchestras.

Of course, that was before the labor strife at the ASO led to a strike and a huge pay cut.

I've never heard Ms. Koch play, but she seems well regarded by those that have.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Oooo. That is an interesting possibility! Is Koch good enough for the Marc Lifschey line, is what people here will ask. (He was with Cleveland, then SFS, and Bill Bennett succeeded him.)

CK Dexter Haven said...

Not sure, but she was a student of Richard Woodhams in Philly, and according to some sources, she has both the interest and chops to replace him (or more accurately to be in the running to replace him) when he retires.

I found the old article about Tiscione/Koch:

One interesting tidbit burried at the end: MTT not only offered Tiscione the trumpet job, but he also granted him a year's leave to go back to Atlanta with rights to return to SFS if he wanted. That's unheard of at most orchestras and is downright mind-boggling when you think of MTT's reluctance to give musicians full-time jobs and/or tenure.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Wow. Well, we'll see. I wonder if she would be willing to audition for Associate Principal, if Fischer stays in Houston or gets the big job.