Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Speculation, Round 1

So, San Francisco Opera and San Francisco Symphony are both looking for music directors. MTT will step down at the end of the 2019-20 season; Nicola Luisotti's last performance as music director of SFO was last month, but Matthew Shilvock has said that the search could take as long as two or three years, that is, out to 2019 or 2020.

So let's just assume for now that the two organizations' timelines are similar, although who knows who will handle various music director responsibilities absent an actual music director at SFO.

Now, a few years back, in 2010, Janos Gereben and I went through the exercise of speculating about who could possibly take MTT's place. The results are here.

Re-reading the article, the first thing I'm struck by is that several of our candidates have died or are otherwise unavailable: Claudio Abbado, Kurt Masur, Lorin Maazel are all gone; James Levine's health doesn't allow him to take a music directorship at this point.

Several of the younger conductors are still possible, notably Gaffigan and Bringuier. We can, I suppose, daydream about Esa-Pekka Salonen, who is living in LA again, but this seems beyond unlikely, although if they could get him....

But I think there are so many talented conductors out there that SFS is in an enviable position. The orchestra is in good financial shape and has a history of good management; the orchestra is playing at a very high level indeed. Music director of SFS is an attractive job; the kind of job that people with pretty good jobs would consider leaving to take. And there I'm thinking of conductors at good, not quite great, orchestras; Manfred Honeck and Pittsburgh, for example. Or Kryzstof Urbanski. But I don't think SFS could lure Osmo Vanska from Minnesota; he has made them a terrific orchestra and he is married to Erin Keefe, the concertmaster. That's a significant two-body problem right there.

Let's take a look at what's open and who is out there:

  • San Francisco Symphony! when MTT leaves at the end of 2019-20
  • BBC Philharmonic when Juanjo Mena leaves at the end of 2017-18
  • BBC National Orchestra of Wales when Thomas Søndergård leaves for his new job
  • Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich when Lionel Bringuier leaves at the end of 2017-18
  • Sarasota Orchestra after Anu Tali  leaves at the end of 2018-2019
  • Royal Opera, when Antonio Pappano leaves in 2020
  • Opera de Paris, when Philippe Jordan leaves in 2020
  • Detroit Symphony Orchestra, which Leonard Slatkin leaves at the close of the 2017-18 season.
  • Dallas Symphony Orchestra (when Jaap van Zweden takes up his new post at the NYPO). Rumor heard that James Gaffigan is under consideration for this post.
  • Milwaukee Symphony
  • Shanghai Symphony Orchestra
  • San Diego Symphony
  • Dresden Philharmonic: 2019 departure for Michael Sanderling
  • MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony: 2018 departure for Kristian Jarvi
  • Scottish Chamber Orchestra: 2018 departure for Robin Ticciati
  • Orchestre National de Lyon: open now, with Leonard Slatkin's departure
  • Singapore Symphony: 2019 departure for Lan Shui
  • Vienna RSO: 2018 departure for Cornelius Meister
  • Toronto SO: 2018 departure for Peter Oundjian
  • Winnipeg SO: 2018 departure for Alexander Mickelthwate
  • Hamburg Symphony, following death of Sir Jeffrey Tate
  • Washington National Opera, departure of Philippe Auguin at conclusion of 2017-18 
  • San Francisco Opera, departure of Nicola Luisotti at conclusion of 2017-18
  • Opera North: open now, with Aleksandr Markovic's departure
  • Bavarian State Opera: with Kirill Petrenko going to Berlin and KP's Munich contract through 2021, it's sort of implied that he'll give up Munich
  • Opera Theatre of Saint Louis: 2017 is Stephen Lord's final season as MD
  • Sydney Symphony Orchestra: David Robertson will be leaving the SSO at the end of 2019. So he really will be without an orchestral home as of 1/1/2020.
  • Montreal Symphony Orchestra: Kent Nagano is leaving the OSM after 2019-2020. 

My take: the most prestigious openings coming up, in no particular order, are SFS, Royal Opera, Opera de Paris, Bavarian State Opera (Bayerische Staatsoper), San Francisco Opera. Not sure where Dallas, the Opera National de Lyon, and Montreal fall in here.

Conductors looking for jobs (that is, as of the near future, or now, they do not have a posting):
  • Lionel Bringuier
  • Juanjo Mena
  • Antonio Pappano
  • Ludovic Morlot
  • Sian Edwards
  • Jun Markl
  • Ingo Metzmacher
  • Bramwell Tovey
  • Jac van Steen
  • Mark Wigglesworth
  • Simone Young 
  • David Robertson
  • Peter Oundjian as of the end of 2017-18
  • Philippe Auguin
  • Kwame Ryan
  • Ilan Volkov
  • Aleksandr Markovic
  • Lothat Koenigs
  • Henrik Nanasi
  • Kent Nagano
  • Leonard Slatkin (73 and done with being an MD)
Who knows whether any of the above might work for SFS? Most of them don't have a track record of guest conducting at SFS; I think that only Robertson does, although Metzmacher has been through a couple of times, and maybe Tovey has as well.

The closed positions follow; a conductor who has been in a new job for not-that-long probably won't leave it very quickly.
  • Clarinetist Martin Frøst becomes chief conductor of the Swedish Chamber Orchestra in 2019 when Thomas Dausgaard leaves for Seattle.
  • Thomas Zehetmair is going to the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra in 2019
  • Matthias Bamert is going to the Sapporo Symphony in 2018 
  • Lorenzo Viotti was named music director of the Gulbenkian Orchestra, as of 2018
  • Joana Mallwitz appointed GMD in Nuremberg, effective 2018
  • Philippe Jordan to the Vienna Staatsoper / VPO (Dominique Meyer not planning to appoint a WSO MD; his contract expires in 2020.)
  • Semyon! Bychkov! fills the vacancy at the Czech Philharmonic, following the death of Jiří Bělohlávek
  • Dennis Russell Davies becomes music director of the Brno Philharmonic, which had been open since 2015, as of the 2018-19 season.
  • Nicola Luisotti becoming an assistant music director at the Teatro Real, Madrid, 2018.
  • Seattle Symphony, where Thomas Dausgaard will succeed Ludovic Morlot; announced early October, 2016
  • Vancouver Symphony; Otto Tausk comes on in 2018
  • Orchestra Nationale de France; Emmanuel Krivine takes the post in 2017.
  • NDR Elbphilharmonie: Alan Gilbert becomes MD (or chief conductor) in the 2019-20 season.
  • St. Louis Symphony Orchestra; Stéphane Denève to succeed David Robertson
  • Hong Kong Philharmonic; Jaap van Zweden's contract extended through summer of 2022
  • City of Birmingham SO; Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla appointed 2/4/2016, succeeding Andris Nelsons
  • New York Philharmonic; Jaap Van Zweden appointed, 1/27/16, succeeding Alan Gilbert
  • National Symphony Orchestra; Gianandrea Noseda appointed, 1/4/2016, succeeding Christoph Eschenbach.
  • Leipzig Gewandhaus: Andris Nelsons appointed, 9/9/2015
  • LSO: Simon Rattle appointed, 3/2/2015
  • Orchestra de Paris: Daniel Harding, 6/11/2015
  • Berlin Philharmonic: Kirill Petrenko appointed, 6/22/2015
  • BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra; Thomas Dausgaard succeeds Donald Runnicles in September, 2016
I think the first thing to consider is who has been a successful and impressive guest conductor over a period of time with SFS. Here, the names that come to mind, immediately, are Osmo Vanska (not likely to leave Minnesota), Susanna Mälkki (chief conductor of the Helsinki Philharmonic, principal guest conductor of the LAPO, has good relationships with many major orgs), Krysztof Urbanski, Vassily Petrenko (has been in a few times, I think), David Robertson (has been an excellent guest conductor for at least 12 or 15 years).  Is it remotely possible that Donald Runnicles might want to return to the Bay Area? Would James Conlon take SFS? He's a great conductor who has not had a music director job at one of the top US orchestras. Who else?

Okay, updated to include: Pablo Heras-Casado, who has given some terrific concerts with SFS.

There are a few people we haven't had here yet, among whom the first name in my mind is the prodigiously talented Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, aka MGT. I hope she'll be a guest at SFS some time, but she is just a couple of years into a prestigious appointment at the CBSO. I was mightily impressed with Ludovic Morlot when he conducted the BSO in SF during the centenary year, and they do seem to love him in Seattle.

Lastly, a friend saw a comment elsewhere that I consider about as ludicrous as it gets: that only Gustavo Dudamel would do. 

That is just silly. Not only are there plenty of equally good or better conductors around, but Dudamel has one of the best jobs in the world: the LA Phil is on an unusually sound financial footing owing to Hollywood Bowl income; it has had excellent management for decades; the orchestra is excellent and improving; they play the most diverse and interesting repertory around, and they perform in the greatest concert hall in the country. How on earth would SFS be an improvement for him?


Michael Strickland said...

I've been to a lot of SFS concerts over the last decade, and my vote would be for either Mälkki, Gaffigan, or Urbanski. NOT Heras-Casado who I like but doesn't have the musical genius of my favorites. NOT Gilbert who bores the heck out of me. As for Dudamel, I'm not a fan, and as you point out, why would he leave his glamour position in LA? Same is true of Petrenko who can go wherever he wants in the world right now, just like Vladimir Jurowski, who is really my favorite current conductor in the world.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I've only heard urowski live once, in the amazing Frau at the Met four years ago. If I thought he was a candidate, he'd be on my list.

Michael Strickland said...

Jurowski is the complete bomb, but he's already at a point in his career where he doesn't need to be a Music Director and can still do whatever he wants. I heard him conduct an "Ivan The Terrible" cantata at the SF Symphony that was one of the most exciting concerts ever, and then later that same year, heard him with the NY Philharmonic at Avery Fisher conducting his own suite from Prokofiev's "Cinderella." He's phenomenal.

Evan Tucker said...

My guess, either Urbanski or Malkki. I root for Malkki.

John Marcher said...

Impressively detailed and thorough listing here, Lisa, so thank you for that. You've listed a lot of possibilities I wouldn't have even thought of. Pappano would be an outstanding choice for either organization, but I think given his European roots at this point an unlikely one. E-PS would be an unbelievable coup, but an unlikely one. Still, we might as well keep that dream alive until reality forces us to abandon it.

Apart from those two, I agree with Evan and Mike that Urbanski and Malkki would be my top choices for SFS, and I think either one would be excellent to the point that it's hard to prefer one over the over. Gaffigan and Robertson would also be solid choices, but no nearly as exciting. I do not think Heras-Casado is really in the running, and while Petrenko made a big, impressive splash the first time hecame to SFS, I didn't think subsequent appearances were nearly as impressive, plus there's his stupid comment about women conductors that makes him an unlikely fit for the head job at SFS.

Conlon would be great at either SFS or SFO. My preference for him would be SFO, but he could do either with great results. My other choices for SFO would be Michael Boder, the return of Runnicles, or Fabio Luisi (another dream, but why not mention him as long as we're making a wish list).

Lisa Hirsch said...

Thanks! I've accumulated this list over time, and it includes every big-time conductor who has changed jobs in the last couple of years.

I agree, Pappano isn't coming to the US, and E-PS, well, we need to have him as a guest conductor more often.

Pretty sure I've been to a V. Petrenko program but I don't remember any details.

Runnicles would be way more likely to consider SFS than a return to SFO, because DOB is a better job than SFO: bigger budget, more performances, etc.

Alex Ross said...

Juicy stuff, Lisa! Robertson is rather obviously free, having stepped away from both St Louis and Sydney. He'd also be an excellent match for the SFS/MTT tradition. But his stint in St Louis seems to have ended somewhat unhappily, and I wonder whether he's the right place for another American post. I've heard Urbanski only once live, and was only moderately impressed, but I've heard very good things generally. For me, Mälkki and Conlon would be a terrific combo. Has Conlon conducted at SFO recently?

Lisa Hirsch said...

Robertson has done excellent work as a guest conductor and does fit well here, but as you say.

I'm curious where you heard Urbanski and in what. I agree completely with Joshua Kosman's reviews of his two recent programs here, which were spectacular in every way.

Sadly, Conlon has never conducted at SFO. He has a great track record at SFS over the last decade.

One name I missed in my list above is Evan Rogister, whom I've heard only in the Santa Fe King Roger. I think SFS will have to decide whether they want an under-40 talent or someone who is more mid-career, say in the 45-60 range.

Anonymous said...

Looking at your list of open conductors and whether they've been at SFS, I was sure I'd seen Peter Oundjian there, and on checking I have, in 2005. He took the Epilogue of VW's 6th mezzo-forte, but other than that was pretty good in that and the Gershwin Concerto (with Thibaudet). I guess I wouldn't put him top of the want list.

JSC said...

As far as the SFO goes, I have heard rumors that they may not hire a new music director until the centennial season.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I don't think they will stretch the process out for another five years.

Geo. said...

More names for your conductor list and 'orchestras looking' list:
* Juanjo Mena is leaving the BBC Philharmonic after this season.
* Lionel Bringuier will be done with the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich at the end of this season (this was his only contract with them, so evidently he flamed out early with them)

On the 'orchestras looking' front, two from the BBC:
* BBC Philharmonic (per above)
* BBC National Orchestra of Wales (while I haven't seen a formal announcement, it seems to be understood that Thomas Søndergård is done with the BBC NOW after this season, to take his new post with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra next season)

I don't know all the details about Robertson and the long-goodbye of this season, to which Alex Ross alluded. But even if I did, I'd be honor-bound not to tell. (AR probably knows more about it than I do - no big surprise there.) But presumably if he keeps up 'plays well with others' appearances (with both management and musicians), he could put himself in the running for SFS. I think that this would be a good match as well, but I don't know the last time DR conducted the SFS, or how much the SFS musicians like him.

For those wishing for Susanna Malkki, keep in mind that the LA Phil recently hired her as principal guest conductor. My sources tell me that, to put it one way, the LA Phil may be planning ahead. The LA Phil might then just make that much more effort to keep her around, and away from San Francisco as such. She also just extended her Helsinki Philharmonic contract through 2021. For those wishing for Mirga G-T, I wouldn't get your hopes up, as my sources tell me there that MG-T is booked for the next ~5 years, with the CBSO as her primary focus. I think that Slatkin can go off the list, as he's 73 as well. I believe that he's said publicly that he's done with being a music director.

Also, for updating your list, the Swedish Chamber Orchestra has named Martin Frøst as chief conductor, starting in 2019-2020, to follow Thomas Dausgaard.

CruzSF said...

Sad to hear about the Mälkki developments. Lucky/smart LAP.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Roberts was last at SFS a couple of years ago, I think, for a great program of Ravel, Carter, Gershwin, with Marc-Andre Hamelin. He's on the schedule for later this season, too. Alex might well have inside info, or perhaps he's just reading the SLSO news in the papers. If there's institutional unhappiness with Robertson, it could be public news.

I think there is no chance of MGT. Her contract with the CBSO is five or seven years, and that's an orchestra with a long history of developing young conductors. I think it's a plum post in every way.

Thanks for the Swedish Chamber Orchestra news and all of your commentary!

Geo. said...

Two more for the 'orchestras looking' list:
* Royal Philharmonic Orchestra: Charles Dutoit leaves in 2019
* Israel Philharmonic Orchestra: Zubin Mehta steps down in 2019

I guess with regard to SFS, one meta-question is whether they want to stay with a more "maverick"-y MTT-type conductor who has major interests in contemporary and American music (e.g. Malkki, Robertson), or want to go more old school European (e.g. Urbanski). To maintain some sort of distinctive identity, it would seem obvious that the former would be the way to go, except that I don't know how the SFS box office has been in general. (It's been tricky in STL, to be sure, in recent years.)