Friday, September 24, 2021

Someone's Priorities are Right.

Lincoln Center Fountain
Photo by Lisa Hirsch

No sarcasm here: Anthony Tommasini reviewed the NY Philharmonic's opening program for 2021-22, spending three paragraphs on the concert and eleven evaluating Jaap van Zweden's tenure and speculating on the future. 

He raises the important issues: was van Zweden the right conductor at the right time? He doesn't explicitly answer, but he's obviously thinking "no" or maybe the more equivocal "probably not." His evaluation is really interesting, because he found JvZ most persuasive in new music and wanting in "core repertory." I don't think that is what anyone expected when the conductor was appointed to the post.

In any event, this does bring up the question of who will be next in one of the hottest seats for a conductor.  Whoever it is has to take into account these things:

  • The orchestra has a reputation for being difficult to work with. I have no specifics on this; I just know it's been their reputation for as long as I have known they existed. You have to wonder about the social culture of the group if they've managed to stay difficult to work with for forty or fifty years.
  • The orchestra has been playing in a terrible hall, though this might be fixed: it's currently under renovation and should re-open in September, 2022. It's an ill wind, etc., and the lack of performances during the pandemic sped up the renovation process by eighteen months.
  • The orchestra had weak management for decades before Deborah Borda's return.
  • Borda has evidently been hinting that she might step down after the renovation is done. She is 72 and so one can understand that she is considering when to retire. But she's also in a position to be a genuinely transformative CEO for the organization.
So who might be willing to take this very difficult position? Tommasini more-than-hints that he'd like the orchestra to have a woman as its music director. Let's consider some possible candidates, not all of them women; I will note that there are some female candidates I'm not saying anything about because I don't know enough about their careers. Some of the possibilities are conductors suggested by friends. In all cases, you should ask yourself why the NY Phil is a good career move for the possible candidate and whether they already have any kind of working relationship or history with the orchestra.
  • Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla. MGT has given notice at a really great post, with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. The CBSO is an excellent orchestra with a long history of launching the careers of top-notch conductors: going back a ways, we have Simon Rattle, Sakari Oramu, Andres Nelsons, and MGT. Brexit might well have something to do with this; also, her two young children, also, having a partner whose job is in Germany, if I have this right. She is a huge talent who could be hired by any number of orchestras in Europe.
  • Susanna Mälkki. Well, she's music director at the Helsinki Philharmonic and principal guest conductor of the LA Phil. Gustavo Dudamel, that orchestra's music director, has a new job at the Paris Opera. He might not want two jobs that are five thousand miles apart, and Mälkki could very well be next in line to be music director of a well-managed, forward-looking, financially-sound orchestra that plays in one of the greatest halls in the world. If you had a choice, would you take the NY Phil over that? I sure wouldn't, although it's true that New York is closer to Helsinki than LA is.
  • Marin Alsop. She'll be out of the Baltimore job at the end of this season. She's a New Yorker with deep NY roots; her parents were both professional musicians in NYC, with each having a long career with the orchestra of the New York City Ballet. The NY Phil has already tried this with Alan Gilbert....and that didn't last.
  • Barbara Hannigan. She conducts, she sings, she's a fantastic musician and was amazing the one time I've seen her live. Does she want to be a full-time music director of a difficult orchestra?
  • Vladimir Jurowski. He has one of the best jobs in the opera world, at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, succeeding Kirill Petrenko. Would he consider adding the NY Phil to that?
  • Jeri Lynne Johnson. Music director of the Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra. I have never heard her conduct and haven't read much about her; a friend who is familiar with her work said "She has cross-section of skills that fit with what the new music director is going to need in terms of background, key mentors, ability to present new music, while maintaining a schedule with older works, and ability with community outreach."
  • Krzysztof Urbański. Here's another huge talent; anyway, that's my view based on the astonishing concerts he has led with the San Francisco Symphony. He's currently the music director of the Indianapolis Symphony and very likely would be available for a job at a bigger and more important orchestra. I'm counting him as a candidate because Deborah Borda already has a proven record of hiring a young talent who doesn't have a lot of music director experience.
  • Gustavo Dudamel. Well, he does have this big job coming up in Paris, where there are two opera houses and a gigantic budget. Would he leave LA for NY? It's closer to Paris but a much bigger headache than LA. Of course, Deborah Borda is a great administrator, so maybe it will be less of a headache than it has been.
  • Manfred Honeck. Has a great reputation, but just re-upped in Pittsburgh. Presumably not taking the CSO job (see below), maybe not available for NY.
  • Osmo Vänskä. He's the outgoing music director of the Minnesota Orchestra, where he has done great work. I believe that he is generally considered to be demanding, but in adult ways: he isn't a bully, just knows what he wants and how to get it. He is probably tough enough for the NY Phil, but didn't they try this with Masur?
  • Riccardo Muti. They could try again, I guess! His contract at the CSO will be up fairly soon, but he is 80, his programming at the CSO has been incredibly dull, and he's probably not the kind of transformative talent that the NY Phil needs.
  • Esa-Pekka Salonen. Forget it. He made it pretty clear that he didn't want this job, and as you know, he likes California.


David Bratman said...

uh, do you have the right link for Tommasini's review?

Lisa Hirsch said...

Whoops. Thanks - fixed now.