by Melinda Whiting

Everything is cyclical, or so it seems. Fashion, politics, the moon, rondo formÑalmost anything can be boiled down to cycles, if you think broadly enough.

Orchestras have their own characteristic cycles. The obvious one is seasonal: the surge of excitement in the fall; the settling into a comfortable rhythm that lasts through the spring; the wrap-up; the summer break, with its lighter load. (For many orchestras, the summer side of the cycle means a festival or two; see SYMPHONY's annual directory of summer festivals beginning on page 38.)

A much broader orchestra cycle, lasting years, involves the tenure of a music director: the new appointment, the honeymoon, the maturing of a relationship between conductor and musicians, the search for a successor, the new appointment, the honeymoonÉand so it goes.

Every once in a great while, several of these broad cycles fall into a chance alignment, with fascinating consequences. Such an alignmentÑon a seismic scale, is underway right now, as a dozen of AmericaÕs most prominent podiums are changing hands (feet?) at very nearly the same time. Nothing comparable has ever taken place before. A couple of years ago, in anticipation, critics indulged in much hand wringing and consternation: Would there be enough top-tier conductors to fill the demand? Were today's conductors too green to handle major music directorships? Were enough Americans being considered? Et cetera.

With the wisdom of hindsight, those anguished queries have an overwrought ring. To understand why, one need only recall a few revered names of the past. (Stokowski and Bernstein were hardly seasoned artists before their major appointments in Cincinnati and New York.) Moreover, "top-tier" conductors like Sawallisch and Dohnányi weren't recognized as such on these shores until after they demonstrated their stature to the world from the helms of their high-profile American orchestras. And yes, in the recent flurry of conductor searches, Americans were seriously considered and, in several cases, chosen.

(The hand-wringers came close to identifying one important challenge, though. The demand for highly trained conductors is increasing, since America has many more professional orchestras than a generation ago. In this environment, itÕs all too clear that this country lacks an adequate infrastructure of its own for advanced conductor training. 

Right now, the convergence of these music director cycles is at its height, and most of the openings announced in the last few years have been filled. A few honeymoons are in full swing (Spano in Atlanta, Järvi in Cincinnati, Graf in Houston, Delfs in St. Paul) even as several orchestras (Minnesota, New Jersey, and, next season, Philadelphia) bid their departing music directors a fond farewell. Sadly, as this issue of SYMPHONY goes to press, the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra's cycle is coming to an unexpected end; Hans Vonk's distinguished work there has been cut short by his mysterious illness (see page 8). And in another lamentable development, a dark cloud now hangs over the end of Charles Dutoit's tenure with the Montreal Symphony, as he takes his leave just before what was planned as his 25th-anniversary season. The dispute that led to his departure must not be allowed to obscure a laudable legacy of concerts and recordings.

In Boston, Cleveland, and New York, last-minute love fests are buoying the farewell seasons of three leading maestri. We look back on the significant accomplishments of Christoph von Dohnányi, Kurt Masur, and Seiji Ozawa in this issue of SYMPHONY. As for the future, hopes are riding high for their successors, all highly accomplished artists with very different ways of making music. The same goes for such promising engagements as Osmo Vänskä in Minnesota and Christoph Eschenbach in Philadelphia. Listening to the transition will be an absorbing pastime, as each orchestra adapts to the strengths and preferences of a new leader.

A large-scale shift like this won't happen again anytime soon so pay attention while it lasts.