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.