Music Director Appointments
I've been thinking a great deal about music directors recently - and how the position, and the type of person filling it, seems to be evolving. It's an issue that a lot of people are thinking about, and here are three examples that I've observed during my time in the orchestra field:
First - more and more U.S. orchestras have created a structure where the music director reports to the executive director - something virtually unheard of twenty-five years ago. But what does it really mean? It does not mean the traditional corporate reporting structure, because "reporting to" in that world means the person one reports to can single-handedly hire and fire you. But I'm certain that no executive director can truly hire a music director alone, nor fire one alone. But boards are choosing this structure more and more, and I'm not sure why they choose it or what it means. One executive told me that it means the orchestra executive director can say "no" to a music director because of fiscal concerns - but that was true in the old, co-equal reporting relationship as well. If the conductor didn't like it, he or she could take his or her complaint to the board leadership - and I suspect one still can in the new reporting relationship. I hope in the coming months to have the League do some research work to learn the reasons behind this change, and its implications.
Secondly - we are seeing major orchestras take their time in music director searches, and turn to some kind of interim solution (Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Detroit, Nashville, National). I cannot think of a time in my lifetime when six major orchestras appointed, at the same time, conductors in the role of "music advisor," or "principal conductor." It is a fascinating development.
Thirdly - the choices that some orchestras are making are surprises. They are conductors not yet household names, even amongst serious music lovers in America: Jaap van Zweden in Dallas, Manfred Honeck in Pittsburgh, Gustavo Dudamel in Los Angeles, all of these conductors have been given prestigious posts in America prior to establishing some level of stardom here. Some would say that is a sign of a lack of superstar conductors, but to me it is a healthy sign - a sign of a willingness to make a bold move for a conductor you believe in, a willingness to take some risk, and a priority on music-making rather than on celebrity. Joshua Kosman, writing in Gramophone, pointed out that the model for this kind of appointment was Los Angeles' previous appointment: Esa-Pekka Salonen - virtually unknown in America when L.A. hired him, in what has clearly been one of the more successful appointments in this country in recent history. I would add two other appointments in more recent years - David Robertson in Saint Louis and Osmo Vänska in Minnesota - as being somewhat in the mold, and to a large degree Paavo Järvi in Cincinnati as well. All three of those appointments appear to be working wonderfully - none of them had American stardom as part of their portfolio when they began in their position. Again, if this means that musical depth and willingness to make a commitment to a community are the prime attributes that orchestras are seeking, rather than celebrity, it is another sign that orchestras are in a good place.