on the record: December 2008 Archives
Why is it that for much of the second half of the twentieth century, the American classical music scene has tended to divide the symphonic world and the operatic world into two distinct arenas never (or rarely) to meet. There are exceptions, of course, particularly in our larger cities. But I can't count the number of times I have heard people in the symphonic field say about a conductor, "oh...he's an opera conductor." This is unfortunate.
I am old enough to remember a time when conductors were thought to be still growing artistically when they were in their fifties; those under 45 were considered young. At the age of 42 Herbert von Karajan was still music director of the orchestra in Aachen, Germany. Everyone considered that the New York Philharmonic took an enormous chance (certainly one that worked out) on hiring Leonard Bernstein as music director in 1958. His youth was talked about constantly in music circles. He was 40!
I have just discovered a wonderful composer with whose music I was not familiar: Komitas Vardaped, an Armenian priest, composer, chorus director, singer, and musicologist who lived from 1869 to 1935. I don't often use this space to enthuse over a specific composer, but I hope you won't mind if I do so now. Vardaped is an Armenian title meaning "priest" or "scholar," so he has a single name, sometimes spelled Gomidas but more commonly Komitas. I recently received a disc of his songs on Nonesuch (511487-2), sung beautifully by Isabel Bayrakdarian and orchestrated by Serouj Krajdian. These songs are stunning--evocative, original, wonderfully tuneful. They stay in the memory and reward repeated hearing. That is about the most you can ask of any music.
I am often asked what I believe are the most important traits or qualities for a successful orchestra executive director. Sometimes I'm asked that question by board members who are conducting a search for one, sometimes by young administrators hoping for a successful career, and sometimes by interesting outsiders. In the 45 years that I have been involved with symphony orchestras, I have certainly seen many administrators come and go, some successful, some not so much. Here are some of the qualities that I believe are essential ingredients in the successful executive director.