Litton and beyond

I got many responses to my Andrew Litton post, including a hearty “thank you” from someone in touch with the Dallas music scene, and a lively dissent from a musician who’s worked with Litton recently (not in Dallas), and likes him. Not to mention an angry message from a staff member at the Dallas Symphony, which I hope he’ll let me print here, uncensored.

The musician who wrote to me points out that the personal detail I touched on — people close to Litton making demands on orchestras that Litton guest-conducted — is years out of date. The people involved have long since stopped interfering, and in any case Litton himself had nothing to do with it. That’s all true, and I should have said it myself. But on the other hand, what I reported really did happen, and did play a role in getting Litton a bad reputation among American orchestras. So I stand by my point — it’s something that should have been reported in the press. Certainly it would have been if Litton were a pop star, a sports figure, a big-time CEO, or a politician.

Another e-mail reminds me that Litton isn’t the only music director who’s gotten a more or less free ride from the press. There was Seiji Ozawa in Boston, who was ineffective for many years, and known to be so inside the music business, without anything mentioned in the local press. And to this day — as my correspondent pointed out — Gerard Schwarz remains as music director with the Seattle Symphony, even though he conducts badly, is thoroughly disliked by the musicians, and is equally disliked inside the orchestral world. When I wrote something about how badly he conducted when he was music director of the Mostly Mozart festival in New York, three members of the Seattle Symphony (people I’d never met or talked to) called me out of the blue to thank me. In my more than 20 years as a music critic, I’ve never gotten anything like that reaction to anything I’ve written.

More telling still: The Seattle Symphony recently hired a new executive director, after Deborah Card, who’d held the job for many years, left to run the Chicago Symphony. But the search was difficult. The most plausible candidates the search committee approached said they didn’t want the job as long as Schwarz was there. I’d heard this from people in the orchestra world, and confirmed it first-hand with one of the people who’d been approached, and said he wouldn’t even consider the job.

So here’s yet another important unreported story! Did the Seattle Times tell its readers Schwarz is that unpopular?

No disrespect, by the way, to Paul Meecham, from the New York Philharmonic staff, who did take the Seattle job. What happened to him, though, actually was reported. He told the musicians, privately, of course, that he thought Schwarz had to go. Somebody told the press, and the whole thing showed up in the Seattle Times, giving Meecham a kick in the gut as he got ready to start his new job. But when the paper ran this story (which was linked here), they didn’t mention any of the background — that Schwarz isn’t regarded as a good conductor, or that his presence is enough to keep many good orchestra managers away.

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