No blogs from me for the past six weeks – I’ve been immersed in a new book.
But the word from Cleveland this weekend deserves a cheer or three, if only for its courage and foresight in an industry noted for its timidity. The Cleveland Orchestra has renewed contracts with music director Franz Welser-Möst for another six years, taking them up to 2019, by which time they will have been together for two full decades.
FW-M is also due to become music director of the Vienna State Opera in two years’ time and is in high demand with orchestras on both continents.
So what’s so brave about the rehire? It is no secret that Cleveland’s chief music critic, Donald Rosenberg, struggles to find a kind word to say about Franz and that several of his colleagues on the NY Times take a comparably sceptical line when the orchestra comes to Carnegie Hall. Such dissent can affect public perceptions, as well as box office sales.
I have known musical organisations to turn chicken when critical opinion went sour on a maestro – check the recent Philadelphia Story (though that’s only half the story), or the way English National Opera treated its last two music directors. So all praise to Cleveland for sailing straight ahead and showing two fingers to the malcontents.
FW-M is never going to be to everyone’s taste. He has strong ideas about music and likes to get his own way. But there has never been a doubt of his ability to achieve exactly the performance he envisaged, or to maintain and improve the playing wherever he waves a wand. Cleveland, after ten years of Franz, is still by some margin America’s finest ensemble – and among its most adventurous, with a stream of new commissions and, in the near future, a season of fully-staged opera.
Which other US orchestra is showing such enterprise and determination?
Go on, name me one.