The conductor Riccardo Chailly, in the first of this year’s series of The Lebrecht Interview on BBC Radio 3, was slightly needled when I suggested he lacked the stomach for a fight, and perhaps the ultimate edge of ambition.
Chailly, 57, is music director of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. He was supposed to be director of the city opera as well, but he backed out when a new production chief was installed. Previously, he walked away from the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam after 15 years.
He has not ruled at La Scala, where his father was once artistic director, and he has never headed a US orchestra, despite early triumphs in Chicago. But his eyes lit up when I pressed the point and he specified that he was in talks with ‘one of the great American musical institutions’. Ronald Wilford, the CAMI boss, is now his personal agent and an announcement on Chailly in America can be expected before the leaves change hue.
No need to speculate which orchestra is in his sights. It’s the one whose chief conductor is prone to most cancellations.
No need, either, to doubt his aptitude. Chailly is, technically and imaginatively, one of the foremost living conductors. If I had to choose someone to conduct for my life, he would be first in the frame.
Still in his 50s, and slimmed down after a heart scare, Chailly is full of energy and ideas, fluent in English and wonderfully refreshing in his very lack of career calculation. I have always rated him above his noisier contemporaries. A winter job on the East Coast would be just the ticket to establish Riccardo Chailly where he has long belonged – at the very top.
You can hear The Lebrecht Interview tonight on Radio 3. See here for more information.