Reynold Levy let it be known last month that he is stepping down as president of Lincoln Center at the end of the year. Levy is 67 and has raised $1.3 billion over the past decade, testament in US terms to a successful presidency. The head hunters are ringing around even as I write these words.
But what else do we hear? A well-placed source in Washington DC tells us that Michael Kaiser is preparing to quit as president of the Kennedy Center. Kaiser, 59 this month, has been at Kennedy almost exactly as long as Levy has been at Lincoln. He previously rescued London’s Covent Garden from prolonged crisis.
Kaiser started out at Kennedy with a creative manifesto, drawn from his Covent Garden experience. He effected change at the National Symphony Orchestra, replacing Leonard Slatkin with Christoph Eschenbach, and at the national opera, removing the absentee Placido Domingo and inserting Francesca Zambello. He also greatly increased education and outreach budgets.
But his attention has been deflected in the past couple of years by world tours, talking about the arts in crisis and taking an arts ambassadorship from the State Department. He lost his rag recently with a Hispanic community leader. The word is that his focus has begun to flag. Our source insists that he has notified the board to prepare for a successor. A second source suggests he may be eyeing up the Lincoln Center vacancy.
Let’s be clear: these are unofficial, albeit well-sourced reports. I have not tried to reach Michael for confirmation since I know he cannot say anything before the board authorises him to do so. In any event, a change might do him good. He’s a New Yorker, who always wanted to return.
So don’t be surprised to find room at the top at both major arts centers before the year is out. And that would mark a generational shift in US arts affairs.
UPDATE: Colleagues at Bloomberg recall that Kaiser told them in May 2010 that he would quit Kennedy in 2014 to head an institute dedicated to training next-gen US arts administrators. Is that still the plan?