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November 29, 2006

Just the Facts.

In a recent column, Norman Lebrecht wrote: "The average age in U.S. podia, Cleveland apart, is pushing 70. The American orchestra is in dire need of a wake-up call."

While I do not wish to comment on Mr. Lebrecht's opinions, I do think it is appropriate to expect factual accuracy in print. Of the 19 largest U.S. orchestras that have music directors currently under contract, the average age of those music directors, Cleveland apart, is 55.6. There is one age 70 or older, and six age 60 or older. Specifically, here is an alphabetical list of those 19, which includes Cleveland (though they are omitted from the averaging):

Atlanta, Robert Spano , 45
Baltimore, Marin Alsop, 50
Boston, James Levine, 63
Cincinnati, Paavo Järvi, 43
Cleveland, Franz Welser-Möst, 46
Houston, Hans Graf, 56
Indianapolis, Mario Venzago, 58
Los Angeles, Esa-Pekka Salonen, 48
Milwaukee, Andreas Delfs, 48
Minnesota, Osmo Vänska, 53
National, Leonard Slatkin, 62
New Jersey, Neeme Järvi, 69
New York, Lorin Maazel, 76
Philadelphia, Christoph Eschenbach, 66
Oregon, Carlos Kalmar, 48
Saint Louis, David Robertson, 48
San Francisco, Michael Tilson Thomas, 61
Seattle, Gerard Schwarz, 59
Utah, Keith Lockhart, 47

Just wanted to be clear about the facts.

Posted by hfogel at November 29, 2006 6:06 PM

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It took a while to track down the original article by Stormin' Norman, but here it is:


Another small detail that he gets wrong is that he puts in Philadelphia as one of the orchestras which "lack a music director". To lovingly rip-off a line from Monty Python re Eschenbach, "he's not dead yet."

However, in spite of Lebrecht's reputation, he actually does have a fair point to make about how well London has done to recruit the next generation (Gergiev, Jurowski, Salonen) to take over from the old lions (C. Davis, Masur, Dohnanyi). It'll be interesting to see how Chicago, New York and Philadelphia from the "Big Five" choose down the line, which I think was Lebrecht's point of his jab, even if, as he tends to, he squiffs on the details.

(BTW, Mr. Fogel, I would wonder what you thought about Daniel Wakin's article today in the New York Times about Maazel stumping for Barenboim. But since you are a gentleman and an aficionado/scholar, I wouldn't hold you to putting anything on the record about that.

Posted by: Geo. at November 29, 2006 6:46 PM

Dear Henry: Aw....I was hoping that you WOULD comment on Mr. Lebrecht's opinions, misguided as they often tend to be...Perhaps we should all chip in and send him a calculator for Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa.

Posted by: Deborah Fleitz at November 30, 2006 8:48 AM


I appreciate your understanding of my position, and will fulfill your expectation by not commenting.

Henry Fogel

Posted by: Henry Fogel at November 30, 2006 3:55 PM

To Deborah: for Lebrecht, the relevant holiday is Hanukkah. And since at some point, he may actually want to check his facts (what a concept) for a future article/missive by speaking to Mr. Fogel, who obviously by dint of his position is a man in the know...well, you get the idea.

To Mr. Fogel: I hope I wasn't too out of line with that comment, in retrospect. I still remember you sharing the podium for the pre-concert lecture in 1996 at Medinah Temple for Mahler 8, where I sat something like 8 rows from the stage.

Posted by: Geo. at December 1, 2006 1:10 AM

The other interesting part of Mr. Lebrecht's article was his supposition that Esa-Pekka Salonen agreeing to direct the Philharmonia would somehow come at the expense of his time/effort in LA.

Surely Lebrecht knows it's commonplace for major conductors to hold two or more positions in different parts of the world. Indeed, Salonen's predecessor at the Philharmonia, Christoph von Dohnanyi, as we all know, simultaneously led both the Philharmonia and the Cleveland Orchestra, but everyone accepted that as business-as-usual.

Posted by: Marko at December 3, 2006 1:30 AM

When I read Mr. Lebrecht's article I clearly thought he was being sarcastic and did not chalk it up to factual accuracy - sort of how many people exagerate to make a point. Logically it wouldn't be easy to have an average age of 70 without having some 90+ ages to even it out with the 40-50 ages. So right there you know he's making things up.

However, I don't really get what the point is. When I scan the list of the top 19 Music Directors I don't see a problem. Mr. Maazel is by far the oldest, and it's never been unusual in the entire history of classical music to have a director in the 70's or older.

Additionally, I don't think there are very many orchestra's or audiences that want to take a chance on a 30 something maestro, unless they are absolutely sure. It's been done before, and it often doesn't work. To be a conductor of a top 20 orchestra takes experience. There's a lot of repertoire to learn, and administrative things to pick up on. These things take years.

I really don't think a conductor is hitting his/her stride until they hit their 40's, and I think most people would agree with that.

In short, I don't think there is any problem with the ages of the Music Director's in this country. I think there are other artistic issues that are much more important than the age.

Orchestra's need to work harder hiring American-born Music Director's. I'm not sure if the talent just doesn't stack up against European born conductor's, or if the orchestra management is scared that they won't be able to market them. It's probably a little of both.

At any rate, I found the article off-base and unnecessary.

Posted by: Ken at December 5, 2006 8:30 PM

Ah, but with Mr Lebrecht, you cannot distinguish between fact and opinion.
I have always suspected that he considers one to be the servant of the other.
I do read him and often there is a very good point hidden in his writing, but you really have to work to find it.

Posted by: ken nielsen - sydney at January 25, 2007 5:56 AM