The Wiener Staatsoper announced today that Franz Welser-Most will assume the post of Music Director in 2010.
Exactly six months ago (December 6), I mentioned on my blog that Welser-Most would be the next Music Director in Vienna. A couple of strangers sent me email messages, telling me that I was wrong. I responded to the email messages, and I told the senders that Welser-Most's appointment had already been arranged, and that it was a mere case of waiting for the final details to be worked out and the public announcement to be issued.
Welser-Most is one of only two top-rank conductors who now regularly works in the United States with American orchestras (the other is Lorin Maazel). Welser-Most will be leaving the Cleveland Orchestra when his current contract expires in 2012, although this will not be publicly announced any time soon. After Welser-Most leaves Cleveland, and after Maazel ends his tenure with the New York Philharmonic, the United States--for the first time--will not have a single top-level conductor working with an American orchestra.
This is a shocking and depressing state of affairs.
I cannot blame Welser-Most for planning to leave Cleveland, as he is not happy with many aspects of musical life in the United States.
He is not happy, for instance, that the local critic in Cleveland, Donald Rosenberg, detests him. He is not happy that American music critics do not recognize the high quality of his work in Cleveland and carp about him, ceaselessly, while simultaneously and unaccountably lavishing praise upon such marginal and unimportant figures as Marin Alsop, Alan Gilbert, Kent Nagano, David Robertson and Robert Spano, none of whom as musicians or as conductors are remotely in Welser-Most's league (but all of whom are American). He is not happy that American listeners and American critics seem uninterested in hearing new European musical compositions, preferring instead to rest their ears with the unthreatening pop-derived music of John Adams. He is not happy that today's finest conductors--Abbado, Barenboim, Chailly, Gatti, Jansons, Rattle, Temirkanov, Thielemann--can no longer be enticed to come to the U.S. and work with American orchestras for any meangingful period of time (if they can be enticed to come at all).
I fear that American musical life is becoming more and more parochial, and I further fear that it is only going to get worse in coming years. This trend toward parochialism is being cheered on by young American music critics in New York and Los Angeles, critics who use their forums, aggressively, to lobby on behalf of third-rate American composers and third-rate American conductors, none of whom measures up to the finest of their European counterparts.
Fifty years ago, American orchestras enjoyed the services of Antal Dorati, Dmitri Mitropoulos, Pierre Monteux, Charles Munch, Eugene Ormandy, Fritz Reiner, William Steinberg and George Szell.
Today's list of American-born and American-trained podium figures in charge of North American orchestras--Marin Alsop, Keith Lockhart, James Levine, Kent Nagano, David Robertson, Gerard Schwarz, Leonard Slatkin, Robert Spano, Michael Tilson Thomas--is pretty depressing in comparison to a list of their predecessors from fifty years ago. At its best, this current list of American conductors is comprised of a couple of second-raters, with the rest all far worse than that.
Is it any wonder that America's musical public is staying away from concerts in droves?