Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Intriguing News From The World Of Music

Alan Gilbert has been named Lorin Maazel's successor at the New York Philharmonic, and Riccardo Chailly has (again) been identified as the chief candidate to assume the post of Music Director of the Chicago Symphony.

Today’s news from the world of music is quite intriguing, creating a lot of comment everywhere, including here in the office, where a lot of persons regularly attend Minnesota Orchestra and Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra concerts, and follow the orchestral world very closely, and serve on various boards.

The amazing thing is how tepid was the New York Philharmonic announcement. Could a more lukewarm endorsement of the orchestra’s chosen new conductor possibly have been conceived?

Acknowledging that Gilbert is “a risk”, announcing that he will conduct the orchestra for “only” twelve weeks a year, describing him as “a good musician”, and pointing out that one of his qualifications for the New York Philharmonic post was the fact that he became “acquainted” with the Boston Symphony while attending BSO concerts during his college days in Boston (along with many thousands of other students), constitutes the most feeble and unenthusiastic announcement of a major appointment I have ever seen.

If I were Alan Gilbert, I would sue.

At least the announcement was free of puffery—but did it not tend to go a little too far in the opposite direction?

The announcement tacitly acknowledged that the Philharmonic knew that it could not get anyone good, and that the orchestra was well aware that everyone else—from music critics to subscribers to casual concert-goers to the music-loving public—already knew that the Philharmonic could not get anyone good, and that there was no point in trying to dress up the announcement by pretending that the best person for the job had been hired, and that the orchestra, having been publicly turned down by every conductor of note, had simply settled upon someone who was willing to accept the job in order to end the search.

What an overwhelming display of graciousness on the part of the New York Philharmonic!

Happily, things in Chicago operate pursuant to a far different set of rules.

As reported today by John Von Rhein, America’s most knowledgeable and finest writer about orchestral matters, nationwide, the Chicago Symphony wants Riccardo Chailly--and the Chicago Symphony wants Riccardo Chailly very, very badly--and the orchestra is willing to do practically anything to get him, including waiting, for years, if necessary, for Chailly to become available.

This is consistent with what I have been told, by knowledgeable persons, for the last year. The sticking point will be: can Chailly be cajoled to come to America to work? Since Chailly flatly turned down the orchestras in Boston and Philadelphia in the late 1990’s, surely no one is getting his or her hopes up that the world’s finest conductor can be enticed to Chicago.

That said, my instinct tells me that Riccardo will accept the Chicago post. My father says the same thing, with one caveat: that Riccardo will accept the job, unless someone on the Chicago Symphony administrative staff gets up Riccardo’s nose during contract negotiations.

At least Chicago takes its orchestra seriously—and lets everyone know it.

The President of the Chicago Symphony stated, on the record, that Chicago had never entertained any fears whatsoever that New York would be able to grab a conductor that Chicago wanted.

Turns out she was right.


  1. I heard Giilbert and the NDR in Hamburg and posted on your blog in February. Do you remember? His selection is getting no play at all. Why?

  2. John Von Rhein is probably the most underrated music critic this country has. Meanwhile, Chicago needs a conductor like Riccardo Chailly who is energetic and dynamic and one that serves the music and not his ego. It would be great to have him here.

  3. Opera Chanteuse, I could not agree with you more.

    If Chicago succeeds in landing Chailly, I think I would fly to Chicago every single weekend in which he was on the podium.

    Yes, John Von Rhein is very, very good, and he reports the orchestral scene much more accurately than any of the New York writers. His opera reviews are pretty good, too, or so I have always thought.

  4. Yes, Dan, I remember you writing about hearing Alan Gilbert and the NDR Orchestra in Hamburg. When I heard the NDR Orchestra in Hamburg, it was under Dohnanyi.

    You are right--Gilbert's appointment is causing no excitement at all, probably because he is not considered to be a major talent.

    This afternoon, I checked a few new-music websites, which I thought would be going crazy over today's announcement. There is no activity at all.

    Look at Tim Page's article in "The Washington Post"--his reporting of Gilbert's New York Philharmonic appointment carries all the excitement of the announcement of a minor accounting error.

    Then go back and read Tim Page's article covering the announcement of Lorin Maazel's appointment at the NYPO a few years ago.

    There is a night-and-day difference in the two stories.

  5. Is Gilbert the main conducotr of the NDR?

  6. Christoph Von Dohnanyi is Music Director of The NDR Orchestra Of Hamburg. Alan Gilbert is Principal Guest Conductor of the orchestra (the orchestra may have more than one Principal Guest Conductor).

    What did you think of the Hamburg Musikhalle, if you do not mind my asking? I thought it was one of the most beautiful concert halls I have ever visited, inside and out. It emerged from World War II totally unscathed, which is utterly amazing, considering how much of Hamburg was leveled in the 1943 firestorm.

    Did you see the new concert hall Hamburg is building out in the harbor?

  7. I loved the Musik Halle. I went twice. It puts our new Verizon hall here in Philly to shame.

    I missed the new hall. I didn't even know about it until I got back and read about it in the papers.

  8. What about the music hall in Minneapolis?

  9. The new concert hall under construction in Hamburg is situated on a prominent point in the midst of Hamburg's harbor.

    We saw it from across the river--we walked the length of the tunnel under The River Elbe to the other side, and examined Hamburg's harborfront from across the river--and the new concert hall should be quite a sight when it is completed. Even on a cold, grey, dreary day, the scene was exceedingly beautiful.

    Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis is a concrete modernist structure, dating from the mid-1970's. It seats 2500 persons and has very good acoustics. It is scheduled to undergo a $90 million renovation soon.

    Ordway Center in Saint Paul is a modernist structure from the mid-1980's. It seats 1900 persons and has variable acoustics.

  10. Dan, since you are from Philadelphia, did you see the very critical article about Gilbert's New York appointment that appeared this afternoon on your local newspaper's website?

  11. Having seen Chailly in Leipzig less than a month ago, I'd be surprised if he came to Chicago. The orchestra and the audience went bananas for him, and I spoke to a few locals, who said he is very beloved and comfortable there. I don't know why any conductor based in central Europe and with regular engagements conducting pretty much all of the major European orchestras would want to have to think about crossing the Atlantic several times a month. Honestly, I've never associated Chailly with any "American" orchestra, despite his Decca recordings with the Cleveland. If Chicago does land him, I think it will be a coup. Is nobody out there kicking and screaming for someone "young" (as allegedly was happening in NY)?

  12. P.S. I think Pappano would be an *outstanding* choice for an American orchestra, but, again, I'd be surprised if he left London...

  13. My father knows people on the Chicago board, and he is told that the orchestra is uncertain who to look at if Chailly cannot be convinced to come to Chicago.

    If you want the entire story on what is going on in Chicago, send me an email message to, and I will respond with what my father has been told.

    It is long and complicated.

  14. I have heard Pappano conduct Puccini and Verdi at Covent Garden, but I have no personal experience hearing him in other repertory. In Puccini and Verdi, I think Pappano is magnificent.

    Three or four years ago, Pappano did a bout of guest-conducting with American orchestras, always playing the Honegger Symphony No. 3, and he was not, in general, well-received. Re-invitations were not exactly forthcoming.

  15. I'm surprised - his three concertante discs (with Adsnes, Vengerov and Han-na Chang) are all fantastic. I suppose conducting those works is somewhat similar to conducting opera. I also got a download of him conducting Respighi's Pines and Festivals (with the St. Cecilia Academy orchestra) and those are fine performances, although I wouldn't necessarily base a career on the ability to interpret those two pieces. They are slightly less engaging than Danielle Gatti's recordings of the same pieces with the same orchestra. Speaking of Gatti, I'm surprised he's not been considered for any of these American jobs. I've liked everything I've heard from him (especially his electrifying Mahler 5 with the Royal PO).

  16. I love Gatti, too (who is young: 45). He was just named Masur's replacement for the Orchestre National De France.

    Gatti does not like American orchestras, as a general rule (another long, long story).

    Pappano really laid an egg with American orchestras that year he made a round of appearances here, and he appeared with all the top-notch ones.

    If I were Chailly, I would find it hard to come here, too.

    It is getting harder and harder for American orchestras to attract top European conductors to the U.S.

    There is a long list of them who no longer want to appear here.