How to choose a music director without talking to agents

March 1, 2017 by norman lebrecht


We have received a report on how the city of Guayaquil in Ecuador (pop. 3.8 million) went about selecting a chief conductor and artistic director for its symphony orchestra. It’s an object lesson in transparency.

Why can’t others do the same? Israel Philharmonic, Zurich Tonhalle, many others: read and learn.

The announcement reportedly brought a pool of 95 applicants from all over the world.

All were asked to submit a project with seasons of concerts, a corresponding rationale, proof of experience as a music director, credentials, CV, transcripts, testimonies of work -and, contrary to the norm, no recommenders or managements were involved at all. 

Committees formed by key players of the orchestra guided the National Director of Musical Arts in selecting 85 applicants. Out of this group, they chose semi-finalists.

After further scrutiny, five finalists (a French, a Russian, a Spaniard, a Cuban, and an Italian-Argentine) were invited to conduct a three-hour rehearsal-audition. The repertoire covered two centuries of western music, some Ecuadorian music, ending with a non-disclosed piece, accompanying a soloist.

In total, five days of work, where the orchestra played an entire rehearsal for each of the finalists.

All orchestra musicians voted, judging preparation, rehearsal technique, manners, communication skills, knowledge of scores, among many topics. Their votes, as well as the grades given by the committees judging the initial stages, were taken into consideration at the final stage. Finally an international jury of conductors, which monitored the process, and observed all auditions, chose the winner – by a unanimous decision.

The result was then sent to the Minister of Culture of Ecuador, Raúl Vallejo, perhaps one of the country’s most important writers and poets. He met with three finalists and endorsed the jury’s decision.

Nothing was done in hotel bars or behind closed doors.

The new music director is Dante Santiago Anzolini, an Argentine-born Italian. Congratulations all round.

Comments (9)

  1. Talking the Talk says:

    A complete 180 degree rotation since the days of Toscanini. What a lovely co-incidence the successful candidate was also South American.

  2. Peter says:

    What a great system – appoint a music director with whom you have never actually performed a concert. I suspect many managers and agents might say that was transparently stupid.

    1. will says:

      No it’s not ‘stupid’ at all.
      The real hard work for a conductor is done in the rehearsals, and the resulting concert is merely a showcase for that work.

      1. Anon! A Moose! says:

        “The real hard work for a conductor is done in the rehearsals, and the resulting concert is merely a showcase for that work”

        Still, you want to know if the candidate:
        1)varies too drastically from what you did in rehearsals
        2)habitually flashes dirty looks in the direction of mistakes (which is a detraction from the performance)
        3)starts making confusing motions, either out of nerves or misguided ideas about what makes a musically exciting concert

    2. David Osborne says:

      I suspect you’re right. Which is as good a reason as any to call this a great idea!

    3. Saxon Broken says:

      No-one would have hired Abbado if it had been based on the rehearsals. He didn’t seem to do much in them, but caught fire on the concerts.

  3. Vienna calling says:

    His website lists two agents.

    1. FRANK says:

      I’m a member of a European orchestra. Also I’m a member of the artistic commision of the orchestra. We are presently looking for a new music director. May I politely suggest that the point is not whether the chosen conductor has one or more agents. It seems to me that the point is that nobody’s agent was allowed to influence the outcome. I agree with Will’s reply to Peter.

  4. Richard Schwartz says:

    Every conductor on earth is represented by an agent and/or manager. In addition, at least in the US, there are several headhunting search firms for conductors and arts administrators whom boards consult. That’s how the short lists are compiled — and the organization will eventually have no choice but to negotiate with the performer’s agent.

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