Who dares, wins

Who dares, wins


norman lebrecht

June 08, 2008

No blogs from me for the past six weeks – I’ve been immersed in a new book.


But the word from Cleveland this weekend deserves a cheer or three, if only for its courage and foresight in an industry noted for its timidity. The Cleveland Orchestra has renewed contracts with music director Franz Welser-Möst for another six years, taking them up to 2019, by which time they will have been together for two full decades.


FW-M is also due to become music director of the Vienna State Opera in two years’ time and is in high demand with orchestras on both continents.


So what’s so brave about the rehire? It is no secret that Cleveland’s chief music critic, Donald Rosenberg, struggles to find a kind word to say about Franz and that several of his colleagues on the NY Times take a comparably sceptical line when the orchestra comes to Carnegie Hall. Such dissent can affect public perceptions, as well as box office sales.


I have known musical organisations to turn chicken when critical opinion went sour on a maestro – check the recent Philadelphia Story (though that’s only half the story), or the way English National Opera treated its last two music directors. So all praise to Cleveland for sailing straight ahead and showing two fingers to the malcontents.


FW-M is never going to be to everyone’s taste. He has strong ideas about music and likes to get his own way. But there has never been a doubt of his ability to achieve exactly the performance he envisaged, or to maintain and improve the playing wherever he waves a wand. Cleveland, after ten years of Franz, is still by some margin America’s finest ensemble – and among its most adventurous, with a stream of new commissions and, in the near future, a season of fully-staged opera.


Which other US orchestra is showing such enterprise and determination?


Go on, name me one.


  • John Smith says:

    Los Angeles??

  • Jason says:

    I’ll name four – LA, San Francisco, Minnesota, and Boston. And that’s just off the top of my head. All have been doing very enterprising things in recent years, and doing so with music directors who aren’t despised by press and musicians alike. (I’m not saying FW-M is a bad conductor, since I haven’t ever seen him conduct. Just suggesting that it doesn’t generally pay to ignore internal and external dissension when assessing the merits of music directors.)

  • Robert Gordon says:

    The LA Philharmonic?

  • Brian says:

    Norman – So glad to hear there’s a new book in the works.
    Along with the above comments on LA, I wouldn’t write Detroit off completely. I know, it’s had a rough time of late and it hardly has the sex appeal of the wealthier big cities. But there are some interesting things in the works there (I just got back from their “8 Days in June Festival.”) And Slatkin seems to be taking to his new appointment with renewed gusto. It’s too early to say how that might go but it seems promising.
    Brian – That’s good to know. I’ll keep Detroit in my sights.

  • Bill S. says:

    You need to learn to count. FW-M has been in Cleveland six years, not ten.
    NL to Bill S: Since 2002, you’re quite right. Thanks for picking me up on it.