The Philadelphia Story – have they got the right ending?

The Philadelphia Story – have they got the right ending?


norman lebrecht

June 15, 2010

The announcement of Yannick Nézét-Seguin as music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra is a high-risk, half-calculated strategy. No question of the young Canadian’s talent – he has demonstrated at Rotterdam and the London Philharmonic both the interpretative gift and the human skills to raise a fine orchestra several notches higher. I have been impressed ever since I heard a Bruckner seventh that ran without an audible gear change, a wonderfully organic performance that seemed to have been conceived in a single breath.

At 36, he is inexperienced but full of idealism and unlikely to get worn down by world-weary professors in the front desks who have seen it all before. As Peter Dobrin has reported, the players liked him more than any other guest conductor in the past couple of years.

So why the high risk and the half-calculation? Because talent is never enough. An artist at Yannick’s stage needs a partner in management who can shield and guide him in the way that Ernest Fleischmann nurtured Esa-Pekka Salonen at Los Angeles and Alexander Pereira handled Franz Welser-Möst in Zurich. At Philadelphia he will work with Allison Vulgamore, a recent arrival from Stlanta, who is fighting fires on all fronts – financial, artistic, demographic and strategic. It’s going to be tough for Yannick, from day one.

And that’s why the calculation is no more than a halfway guess. The decline of the Philadelphia Orchestra in the past decade has been a sorry spectacle of indecision, misjudgement and overweening pride. That kind of rot does not stop overnight. The next year is going to be crucial for the orchestra. Win or lose, a conductor can always walk away.  


  • Rubin Sacs says:

    I dont think you will be disappointed with Yannick Nézét-Seguin. He was fantastic with the London Philharmonic.

  • Monsoon says:

    Philadelphia’s big problem for the last decade has been management. Instead of trying to raise more money Joe Kluger kept trying to cut salaries and the size of the orchestra. As the President of a non-profit his main job is to raise money, but he never seemed to get this. The Orchestra’s marketing has also been terrible. The “unexpect yourself” campaign was widely ridiculed, and the orchestra general idea of marketing has been sending post cards to subscribers trying to convince them to purchase tickets to concerts they already have tickets to. And the lack of A-list guest conductors and soloists has also hurt attendance. Management has done very little about having the orchestra record. They don’t seem to get that even though they don’t bring in millions of dollars, recordings are an excellent marketing tool. Eschenbach was the one who made the contract with Ondine happen, and now it looks like the Orchestra is entering another very long recording drought.

  • Kleber Avenue says:

    Who is going to look after baby? I think America can’t help themselves but to be superficial in their decision making. It is sad to think the great Philadelphia orchestra will be led by my generation’s talents. I want Stoki, the sound, the sheen, the real personality……..
    Que pessima,

  • phlmaestro says:

    Yannick is five years older than Stoki was when he was awarded the job in 1912.
    At least there is management in place now to put out the fires. This comes after a period when there was a total vacuum of leadership at the top.
    For the first time in a while, I’m optimistic that things are looking up for the PO.