James Levine could not have left the Boston Symphony Orchestra in a bigger mess. By dropping out mid-season, he has not only left huge gaps to be filled at short notice but no sniff of a natural successor in the offing.
Just as he did at the Met for 25 years, Levine carefully avoided letting any potential rivals onto his roster. The present season is shared with such no-run veterans as Maazel, Masur, Dohnanyi, Fruhbeck de Burgos, Colin Davis and Dutoit. Only the last mentioned would fancy himself for the job.
The remaining conductors this season are David Robertson, Christian Zacharias, Sakari Oramo, Susanna Malkki and Mark Elder. Apart from Oramo, none is a possible contender.
The plan laid by Ronald Wilford, Levine’s manager, was for Riccardo Chailly to present his credentials in 2012 and be accepted by acclamation. Chailly might be persuaded to take an earlier date, but that is by no means certain. He has his hands full at Leipzig this season.
The desperate Boston boss Mark Volpe, whose relations with Wilford and Levine have deteriorated in recent days, may look to Haitink or Dutoit to hold the fort for a season until Chailly is available. Leonard Slatkin, strikebound in Detroit is another outside option.
Alternately, Volpe might make a swoop for Vladimir Jurowski (who turned down Philadelphia), Daniele Gatti (who is struggling in Paris) or Christian Thielemann, who may be ready to announce his second coming in the US after much nastiness last time. But the orchestra will have to work with them first, and that’s not arranged overnight.
The situation is complicated by doubts over Volpe’s future. Levine’s people say he was unhelpful in the disengagement process. Volpe might counter that Big Jim was indecisive (so what’s new?). The Boaston board will have to make a few tough calls and might well consider Volpe’s position too shaky to be sustained.
So it’s all to play for and substitutes lining up to come onto the field. Right now, Boston’s in the mire.