Who's in the Boston line-up?

Who's in the Boston line-up?


norman lebrecht

March 03, 2011

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.
Who then?
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.


  • Dane says:

    Hi Norman,
    What’s your thinking in concluding that, of the current season’s guests, only Dutoit and Orama are contenders for the job?
    Alan Gilbert was a surprise in NY. Couldn’t something similar happen in Boston?

  • Petros Linardos says:

    Mr Lebrecht,
    Personally I would be ecstatic if Thielemann came to the BSO, and wouldn’t want to miss any of his concerts. But why would he want to come? Any further information you can share with us?

  • Drew says:

    I think Volpe needs to be replaced. I have held that opinion for years.
    And I welcome Levine’s ouster. I have never understood the appeal of Levine—“the finest conductor of our day who isn’t any good”—as he is more technician than artist. His performances, in the theater and in the concert hall, are flavorless and inconsequential. I avoid Levine whenever possible—and Boston’s work is much better under Dohnanyi and Haitink than it is under Levine.
    It is my understanding that Chailly does not have an agent, and is not represented by CAMI (although CAMI represents the interests of the Gewandhaus in the U.S.). Why, accordingly, would Wilford promote Chailly for Boston? I am not confident your information regarding Boston/Chailly is reliable.
    It is also my understanding that Boston, while trying to shove Ozawa out the door in the late 1990s, had offered its post first to Chailly and second to Rattle. Both declined. (At the very same time, Philadelphia had also tendered offers to Chailly and Rattle, in the same order, before settling rather unenthusiastically upon Eschenbach.) It was after Chailly and Rattle turned Boston down that the BSO, after waiting four years or so, finally decided that Levine was the only “name” conductor left—and somewhat reluctantly engaged him.
    With respect to the Jurowski/Philadelphia issue, I am told by persons in a position to know that Philadelphia looked at Jurowski very, very closely—and took a pass. The Philadelphia Board, administration and musicians did not believe that Jurowski was ready for an orchestra of Philadelphia’s quality (of course, it would seem to me that the very same question arises naturally with regard to the Canadian, too).

  • Mr In-the-know says:

    Drew – regarding Jurowski/Philadelphia, it was Jurowski who turned the orchestra down, not vice versa…

  • Drew says:

    I stand by my statement about Jurowski and Philadelphia. He was considered, seriously, but not offered.

  • SteelyTom says:

    Before speculating about names, we might want to consider what criteria will Volpe et al. employ in making a choice. I imagine the BSO’s memories of the dreadful, late Ozawa years are too fresh to permit selection of a young, Alan Gilbert type. The orchestra will probably opt for a name brand, an unexceptionable, experienced hand. Chailly meets this description perfectly.

  • hg says:

    I would suggest Gianandrea Noseda, who is quitting BBC Philharmonic and also leads the Opera in Turin, Italy. Another wonderful young talent has just signed in Oslo, Vasily Petrenko coming from Liverpool. Or maybe Kent Nagano ????
    All the other top-scale conductors are engaged, tough market nowadays !!!!!

  • Geraint says:

    I don’t know the inner-workings of the BSO that well, but might Andris Nelsons appeal to them?

  • geraint says:

    Chailly would be much more than a safe pair of hands. His conducting of the LGO in London last autumn, performing amongst other things Respighi’s Pines of Rome, was outstanding – exceptionally clean and charged.
    Meanwhile, Daniel Harding is anticipating that his next move will be *the* big one of his career…