Chailly's out. Boston's options are down to one.

Chailly's out. Boston's options are down to one.


norman lebrecht

December 01, 2011

Riccardo Chailly has withdrawn from January’s long-planned concerts with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He had been front-runner to occupy the vacancy left by James Levine’s decline and told me last year that he was attracted by the possibility.

But unspecified ‘health reasons’ have prompted his withdrawal. He had a heart scare three years back. I hope it’s  not a recurrence. He was certainly looking fit and well in London last month.

Where does that leave Boston? With a near-bare cupboard. The remaining candidates to be seen this season are Stephane Deneve, Ludovic Morlot, Jiri Belohlavek, Myun-whun Chung and … one other. The Czech and Korean are overcommitted elsewhere and the two French guys possibly undercooked. That leaves Andris Nelsons, who wowed the orchestra last season when he stepped in for Mahler Ninth.

Right now, the Latvian is on paternity leave. When he gets back, he’ll have a big decision on his plate.


  • Petros Linardos says:

    “Ronald A. Wilford, the chairman and chief executive officer of Columbia Artists Management, which represents the conductor, said in a telephone interview that Mr. Chailly has had recent heart problems involving atrial fibrillation. ” (NY Times)

  • We offered Andris Nelsons the position of Chief Conductor of Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich, and he turned it down on the grounds that he is committed to the CBSO…….. If he is offered Boston I doubt very much that he will turn it down on those grounds, though perhaps he really meant what he said to us and will rebuff any overtures from the BSO.

  • Mark says:

    In truth, it’s probably time for Bob Spano to head north. Boston produces such an elegant, clean, and slightly darker sound when he guests there. My time with him at Tanglewood when he and Jorma shared the conducting studio remains one of the richest learning experiences of my life.

  • Don Drewecki says:

    Dammit! I wanted to go to the first program. Well, maybe Boulez or Dutoit are available to fill in. It’s their territory, for sure.

  • ariel says:

    In this world of music the hiring of a conductor has often little to do with talent as the main criteria , it is who you
    know (as in which management group controls both conductors talented or otherwise and soloists who
    will be “packaged ” along with conductor ) and endless deals . The last “hack” Boston had for years has
    gone back home and Levines’ devotion to Boston was a joke ,-when it came to choices it was the Met – he was
    no dummy , but how that game was played by all !!!!!! It is all a game of musical chairs $$$$$. The only thing
    one can hope for Boston is that it does not get a so called conductor who will drag out once again that endless
    ode to joy & mankind to be accompanied by fire works as did another well known symphony group.
    There is something about a certain PTBarnum saying that rings true.

  • Bill says:

    The notion that the BSO’s choices are limited to this list — those conducting this season — is nonsense. Those responsible have made it clear they plan to take their time and didn’t even organize the search committee’s membership for months after the announcement of Levine’s departure.

    People like Norman Lebrecht and Alex Ross just don’t seem, to get that. Time is *not* of the essence here. The BSO audience is quite happy to have quality visitors for a few years. The BSO has been playing superbly, and the only drawback this year is that we are left with some of Levine’s idiosyncratic programming choices: three Harbison symphonies!

    • George says:

      Yes, Bill, what you said. I know a past Boston SO player who, when I mentioned Lebrecht’s blog post from some months back that said that essentially that the BSO would probably choose their next music director from the roster of Chailly, Belohlavek, Nelsons and van Zweden (Lebrecht misspelled van Zweden’s name in that post, BTW), 3 of whom had never conducted the orchestra to that point, rolled his eyes and said “yeah, that’s really going to go over well”. I can well imagine that the BSO will be pretty calm about it and not panic the way Philadelphia did with Eschenbach several years back, because they know what a train wreck that turned out to be.

      Oh, and at the risk of the pot calling the saucepan black, I highly doubt that Jaap van Zweden will move on to Boston after his time in Dallas ends. If JvZ goes to a new position in the US in a few years, my guess is that Chicago is much more likely. van Zweden has been guesting regularly for several years now in Chicago, the first time as a last minute substitute for Chailly, as it turns out. By contrast, van Zweden has, again, never conducted in Boston to date.

      • Daniel Lobb says:

        Nelson has close ties to the Leipzig Gewandhaus, and perhaps he will be needed there if Chailly has to cut back on his schedule.

  • Brian says:

    Sorry Norman, but I have to agree with Bill on this one. To state that the BSO’s choices are limited to current guest conductors is short-sighted if not totally ludicrous. Since Mark has suggested Bob Spano, I’ll throw David Robertson (St. Louis) into the mix. I’ve viewed his work first-hand in guest appearances in Chicago and his command of that sometimes feisty ensemble was first-rate.

    The BSO is playing well, much better than in the latter years of Ozawa’s tenure there. They certainly can afford to get the finest conductor available…..anywhere.

    • ariel says:

      You ain’t just kiddin they waited so long for the right conductor that they got a part timer from NY who dumped them when he took a better look at his circumstances as illnesses entered the picture . Poor Boston
      thought it was a love affair and were played for fools . The world has changed and symphony orchestras as
      a cultural feather in ones hat is no longer part of the US city scene. There was a time when the name Boston
      meant the ball park and symphony hall and the pops . Now it is the ball park .

  • Peter says:

    Marin Alsop could be the perfect fit.

  • ed says:

    How about James Condon or Kent Nagano?

    • Emil Archambault says:

      Nagano is in Montreal right now, until 2014/15 (I believe). He just got a new concert hall and is in the middle of a Beethoven symphony cycle recording. I don’t think he’d swap for Boston, only a few hours down.

      Nagano is rather looking for a base in Europe to replace Munich (Göteborg is one of the rumours).

  • ed says:

    Mea culpa- I meant James Conlon.

    Also, of the very best, would Barenboim or Dutoit have any interest?

    • Anne S says:

      Isn’t Barenboim at La Scala now? And I would dare say that James Conlon is not in Marin Alsop’s league yet. She is a great choice, if the orchestra members warm up to her.

  • Quite an article about the Ozawa era, Tanglewood and corporate politics.

  • Daniel Lobb says:

    Barenboim and Dutoit are a little too advanced in age to take on a major musical directorship, unless an associate conductor would handle the routine work of the music director.
    I think that Chung’s presence in Boston this season indicates that he could find room in his schedule for the BSO. He already has two positions in Europe (Radio France, Dresden Staatskapelle). He would probably keep the Dresden position (a great orchestra) if he accepted the BSO. He has freedom to adjust his schedule with the Seoul Philharmonic.
    Further, Chung carries with him a twenty year recording contract with Deutsche Grammaphon, which he could apply to the BSO. This would be a substantial upgrade over the in-house efforts the BSO has recently issued, with the introduction of top-level engineers and equipment, the potential for DVD’s, and international marketing. In-house recordings are restricted in that nearly all soloists for a concerto recording are tied up with the major recording labels (such as DG), and you will not see any in-house concerto recordings.
    Also, it is nearly impossible to obtain tickets for Chung’s performances in Europe or Asia (I have tried), and this would be a nice problem for the BSO, not enough tickets.

  • Mark says:

    Interesting read. But the only “out of touch” part in this article is placing Gustavo Dudamel and Robert Spano in the same sentence, terming them each as a “young leader.”

    Bob’s fifty and a seasoned music director and guest conductor. Gustavo Dudamel is twenty years behind him in experience and more of a media phenomenon.

  • Harold Braun says:

    I´d like to mention two brillant young russians,Vladimir Jurowski and Vasily Petrenko.

  • Bill says:

    Various points/questions:

    1. Despite some sarcasm above, the BSO’s leadership would look like geniuses had Levine’s health not gone south so steadily and quickly. There’s no logic that says a lengthy wait for a music director whose health declined requires a faster search this time around.

    2. What’s a part-time conductor? A music director can handle more than one appointment. It’s a question of proportion. How many weeks is necessary or optimum, traditional or current practice?

    3. Those involved in the search will, one hopes, consider that the new music director does not need to play a major role at Tanglewood beyond conducting a few programs.

    4. Chung’s recent visit with the BSO met with a mixed reception, and that’s putting it generously.

    • Daniel Lobb says:

      It is normal for a music director (here I am thinking of Solti or Barenboim with the Chicago Symphony) to commit to about ten to twelve weeks with the orchestra, plus other routine assignments such as participating in selecting new musicians, fund-raising, community outreach, all of which are essential.
      Chung has a strong and positive public profile wherever he works,and his efforts on behalf of UNICEF and UNESCO have earned him UN awards, a rare thing for a conductor.
      As for his recent appearances with the BSO, the concert I attended was close to capacity and earned an enthusiastic, not perfunctory, standing ovation. Some critics were also excited about the performance, while others (at least two) expressed a preference for the Klemperer interpretation (!) on record. Needless to say, Klemperer’s slow, analytical conception is worlds removed from an authentic Russian approach (ie. Koussevitzky, Mravinsky) which is less-calculated and more passionate and gutsy. Chung attempted to reconnect with the old Koussevitzky tradition in Boston and some critics were not ready for it. The musicians themselves committed fully to Chung’s approach, and he is not a martinet like some other well-known candidates for the BSO position.

      • ariel says:

        Mr.Lobb seems to be an ardent apologist for the talents of Mr. Chung. Whatever awards from the UN,they
        have little bearing on what the Boston audience needs – a conductor who seems to be everywhere
        there is an open date is not what Boston needs – to say that there is an authentic Russian approach is
        presumptuous and the point of reconnecting to the Koussevitzky tradition is a bit much . Mr. Chung
        seems to use music as a stalking horse. A part time conductor is a part time conductor no matter how
        it is dressed up or the successful concert given now and then.. The Boston orchestra rose to the occasion under Levine at times to prove it still was in the running other times it was run of the mill work . The next Boston conductor will be chosen not by Boston musical requirements but by concert managements
        that play the chess game of where to place their next musical ” product “.

        • Daniel Lobb says:

          A prominent conductor will usually commit to ten or twelve weeks per season as music director, plus choosing new musicians, promoting the orchestra, community outreach. These conductors never restrict themselves to one, single appointment, but have relationships with two or three orchestras.
          Koussevitzky and Mravinsky not the authentic Russian tradition? Have you listened to their recordings of Tchaikovsky’s symphonies, and observed how their tempos are even more extreme than Chung’s? Chung was criticized for extreme tempos.

          • harold braun says:

            Dear Daniel,

            Please bear in mind that the performances of Koussevitzky and Mravinsky could`t be more different
            from each other.Koussevitzky`s approach was very free ,romantic and spontaneous,with many tempo fluctuations,Mravinsky`s conception was very strict,classical,with often swift tempos ,but played at white heat.Both were fascinating.But there is no such thing as the authentic Russian tradition.Just compare Valery Gergiev´s Tchaikovsky with that of Vassily Sinaisky or Roshdestvensky.Very. different readings indeed.The only thing Russian conductors often have in common is building up a warm rich orchestral sound from the low strings rather than the other way round.,and thorough mastery of the required skills of conducting an orchestra

  • Daniel Lobb says:

    Harold, the point is that Chung was criticized by some local critics as choosing excessive tempos, abrupt transitions, and over-the-top emotional content. Two of these critics held up Klemperer’s 1961 recording as the paragon and standard of Pathetique interpretations, and I suggested that Koussevitsky and Mravinsky were more authentic Tchaikovsky interpreters. Compare the total timings: Koussevitsky 42:56 Klemperer 47:33 Mravinsky 43:46. Klemperer’s slow, analytical approach may yield special dividends in Brahms or Bruckner, but is not within the traditional Tchaikovsky performance practice, unlike Chung.
    Just for interest, Toscanini’s 1942 Philadelphia recording, a highly impassioned account, clocks in at 42:19.

    • harold braun says:

      I agree with you that Klemperers version is one of the most boring,listless performances.By the way, i do think Klemperer is one of the most overrated conductors of all time.I think most of his performances dull,unispired,four square with an one size fits all approach. He has absolutely nothing to offer as far as orchestral colours and sonorities are concerned.Besides that,he was technically a very bad conductor.

  • Don Drewecki says:

    DL writes: “Just for interest, Toscanini’s 1942 Philadelphia recording, a highly impassioned account, clocks in at 42:19..”

    And, don’t forget, AT recorded the work again with the NBC SO, in 1947. The differences in the two versions are extremely interesting. The Philadelphia is freer, has a better acoustic and finer woodwind playing, albeit with a few slips. The NBC is tighter, absolutely secure technically, with powerfully controlled first and third movements. Both versions, put together, comprise a definitive “Pathetique”.

  • karen says:

    Most conductors are overpaid, phoney, boring, Narcissistic, greedy, ghetto bred losers, who live gutter lives filled with drugs, prostitution (lead for sex) pedophiles( that go to third world or poor areas and rap little boys) or have multiple affairs (you know who they are) or are closeted married homos (you know who they are)

    Classical music has been propagandizing the picture that classical artist are an elitist group, elitist? Please that is total BS, they are a bastion of so so artist (a few are outstanding) that have the morals of a septic tank and are void of character and ethics not to mention ripping of the public with the BS lie of not for profit?????? they line their pockets and then cry poor, the conductors are paid to much not to mention the management and the players, not enough. The US has money and loads of talent, so you go to Venezuela to get a jumping bean and say he is a genius because he does not use a score????? Plzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz Let Boston get Daniel Stewart, and give him a break, just try to convince yourself Gustavo is better. Venezuela sure made a deal with L. A. American symphony goers are not stupid.

  • Karen's Therapist says:

    Tell me how you really feel, Karen, just let it out.

  • Bill says:

    And now Nelsons has cancelled, which makes this entire thread hilarious.

    Good for Marcelo Lehninger! He came through last year for the BSO and did some very nice work at the New England Conservatory a few weeks back.