So how was New York Phil's new man in his last job?

Amid the relief of finding someone competent who actually wanted the job, no-one seems to have asked how Matthew Van Besien was doing at the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and why he wanted to get out after less than two years in the job.

Not that great, I hear. The MSO has been relocated to the Town Hall while its home gets a makeover and subscriptions have plummeted. There is no music director, and none in prospect. Tadaaki Otaka does duty as principal guest. Morale is down.

Van Besien is described by friends of mine as a tough negotiator, but ‘very personable’. Also ‘very ambitious’. Perhaps it will take a while for his efforts to bear fruit.

His wife, who is English, was working in Perth in the oil industry.

Here’s a corny posed pic from The Australian.

Matthew VanBesien

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  • New York Philharmonic versus Melbourne Symphony?

    In this instance, there is no choice. Whilst Melbourne has the moniker of the ‘world’s most liveable city’, it doesn’t take Einstein to work out that VanBesian was never going to stay for long. Like a lot of people in the ‘arts administration’ world he viewed the Melbourne Symphony job as a stepping stone to greener pastures in the US or Europe, in this case a job no-one ‘good enough’ actually wanted. So much so VanBesian was flown from Melbourne to New York by the New York Philharmonic to be formally interviewed.

    Frankly, it’s amazing he’s done anything in the role whilst at the Melbourne Symphony with a board unwilling to appoint a new chief conductor off the back of the expensive end to Oleg Caetani’s reign (http://www.crikey.com.au/2009/10/15/mso-left-without-an-oleg-to-stand-on/) and blown a huge opportunity to give local talent Benjamin Northey the role at a bargain basement price whilst the seemingly never-ending ‘search’ (supposedly; both Bin Laden and Gaddafi have been killed and the Melbourne Symphony still hasn’t ‘found’ anyone!) for a new chief conductor continues. Meantime, Otaka is seldom spotted, maybe the search party is out for him, too?

    Nevermind Northey could have taken the role for 2-3 years whilst they were ‘searching’, who knows maybe even grown into the role and left his mark. Typical of Australian orchestras not giving Australian talent a chance, except to give Northey the utterly useless ‘role’ as ‘Associate’ conductor and not actually give him any serious repertoire to genuinely show what he can do. Waving his arms madly during the pre-match ‘entertainment’ for the most recent Australian Football League Grand Final sporting a football jumper in the most awful colours imaginable is about as high-profile as he gets at roughly 90 seconds a pop for each competing team’s theme song. If you haven’t heard, Meat Loaf stole the show that day for all the wrong reasons.

    Yet professional sport is highly analogous in this instance: has a leading, ‘iconic’ professional sports team ever started three consecutive seasons without a head coach in place? Unthinkable. The board would be long sacked – if they actually answered to anyone. Yet here’s the Melbourne Symphony about to enter subscription series three sans a chief conductor. Obvious money issues aside, what are they waiting for, the return to Hamer Hall? Moving forwards with such artistic insight, they have gone backwards by inviting former chief conductor Markus Stenz to take the first formal concert in the soon-to-be newly refurbished Hamer Hall in August. Surely if you’re going to have a new chief conductor this is the gig to give to that person? One must question whether this organisation is afraid of the future?

    In fairness to the Melbourne Symphony, the only reason subscriptions have ‘plummeted’ is because the Melbourne Town Hall is horrible hall access wise for the elderly. Unless they have since died, those people will probably return to their comfortable new seats at Hamer Hall once the orchestra moves back as the Arts Centre is very easy access wise. Yet the potential return of subscribers when Hamer Hall reopens masks the fact the subscription audience is ageing fast. As a result, the introduction of ‘education’ week is probably the finest ‘legacy’ VanBesian is leaving.

    One would hope that by the time VanBesian ends his tenure in his new job that the fine folk of New York are left with far more than merely a newly refurbished hall (probably a big reason VanBesian has the NY Phil gig as he’s spent his time at the Melbourne Symphony away from ‘home base’ – and the NY Phil are soon to do so themselves); an education and outreach focus 20-30 years overdue; and, merely the rehashing of successful orchestral events piloted by other orchestras rather than pioneering brand new projects, lest they fail to attract an audience, lose money and damage the ‘brand’.

    At least in his new role VanBesian has a chief conductor to work with. A native New Yorker at that.

  • The photo shows Matthew VanBesien – who cannot be blamed for having sought to return to his home-country to do the most prestigious and best paying (by far) job in his chosen field of work – being flanked by two really great sounding (I’ve heard them) players.

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