One thing’s for sure: The New York Philharmonic will pick the wrong man. Again

Alex Ross has been running his eye down the candidates who are likely to succeed Alan Gilbert as New York’s music director, based on current guest trials. He doesn’t seem too excited. (Nor are we.)

+ Esa-Pekka Salonen has been there, done that, doesn’t seem too keen.

+ Manfred Honeck has enjoyed some success at Pittsburgh. Modest success.

+ Jaap Van Zweden is big in Dallas. Not big enough.

The question has to be: why is New York not trialling the names who might really make a difference? Such as:

+ Petrenko. Anyone called Petrenko.

+ Järvi. Ditto.

+ Jurowski. The older bro.

+ Chailly, who might have been interested up to a couple of months ago.

+ Lionel Bringuier, the Zurich whizzkid.

+ Antonio Pappano.

+ Jansons.

+ Noseda.

Each and every one would make a likelier difference than those on Alex’s shortlist.

Next question: why no women? (Very good question.)

But then, ever since Bernstein, NY Phil has always got it wrong.

Boulez was picked as Lenny’s polar opposite and lasted six years, leaving an unhappy band.

Zubin Mehta was brought in to apply balm and stayed six years too long.

Kurt Masur, hired to wake the orchestra from its stupor, retired when it got too rucous.

Lorin Maazel brought technical precision. Anything else?

Alan Gilbert’s parents were members of the Philharmonic.

Get the picture?

This is an orchestra that has long forgotten what it wants in a chief conductor.

Alan conducts the Stars Spangled Banner after the Serbian National Anthem, 8:10pm, 10/24/10. Photo by Chris Lee

 

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  • Manfred Honeck is by far the most interesting and promising choice among the shortlist of candidates. Vladimir Jurowski is also a worthy choice. I don’t think Honeck’s success in Pittsburgh is anywhere ‘modest’, ask the Berliners.

    He’s one of the very few who bring a very distinct style, AND(!) the orchestra loves him.

    Bringuier? Noseda? These names have nothing in common with the level of Honeck, Jurowski, Petrenko or even Pappano.

    • I agree – but to say ‘not EVEN Pappano’ is greatly underestimating this great musician who works wonders with teh ROH in London.

    • Manfred Honeck was/is by far the worst choice for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. So, yes New York Philharmonic, take him…take him away from Pittsburgh. They deserve him like they deserved Lorin Maazel. Honeck has a very limited repertoire and feeling for music that is not germanic and even then, he has to resort to “cute” renditions to claim originality. Generally the “blue hair ladies” love him but the rest..NOT!.

      We do know how much better Noseda is. He has been guesting for years with the PSO and he is a real original. The people (include moi) likes him a lot.

      • Czech music is not Germanic, and he has had success there.

        But the NYPhil is somewhat of a dead-end job, if you consider the conducting careers of the five post-Bernstein men listed above by Norman, and so might not be a good step for the talented Manfred Honeck.

  • Yes, let’s judge Alan Gilbert on the fact that his parents are musicians in the orchestra and not on the fact that, as Alex Ross writes, that he “invigorated the institution as no conductor since Boulez has done”. Do you even read the articles you link to?

  • 1) Alex Ross clearly wants Salonen, given their predilection for contemporary music. Indeed, reading his article, I think Ross intentionally gave Honeck and Zweden bad reviews just to torpedo their chances. The New York Times, by the way, gave a diametrically opposed review of Zweden’s concert. Let’s see who has more sway over New York, the NYT or the New Yorker, Zachary Woolf or Alex Ross. My money is on the NYT. Tommassini got his wish with Alan Gilbert. Gilbert finally won over Alex Ross with his contemporary music festival. (Not sure if Gilbert won over anyone else. Ticket sales will bear everything out.)

    2) As for the universe of big name conductors out there, I think the NYPhil suffers from a bad reputation: tough players, tough management, tough city, tough critics who don’t want to hear anything composed before 1975.

    • It seems very unlikely that people like Alex Ross have so much influence. He is a critic, having written a very good book (The Rest is Noise) upon 20C music, but that does not mean that he has any authority in something so directly subjective as the choice of a principal conductor for an orchestra. The NY Phil is not playing for Alex Ross but for its audiences.

      Van Zweden – being a superb musician – does promote and present new music, has a pluralistic taste in that direction, but shuns atonal modernism – maybe that is not to Ross’ liking. Boulez’ tenure with the NY Phil has demonstrated that such musically poor conductors chase away audiences, so obviously they need an utmost musical one, and such conductor will avoid any new music which falls outside the performance culture of the orchestra – of any orchestra, fr that matter.

      • Your usual hatred of Boulez is obviously preventing your ability to read.
        Here’s from Ross’ article:

        “Boulez was held to be a frigid modernist priest who alienated audiences, despite the fact that concerts were nearly sold out throughout his tenure.”

        So much for your “musically poor conductors chase away audiences”.

        Here’s a piece of advice: stop taking yourself seriously and just say “I don’t like it” instead of pontificating here and embarrassing yourself.

  • I heard Manfred Honeck galvanize the Chicago Symphony a couple of years ago in what was one of the best concerts I’ve ever heard. The elasticity of his phrasing and the sheer musicality were inspiring. New York would be lucky to have him as music director.

    • Of course! He is an oldfashioned Viennese carrying a long musical tradition with him, a tradition which is fully alive.

    • Exactly. I also saw him last year conducting the CSO in a program of Beethoven, Haydn and Strauss.

      He brought the house down like I’ve never seen before. And most importantly he made the great-but-boring CSO play with a very distinct style.

  • ==I think the NYPhil suffers from a bad reputation: tough players, tough management, tough city, tough critics who don’t want to hear anything composed before 1975.

    I think that is exactly why SImon Rattle has *never* guest-conducted NYPO.

      • Best lightweights usually move better, react quicker, are more skillful and versatile – overall, much more interesting and exciting in action than practically any heavyweights.

  • Everyone you mention has at least one orchestra already. Semyon Bychkov has become a very welcome guest in recent years in New York. He has no other ties. Isn’t it time the NYPO had someone with a bit of gravitas?

  • NONE of the top-tier of conductors want the NYPO job. Their Lincoln Center concert hall is a barn, and the orchestra is going to be homeless for 2 years while they attempt to rebuild it — and then God only knows what the result will be: They got that hall wrong TWICE, so don’t put it past them to screw it up again on their third try. So, stay tuned for another short-term, stop-gap NYPO music director.

  • ==why no women

    In another blog on conductors, Alex Ross wrote:

    “That top-tier conductors are almost always men is less an indication of institutional misogyny—though that certainly exists—than an inevitable consequence of the play-acting ritual: because the canonical composers are entirely male, so are their stand-ins. The modern orchestra concert is not entirely unrelated to the spectacle of a Civil War reënactment”

    • This exposes Ross’ narrow-minded modernism at the back of his mind. Readers of his reviews should be warned: he does not seem to LIKE orchestras very much. So, that explains a lot about his views upon the NY Phil’s future music director.

        • Yes. Well, you know, it doesn’t really exist in our language. The New Yorker is a joy with its commas but has been off down an alley with this affected and anal style.

          “Coöperation”?

  • Honeck and Van Zweden belong to the top level of conductors currently being around, like Pappano (the latter recording of Wagner duets with the ROH orchestra and Domingo and Voigt for EMI is astonishing, also in comparison with what already is there). Van Zweden made very succesful debuts with the Berliner and Vienna Phils, and is invited for a Lohengrin next April at the Vienna State Opera. The NY Phil would be very lucky to have him.

    • That is nonsense. Ross is a brilliant and analytical mind, which will be obvious for anybody who has read ‘The Rest is Noise’. But such mind is no garantee for musical evaluations, which is also shown in the book. His evaluations tend towards the superficial and horizontal, with a touch of the ‘modern’, populist pluralism which mentions Duke Ellington in the same breath as Mahler. One can agree with that or not, but calling him ‘provincial’ is far off the mark. New York is all the richer with such a brilliant critic who also has the opportunity to communicate through an important media channel, giving classical music some glamour back that otherwise would have eroded much further. Classical music does need such writers, especially since everywhere in the Western world music criticism is pushed out of the media.

  • Has anyone considered the fact of all the names mentioned, that they may NOT want the job? It’s like singers being bandied about for roles they “should sing”… but most people seem to forget that those very same singers may NOT want to sing those roles? Hmm?

  • I don’t believe critics matter in the selection. Harold C. Schonberg used to write negative reviews about Lenny until the conductor’s press rep lobbied and campaigned Schonberg to change his tone. I don’t think Gilbert’s parents being orchestra members mattered either. Maazel’s appointment was announced within days of an announcement about a multi million dollar gift from a donor associated with a Maazel conducting competition. Follow the money.

  • As a friend of the players who has been backstage often during the Bernstein through Maazel eras – I think Maazel was the best since Bernstein and deserves credit. Precision was not all there was with him – he led the orchestra through spontaneous and amazing espressivo rubato unlike any conductor I have heard. As for the future – let it be based on great musical merit…

    • As a retired professional musician now hearing many concerts during the season, I give Maazel all due credit as a “D’Artagnan” of the baton. There’s no gainsaying of his vast talent however capricious some of his rubati were.

      Conductors I’ve heard in NY that may be worthy of consideration are: van Zweden, Honeck, Jurowski, Noseda and Bychkov. However, their willingness to take up residency here is another question altogether.

  • One of the best ever performances of my already long mudical life was Maazel’s conducting the NYPO in its hall several years ago. The work was Elektra. There is no one in the world who can approach this – except Salonen whom I have heard live in Aix in the same work. The orchestra should invite him but I doubt he will accept the job. A few hours before, Barenboim was conducting Tristan at the MET. He should be invited too.

    • Maazel’s Elektra was astoundingly good, probably the best thing he did at the Philharmonic; the Philharmonic periodically reposts the recording on its website.

      Barenboim made it clear years ago that he doesn’t want another US music directorship. He’s now 73 and has plenty of work; why bother?

  • A shame that Maestro Maazel had to end his career with the NY Phil – a considerable step down from his days at the helm of “The” Cleveland Orchestra……

  • With some airlines recently adding several flights to the San Francisco-New York route, why doesn’t the NY Phil ask Michael Tilson Thomas and share him with the SF Symphony?

    • You’ve got to be kidding: MTT has been around for 45 years, during which time NONE of the top-tier American orchestras have ever placed him on their short-list. I’m been in the music business during all that time, and I know this to be a fact.

      • …you mean, other than the one that hired him 20 years ago and still employs him? Would you like to flesh out your innuendo a bit more?

        • Top-tier = top-five. MTT is aching for a top-5 American orchestra – but it hasn’t happened and it never will. MTT will remain in San Francisco until the end of his career.

          • Oh God, here we go again with that antediluvian canard of the big 5 – it may be more realistic to talk about the big 10 or big 15, given how much the orchestral landscape in the US has evolved in the last 20-30 years in terms of technical accomplishment alone. And yes, that includes the SFSO. Besides, MTT seems to be perfectly happy in Frisco, and has shown no sign that I’ve noticed of wanting to fly that coop . As for NY, I’ve no dogs in this race: whoever gets picked for the post is bound to trigger off the usual futile thunderstorm of griping and harrumphing that one routinely encounters here anyway, and I have no desire to contribute to that. But let’s be done with this “big 5” talk once and for all, for goodness’ sake: it’s so ’90s!!

          • While the SF Symphony nor the NY Phil are on my personal list of favorite orchestras and putting aside the fact that we see orchestras & conductors with utter subjectivity, I still find that the SFSO has no reason to feel ashamed standing next to the NY Phil.
            Incidentally, regarding “Top 5”, in terms of orchestra-endowment, operating budget, base salary, net income and annual % of attendance, the SFSO is among the top 5 American orchestras. For the other criteria, please see:
            http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/16/arts/music/the-big-five-orchestras-no-longer-add-up.html?_r=0

  • There is a dark horse of great quality and exceptional musicianship: French conductor Emmanuel Villaume, who has led thrilling performances at the Met, is now Music Director at Dallas Opera, and held music directorships for the Slovak Philharmonic. Listen to his recordings – especially the recent disc of music by Maurice Emmanuel – and you will hear a conductor nearing the peak of a career. Whether or not he would be willing to subject himself to the ordeal of dealing with the NYPhil – well, that is a question that a lot of conductors are probably asking themselves.

  • Honeck is brilliant, a gentleman, and a hands-on conductor. He knows what he wants from an orchestra and he usually gets it. One of the best compliments I heard about his conducting was after the Pittsburgh Symphony played at the Mann Music Center in Philadelphia. One patron remarked “that is what our orchestra used to sound like- you know- before Eschenbach.” He does not seem interested but who knows. And Pittsburgh has never sounded better.

  • Having heard many conductors on the list with the Philadelphia…. ….

    Let’s not judge Alan Gilbert because his parents are (still?) in the NY Phil. Let’s judge home because he gives routine to boring performances. Just playing Stockhausen and Magnus Lindbergh in itself is cause for joy, but not enough to overcome boring in the rest of the rep.

    Jurowski, Vladimir – often on, sometimes not. Imaginative programmer.

    Noseda – the real thing! Imaginative programmer. Inspired musician. The PO loves him! The Met also likes him.

    Van Sweden? Too intense. Tempos too fast, borders on the unmusical. The NY Phil musicians might not get along in an extended run.

    Honeck? Have heard him only on a few recordings. Dvorak 8th is unidiomatic. The highly praised Strauss disc is better, but any conductor who rewrites the final clarinet phrase up an octave in “Till Eulenspiegel” so it can be heard over the full orchestra just does not get it.

    What about Stephane Deneve? We are lucky to have this great conductor as Principal Guest in Philadelphia!

    • Til’s final phrase, played on E♭clarinet in a high register, was written by Strauss and meant to sound like a final scream. Honeck had nothing to do with it.

  • I’m not sure Gilbert is a visionary, not many of them around, but he’s a hell of a good technical conductor, far better than many.

    There are too many layers these days to being an MD let alone in NYC, but on merit, I think Noseda is very good and will grow in stature.

    Many that you mention, Norman, are variable or plain duff. Check out Honeck’s new Beethoven 5. If anybody gets past the first four bars, I’d be surprised. Lots of others have good PR, not much else. It’s a problem.

    As for Salonen. Very fine, but if he took it, he could offer the same diplomacy from a New York cab as he did in a London cab for his welcome video. Basically, I’m happy to be in London, but the system sucks, the city sucks, the food sucks and the weather sucks. lol

  • The musicians have the best idea whom they’d like to regularly work with – no sense in the public wanting somebody who doesn’t have any chemistry with the musicians. It’s not really possible to say based on history with another orchestra that conductor X is bad for the Philharmonic – the relationship is slightly different every time. The past choices have reflected varying directions and so things aren’t too steeped in one direction at the moment – that has its advantages.

  • When the dust settles, it will be The Dude. the next “Lenny” and a perfect fit for NY.

    Tired of hearing critics dissing Mehta. Both NY and LA made the same mistake after Mehta; hiring an old World conductor (Giulini and Mazur) who did their best work somewhere else. Mehta can produce an exciting performance.

  • Well said John H. Let the orchestra decide for themselves. Have all the idiotic speculations prior to K Petrenko’s appointment as Berlin Phil next principal conductor taught you nothing people ?
    Some of the names suggested above are so farcical that it just proves my point.

  • The NY Phil players I know and I know a lot of them, are asking for Chailly or Gatti…

    As for the trashing of Boulez’s tenure with the NYP, I was around quite a bit then and can tell you that Boulez took what had become a very sloppy orchestra under Bernstein’s last years and turned them into a crackerjack ensemble. The recordings from that period at terrific (Concerto for Orchestra, Petrushka, Bartok…Carter…there’s even a wonderful Boulez rarity: Handel Water Music and Royal Fireworks…).

    • Chailly didn’t give up Leipzig just to pick up NY. It would have been 25 years ago, but not today, the two orchestras have traded places in prestige.

  • Handel Water Music and Royal Fireworks…

    NOT a ‘wonderful Boulez rarity at all’…! Unbelievably HORRIBLE… ‘written out ornamentation’ which ‘in itself’ was not idiomatic in 18th century terms… what was the point?

  • Salonen does strike me as the ideal choice. Ross’ point is that the Philharmonic is a great orchestra that has often been hampered by an unclear mission. Gilbert may be just average in the core repertoire but he has vision about what an orchestra should be in the 21st century; I wish he would at least stay around until after the renovation is done, because the Philharmonic’s two years out of its regular home is an opportunity to challenge to do and think a lot outside the box. I can’t think of anyone better to lead the orchestra during that time.

    • Something happened between Gilbert and management that made him want to quit before the renovations. People think management probably asked him to stay through the renovation but did not extend his contract beyond. No way anyone would stay for the dirty work but not get the glory of the new hall.

    • The maestro’s salary is never an issue, no matter how poor the orchestra, because the funny thing about the American patronage system is that patrons endow specific things: the hall, the stage, the principal chairs, the maestro’s position, the seats, and yes, even restrooms.

      • True. It was a great pleasure, when I attended a concert at Carnegie Hall with Mahler IX, to be seated – in the interval – on a discrete connection to the NY underworld decorated with a small sign informing me that it was donated by Donald Trump.

  • Just to add another name to this list: Philippe Jordan (Swiss, born in 1974), currently with Opera de Paris (contract expires in 2018) and the Vienna Symphony (expires around 2019) He gets consistently glowing reviews in the French press (no small accomplishment) and has raised the orchestra of the Paris Opera to a higher artistic level.

  • Thielemann? The best in the german repertoire – the core of any orchestra’s work. He is almost free as he only conducts a few weeks in Dresden and on tour apart from one ot two weeks in the Vienna State Opera and the Berlin Phil, the Easter festival in Salzburg and the summer one in Bayreuth. His choice would certainly be provocative and controversial but why not?

    • “German repertoire, the core of any orchestra’s work”? In Vienna or Berlin 100 years ago, maybe – surely not in New York in 2015.

      Thielemann is impressive within a limited range, but is completely unproven in the kind of music that it’s most important that the NYPO plays well. And the controversy, sadly, would be political rather than artistic, and not in a creatively stimulating way.

      • As long as New York has Donald Trump, Thielemann wouldn’t have to worry about anything he says causing controversy (not that this would decrease the unlikelihood of Thielemann taking up a MD post outside of Europe, or even Germany/Austria).

          • You never know. From what I’ve seen, the “undercut” (or whatever the English term for Thielemann’s style of haircut is) seems to be à la mode among some of the fashion victims in the 18-35 age group in several places.
            In any case, Thielemann could always adopt Trump’s foppish hairstyle…

  • Even if I would hate to lose Daniel Harding, who is at present the chief conductor of the Swedish Radio Symphonic Orchestra in my hometown Stockholm, he would always be an excellent choice for any great symphony orchestra.

    • Hope you are not too sad to have to share him with us, as he is the next conductor of the Orchestre de Paris!

      🙂

  • + Jaap Van Zweden is big in Dallas. Not big enough (that’s absolutely true, unbelievable that this character is with a orchestra in the USA and not with a local ensemble in Holland). He is an bad conductor and a moderate violinist.

    • This comment demonstrates a high degree of musical ignorance, sounding as coming from the Netherlands, typically.

      It is characteristic of little Holland to denigrate its own talentful artists, that is why they leave the country to spread their wings. Someone who is so successful, not only with the Dallas Symphony, but ALSO with the Chicago Symphony (where he recently led a very successful festival with difficult Russian repertoire), with very strong debuts with the Berliner Philharmoniker and the Wiener Philharmoniker, and being invited by the Wiener Staatsoper for a Lohengrin in April next year, and after his most successful concert performances of Wagner operas in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw – his Parsifal of a couple of years ago was wonderful – is certainly good enough for the NY PHil.

  • That this has sunk to low level of “my conductor of choice ” observations rather than address the thought “does it make much difference who conducts ,beats time ,whatever
    in front of NYP ?” Does its ever shrinking mostly ignorant to the art of music audience matter at all ..we do know that every week in various cities throughout the world a few thousand of the living dead attend “symphony concerts ” recitals etc. listening to ” filtered interpretations” adulterated to suit the times.The latest
    hotshot conductor will be picked and the entrepreneurs( the latest addition to music studies ) will dig up the corpse and proclaim it to be living, all for the $$.

  • Van Zweden is a proven orchestra builder. He was named Musical America Conductor of the Year for his success in Dallas. Obscured in this discussion is this key aspect of being a music director — not just fame, or youth, or interpretive abilities — what Szell and Solti and Ormandy did.

    Historically, the New York Philharmonic suffered most in this department: Bernstein was flashy and promoted only himself, Maazel was an absentee landlord, Mazur did what he could before Deborah Borda dumped him overboard. During this transition period, the New York Phil needs a strong steady hand to hold the orchestra together, musically and in terms of personnel.

  • It is perhaps interesting to note that our beloved Mr Borstlap has his own music being conducted by Jaap van Zweeden in Dallas and Hong Kong this season. Clearly he is hoping that if his favoured maestro gets the NY job the NYPhil might get to play his music…

    • Yes, and wouldn’t that be scandalous? We all know that the NY audience nostalgically longs for the times of Boulez to return…. with some really good musical experiences.

  • perhaps, scott reed could be a candidate-he’s a voice major from the famous, world renowned music school at party school UCSB (u can study buzzed), he runs the music school in California with all those rich socialites who dont know the difference between a tuba and their rectum, smiles alot, and tells folks what they want to hear. very good at smiling and talking. us conductor, or used car dealer.

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