How to choose a music director without talking to agents

We have received a report on how the city of Guayaquil in Ecuador (pop. 3.8 million) went about selecting a chief conductor and artistic director for its symphony orchestra. It’s an object lesson in transparency.

Why can’t others do the same? Israel Philharmonic, Zurich Tonhalle, many others: read and learn.

The announcement reportedly brought a pool of 95 applicants from all over the world.

All were asked to submit a project with seasons of concerts, a corresponding rationale, proof of experience as a music director, credentials, CV, transcripts, testimonies of work -and, contrary to the norm, no recommenders or managements were involved at all. 

Committees formed by key players of the orchestra guided the National Director of Musical Arts in selecting 85 applicants. Out of this group, they chose semi-finalists.

After further scrutiny, five finalists (a French, a Russian, a Spaniard, a Cuban, and an Italian-Argentine) were invited to conduct a three-hour rehearsal-audition. The repertoire covered two centuries of western music, some Ecuadorian music, ending with a non-disclosed piece, accompanying a soloist.

In total, five days of work, where the orchestra played an entire rehearsal for each of the finalists.

All orchestra musicians voted, judging preparation, rehearsal technique, manners, communication skills, knowledge of scores, among many topics. Their votes, as well as the grades given by the committees judging the initial stages, were taken into consideration at the final stage. Finally an international jury of conductors, which monitored the process, and observed all auditions, chose the winner – by a unanimous decision.

The result was then sent to the Minister of Culture of Ecuador, Raúl Vallejo, perhaps one of the country’s most important writers and poets. He met with three finalists and endorsed the jury’s decision.

Nothing was done in hotel bars or behind closed doors.

The new music director is Dante Santiago Anzolini, an Argentine-born Italian. Congratulations all round.

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  • Talking the Talk says:

    A complete 180 degree rotation since the days of Toscanini. What a lovely co-incidence the successful candidate was also South American.

  • Peter says:

    What a great system – appoint a music director with whom you have never actually performed a concert. I suspect many managers and agents might say that was transparently stupid.

    • will says:

      No it’s not ‘stupid’ at all.
      The real hard work for a conductor is done in the rehearsals, and the resulting concert is merely a showcase for that work.

      • Anon! A Moose! says:

        “The real hard work for a conductor is done in the rehearsals, and the resulting concert is merely a showcase for that work”

        Still, you want to know if the candidate:
        1)varies too drastically from what you did in rehearsals
        2)habitually flashes dirty looks in the direction of mistakes (which is a detraction from the performance)
        3)starts making confusing motions, either out of nerves or misguided ideas about what makes a musically exciting concert
        4)rushes

    • David Osborne says:

      I suspect you’re right. Which is as good a reason as any to call this a great idea!

    • Saxon Broken says:

      No-one would have hired Abbado if it had been based on the rehearsals. He didn’t seem to do much in them, but caught fire on the concerts.

  • Vienna calling says:

    His website lists two agents.

    • FRANK says:

      I’m a member of a European orchestra. Also I’m a member of the artistic commision of the orchestra. We are presently looking for a new music director. May I politely suggest that the point is not whether the chosen conductor has one or more agents. It seems to me that the point is that nobody’s agent was allowed to influence the outcome. I agree with Will’s reply to Peter.

  • Richard Schwartz says:

    Every conductor on earth is represented by an agent and/or manager. In addition, at least in the US, there are several headhunting search firms for conductors and arts administrators whom boards consult. That’s how the short lists are compiled — and the organization will eventually have no choice but to negotiate with the performer’s agent.

    • Cynthia Katsarelis says:

      No, not “every conductor on earth” has an agent!
      1. The major artist agencies will have one woman for every 50+ male conductors. So a lot of talented women aren’t getting agents. That opportunity is heavily rationed.
      2. Few of the conductors of US regional orchestras seem to have agents, and if they do, it tends to be the ones you pay more money to have than you get from their work…
      3. Didn’t Zubin Mehta represent himself?

      Kudos to orchestras that don’t bother with agents. The agent’s job is to make money for themselves and their clients, it isn’t to get the best conductor for a particular orchestra or community. I’m sure they believe they are doing that, but it is not what drives the fiscal picture.

  • Diego de la Vega says:

    He has a terrible caracter , put a terrorins inside the orchestra, in less than 5 months, already has 3 lawsuits against him,behaving like a dictator, lacking experience in dealing with a professional orchestra as director, going as a guest is one thing, but as a headline is another story,he recently arrived in the city, and already collects enemies in the press and in local society. A total disappointment!!!

  • Jorge Scaff says:

    Nothing was done in hotel bars or behind closed doors.???

    Mr. Anzolini was twice in Ecuador , he meet 2 members of jury on that time , AND THEY ALREADY talked behin the closed doors was him the winner. Íñigo Pirfano was the preference or the orchestra , and Bruno Ferrandis had the best Resumé, at list he has his onw orchestra, and the decision was made in favour of Mr. Anzolini .Evrething in that Rafael Correa adminstration was made behind closed doors.

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