Maestro move: Ludovic Morlot quits Seattle

The Seattle Symphony Orchestra’s music director Ludovic Morlot has announced he will leave in 2019 after eight years in the job.

He has no other post immediately in sight. He says he is ‘contemplating new horizons — nothing I’m ready to share with you today.’

photo: SSO

UPDATE: Morlot on social media: ‘After much reflection, I have decided to step down as Music Director of the Seattle Symphony in 2019. We are in the midst of a wonderful, stimulating and exciting artistic journey. I look forward to continuing this journey in the next two seasons; however, I feel that by 2019 the time will be right for me to explore new musical horizons and for the Symphony to benefit from the inspiration of new artistic leadership. I will be forever grateful to you and proud to have helped write a chapter in the history of the Seattle Symphony.’

Here’s the orchestra’s press statement:

Seattle, WA – Music Director Ludovic Morlot today announced that he will step down as Seattle Symphony Music Director in 2019, after eight seasons with the orchestra. Since 2011 Morlot has re-energized the organization with his thrilling performances, his innovative programming bringing together the familiar and the unfamiliar, and his award-winning recordings, as well as his work with youth, families and the community. Morlot and the Seattle Symphony are committed to developing the thread of creative and exciting programming that has distinguished his tenure, and as such, Morlot will continue to conduct the orchestra regularly beyond summer 2019.

“I will be forever grateful and proud to have been given the opportunity to help write a chapter in the history of the Seattle Symphony,” shared Morlot. “And what a beautiful chapter it is; thrilling performances played to full houses, the appointment of so many outstanding musicians, three Grammys, a strong list of commissions and premieres, a memorable concert at Carnegie Hall, an upcoming residency at Berkeley, and so much more. I am also extremely appreciative of the commitment that the community as a whole has offered to me at the artistic helm of this extraordinary organization. The decision to step down as Music Director when my contract comes to an end in 2019 is not one I have taken lightly. We are in the midst of a wonderful, stimulating and exciting artistic journey and I look forward to continuing this in the next two seasons. However, I feel that by 2019 the time will be right for me to explore new musical opportunities and for the Symphony to have the inspiration of new artistic leadership.”

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  • Very strange for him to be leaving so soon, especially since he had no previous American experience to speak of. He certainly had an excellent, albeit modest, European career before coming to the USA. One assume that he is on one or more “short lists” for other music directorships? He was certainly a breath of fresh air for Seattle after Gerard Schwarz’s long — some would say too long – career there.

    • Ludovic was an assistant conductor at the Boston Symphony, and Tanglewood played an important role in his early career.

  • The breathless praise of his re-invigorating Seattle belies the fact that before Schwartz they were a backwater afterthought.
    Gerard Schwartz brought standards and personality; the fact that the Seattle musicians felt “bullied” says more about their shit abilities and standards than it does about Schwartz and his ability to squeeze lemonade from a turd.
    And now Morlot leaves with only one decent recording under his belt: a boring whale noise tune that was given a joke award. Please. These folks are not woke at all.

    • Hey Steve,

      You try working every day for 27 years under [redacted] Gerard Schwarz.
      See how you like it?

      Yea, things change with movers and shakers like Schwarz. But at what price?
      For 2 and 1/2 decades the Seattle Symphony was the most dysfunctional working environment on the planet. Read the N.Y. Times review of that situation in “In Seattle, Fugue for Orchestra and Rancor” Dec. 16, 2007. And read between the lines.

      And by the way, Schwarz had the musical I.Q. of a Mongolian idiot. Maybe that’s giving a Mongolian idiot a bad rep.

      • How does one measure musical IQ? But to your question, “At what price?,” I would respond that being raised to a higher visibility than a regional orchestra and likely higher wages would be suitable for most. Maybe he didn’t stroke enough egos and played the outdated role of maestro a bit too strongly; but whatever the case, I personally found his performances with SSO outstanding. Did he possibly outstay his welcome? That appears to be a strong possibility.
        As far as the Liverpool situation I have no comment. They seem to be doing quite well with their current conductor so it seems they made the correct call. SSO have slunk back into happy mediocrity, apparently, so hopefully they’ll continue to work on finding a conductor who says nice things and leaves them mostly alone.

    • They were a “backwater afterthought” because it was only in the late 1970s or so that a lot of previously provincial orchestras experienced a major boost in level as a lot of retirees started getting replaced by graduates of top-notch conservatories. Music directors usually get way too much credit for an orchestra’s improvement that typically comes naturally with the addition of new players – who are often orders of magnitude better than the people they replace.

      That said, Gerry Schwarz did a great job building community and corporate support for the orchestra, and in his early years he did bring a good set of standards and interesting programming concepts to the orchestra. But he was there 28 years, which was just too long (as it was even for the great Ozawa in Boston).

      And I’d say the Morlot/SSO Dutilleux recordings are more than decent.

          • I’m suppposed to listen to everything once I’ve heard a representative sample that I didn’t enjoy? Gosh, this opinion thing seems awfully time-consuming.
            But I digress, Josh. To your point: upon hearing recordings, I heard sounds that didn’t seem reminiscent of the finest qualities I’d come to associate with this group. One that was recommended to me – john Luther adams piece – was not impressive either as a performance or as music.
            And do allow for hyperbole from time to time; I’m sure not everything they put out is entirely wretched as evinced by the Dutilleux recommendation.

          • ^ Steve — It wouldn’t have been hard to say “I heard one CD, didn’t like it, and never listened to anything else.” That way you could have delivered your judgment as harshly (or honestly) as you liked, based on what you’d actually heard, without sounding like you were judging their entire output. (And yes, saying “only one decent recording” does make it sound like you’ve heard all the recordings and this is the only decent one.)

            Sorry we’re having difficulty understanding what you mean based on the words you post here. Maybe if we could just listen to the words in your heart, everything would be fine.

    • There is a tad more to the Seattle business than orchestras members feeling bullied. You should research this — I’m not going to recount the whole story for you. Just note that a 2006 survey of members, immediately put in the bottom drawer by the management but now revealed, resulted in members favouring a new director by 61 to 8. If you think the 61 had “…shit abilities and standards…”, I should say that, if true, it says more about Schwartz’s then 23 years as director, especially given his statement that, “I am the single leader”, made re the rather odd development of the orchestra finding itself with four alternating concertmasters. In 28 years, he should have put the orchestra on a par with the SF Symphony and the LA Philharmonic. Note also that in 2004, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic voted him out by 40 to 25, and you should do more research before you say those musicians have “…shit abilities and standards…”.

    • What an appalling response. Show some respect for the musicians, actually show some respect for people.
      I take you are not one nor ever have been an orchestral player?

      • Respect for musicians? You mean the ones who took every opportunity to bite the hand that literally fed them? Oh, please spare me their poor sensitive souls. It is job and one should show respect for an employer and boss…or shut up and go work elsewhere.
        Although I’ve done a small amount of orchestral work, I prefer to freelance rather than get caught up in long-term musical situations that lend themselves to these sorts of scenarios.

          • Ok, so figuratively would have been the proper choice of words. But it just did t have the “zing” that I was looking for. Poetic license being what it is, I regret the decision and humbly apologize for literally using the wrong word.

      • Oh, and please tell me you’ve read the NYT article – would so love your take on the respect musicians showed to Schwartz’s supporters (first appearnance of the phrase “orchestral terrorism” I’ve ever seen). I stand by my words – the musicians are at fault and should be ashamed for calling themselves artists…let alone claiming to be humans.

  • I lived and worked in the music business in the Seattle area for 8+ years. I give Gerry Schwarz LOTS of credit for improving the quality of the orchestra, having a major recording activity and helping Benaroya Hall to be built. However, 26 years as music director is a long time and the musicians (and audience) were certainly ready for a change.

    • That is probably the point precisely: too long for one gig, especially after the heights were (apparently) already reached for that group.

      • I note your earlier comment that you prefer to freelance — living a life of insecurity as an itinerant musician who has, as you say, done only a small amount of orchestral work. That just makes me the more curious as to why you have such a gigantic bee in your bonnet about all this, especially when you state that the Seattle musicians should be ashamed for “claiming to be humans”. Now that is what is demotically known as OTT and them some. You’re having a tantrum and protesting too much, always a giveaway. Nor do I like your notion of what is obviously collective guilt you dump on the orchestra’s musicians re what would more likely be the actions of one particularly frustrated member. To reiterate a point I made earlier but in different terms — if the likes of Dorati or Barshai had been in control of the SSO for 28 years, it would have become one of the U.S.’s great orchestras. They both put orchestras on the map in the course of much shorter tenures. And I’m waiting for you to factor what happened with the RLPO into your overall ‘thesis’, a wee matter I also mentioned above. Keep posting if you want to, for ’tis your right, but don’t keep getting nastier and showing increasing frustration. It only raises suspicions re your actual position in the music world.

          • I don’t have much of a position, just an opinion. From what I’ve read dealing with both RLPO and SSO I’d believe Schwartz to be a stern taskmaster with little regard for dissention in the ranks.

  • Schwarz was a great orchestra builder,but musically…zilch.Just beating time.Just listen to Morlot’s recordings,or to Thomas Dausgaard’s terrific Mahler 10 with them.Since Mr.Dausgaard is principal guest conductor in Seattle….well who knows

  • After a rumor circulating that Morlot was seeking an escape from the constraints of ‘the musically illiterate preferences of Seattle’s arrogant elite,” he was pressed to elaborate. “I used to wonder whether these slimy twits were actually living, but I soon realized that the worms writhing in and out of their turd-like bodies fit that definition, however loose the stool.” Noting that the Seattle area is fortunate to have so many intelligent techies who fund the arts, geniuses appreciating the lofty in human endeavors. He reponded, “Geniuses?” He asked. “The only ‘genius’ I’ve recognized here is that required to convince themselves of their erudition. They have pressured us far beyond the tolerance of our gag reflexes to pursue a repertoire replete with the sound of Phillip ‘Broken’ Glass, Arvo ‘Yes Please’ Part, and John ‘You could almost be there, but you’re not’ Adams. They prefer the euphemistic term ‘minimalism’ for what is otherwise deeply annoying easy listening music, deceiving themselves that they have taste in their own mouths! Taste cannot be bought with the disproportionate salaries they gain from tapping away code with the intent of disinfecting the world of what they do not understand–the sublime. The superior robot intelligences they are working to replace all of us with will easily achieve the so-called ‘art’ of their meager understanding’s capacity, but I will, thankfully, be dead by then, keeping only my dreams of the by then long gone truly great conquests of humans that embodied the now murdered concept of ‘spirit.'” I might have the wrong Morlot here, it was Chip Morlot who I’m quoting, not Ludovic. Sorry. Please disregard.

  • BBC PHILHARMONIC have no chief conductor; Morlot is doing concerts with them next season 2018-19 including BeRlioz Beatrice & B…IS HE TRYING OUT to take over 2019-20?

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