These US orchestras never had a US-born conductor

A loyal reader tells us that Chicago, Philadelphia and Minnesota have never hired a music director who was born in the USA.

An odd fact, but indicative of a need for external validation, perhaps.

Put another way, which US-born conductors would be candidates to fill the current vacancies at Minnesota, Detroit and elsewhere?


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    • Of course it’s not, but it is unusual that major US orchestras have had relatively few music directors who were born in the US.

    • It would be interesting to chart which of the world’s orchestras (great or otherwise) recruit their conductors on ability and which on nationality. I don’t have the time or knowledge to do it, but I can guess the result.

    • Yes it is important for the development of classical music in this country. Let me ask you this: are the orchestras that have hired foreign only talent better than the others? NO. What is different is that American music and composers gets played more by locals.

    • It does matter because so many American conductors cannot get jobs here, no matter how qualified. And Americans are not always welcome elsewhere. It totally matters.

    • Perhaps, but he was already in St. Paul for a number of years. I suggest Scott Jackson Wiley, because he’s a friend of mine.

  • Dining room staff (Silver early) was exceptional. Both head and server. My happiest experience on eating and activities.

  • Maybe there are more US orchestras of stature than there are conductors. The key word is stature, not necessarily talent.

    Let’s turn the question around: which US born conductors of international stature never held a high profile US post? I can think of Thomas Schippers, whose focus on opera, however, was not a good fit for the US. But who else? I wouldn’t count as American people like Blomsted or Mackerras, who were born in the US but grew up elsewhere.

  • I agree with Emanuele, but to play the game… Litton is good enough for any of those posts, and Michael Stern is worthy of promotion (sorry, Kansas!), as is Falletta. I do not think Nagano is consistent enough for the top few, but Detroit and Minnesota could do worse. I also rate Gaffigan highly. My top choice for a dark horse is Kenneth Woods. Surely he is overdue for a major post.

  • As long as a human conducts the orchestra and not a freaking robot, where he comes from is just pettiness of small people wanting to keep the world divided into groups and countries. Really guys, who cares.

  • I want to clarify my comment, because I did not mean to imply that orchestras like Detroit and Minnesota do not merit as good conductors as New York for example, or that the have not had as good conductors (I would take Vanska over Maazel, Gilbert, or van Zweden). I simply meant that the big five tend to think very highly of themselves, and can pay more, and I cannot imagine them thinking Nagano would be good enough. He has made some great recordings, but I cannot see N.Y. or Chicago hiring him. On the other hand, an organisation like the Detroit S.O. might think he was a good choice within their budget.

  • Does Donald Trump know about this? Only he can save us from this conductor imbalance! Put a tariff on all foreign batons!

  • Plus Cleveland. Lorin Maazel was very American but born in France.

    And LA – Andre Previn was born in Germany.

    With the CSO, Theodore Thomas was born in Germany but lived in the US from age 10.

  • I agree with Emanuele that it’s really not about where the conductor was born, but how well he leads the orchestra – e.g., Osmo Vanska in Minneapolis – and who’s the best person for the job. That said…..

    Andrew Litton, with his superb talent and long association with the ensemble, is the best person for the Minnesota job!

  • There’s a vacancy in Minnesota? I don’t think so. Osmo is under contract there until 2022.

    The New York Philharmonic is also guilty of hiring mostly foreign conductors and ignoring their own.

  • Chicago’s Irwin Hoffman (1968-9 as music director) was born in N.Y.C. and graduated from Julliard. It is true that all the others were foreign born, mostly German.

  • …However, each of them has had American assistant conductors. AND, Chicago had Max Bendix as conductor (though only for a short while) in 1892 and 1893.

  • Bernstein really is that unique beast born, bred, trained, developed in the US, he never held a foreign job, never had to, because he was a phenomenon onto himself, the world came to him.

  • Karina Canellakis (pictured, I believe) would be a solid choice for either Detroit or Minnesota, and I know she’s led the DSO in the past.

    James Gaffigan is another conductor who seems on the brink of a US post – he guest conducts all of the top orchestras but hasn’t landed a permanent post yet.

    Roderick Cox is Minnesota’s associate conductor and would be an inspired choice.

    Alonda de la Parra is another who would deserves to be heard more in the States, though her career seems fairly entrenched in the Southern Hemisphere at the moment.

    • To clarify, Gaffigan does have a permanent gig with the orchestra in Lucerne, though not currently with a US orchestra.

  • You can’t get the authoritarian Hungarian conductors any more. Doesn’t apply to Hungarian governments of course.

    • Plus ça change: the great American pianist Lucy Mary Olga Agnes Hickenlooper (1880-1948), at her agent’s suggestion, changed her name to Olga Samaroff, which was taken from a remote relative.

  • Leonard Slatkin was on staff for a number of years and made a wonderful contribution, essential to the orchestra.

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