So you don’t want to be Detroit’s next music director?

So you don’t want to be Detroit’s next music director?


norman lebrecht

June 26, 2019

The conductor Gábor Takács-Nagy and soloist Shai Wosner cancelled Detroit this week.

They were replaced by NSO assistant Ankush Kumar Bahl and pianist Orion Weiss.

The Detroit podium has been vacant for two seasons since Leonard Slatkin stepped down and they are in no rush to announce a successor. Conductors who cancel are ruled out of selection.


  • batonbaton says:

    The quickest way to rule yourself out of any leadership role is to not turn up, not deliver what’s required, or not be open to scutiny. Simple as. They rule themselves out, and no other decision making is needed.

  • John Kelly says:

    The orchestra is much improved over the past decade, in spite of various financial challenges. Mr Slatkin has done a fantastic job and made some lovely recordings. The Hall is a sensational acoustic (among the best in the world in my view) and I would have thought that this would be a great gig to get. Perhaps the DSO will alight on a younger or possibly even female (!) conductor who can continue to build on Slatkin’s renewed foundation.

  • Karl says:

    How much does it pay? I can barely read music and my people skills ain’t the best. But I can wave a stick around.

  • Esther Cavett says:

    How about he US maestro John Morris Russell ? He’s done pops with Cincinnati, NYPO, LAPO etc for years. But on the strength of a Firebird I once heard, he’s a serious contender and need to get out of the ‘pops’ niche PDQ.

  • No longer a DSO Subscriber says:

    The orchestra is average at best. The “Neighborhood” concerts, of which this week’s are an example, are not at the Max Center, or for that matter Detroit, but rather in northern Metro Detroit / wealthy suburbs. Tickets are $50/$30. The orchestra, as everyone knows, will be full of subs. So really previously scheduled conductor can hardly be considered a serious candidate. The DSO and Board have a short memory, the gap between Jarvi and Slatkin was interminable, filled by Peter Oundjian. Once Slatkin was hired, there was the strike. The malaise today can be seen in the lack of any artistic insight or imagination in the 19-20 program, the current Concert Master leaving for Houston Symphony, an orchestra in decline in terms of prestige and quality of playing, and worst of all treating its audience with contempt in all of this. One wonders why any arts foundation would donate any money to this orchestra under the present circumstances. The Board and orchestra are not treating this matter seriously or with any urgency. When will the new music director start? Fall 2020? More likely Fall 2021. And by then the DSO will be an irrelevancy as far as leading US orchestras are concerned. One other point. The Board surely doesn’t want to appoint a music director until a new contract is in place. The current contract is good until August 31, 2020. By not having a music director, the Board will save on salary if/when a strike/lockout occurs, and there will be no music director to at least advocate for the musicians.

    • Jeremy says:

      I feel that some of your impressions of the DSO are out-if-date. While there was a time in the period following the strike of 2010-2011 where the orchestra relied heavily on our pool of substitute musicians, the assertion that it is now “full of subs” is demonstrably false. Significant structural changes in several aspects of the organization have made a situation like that of the strike quite unlikely in the near future.

      While an evaluation of an orchestra’s quality is obviously a subjective matter, the general consensus has been that the DSO is trending favorably when it comes to artistic matters. The choice of the next Music Director will be critical to the continued artistic growth of the DSO, and – to a point, at least – is not a decision to be rushed. In the meantime, audiences will see a number of fine conductors who will may develop strong relationships with the orchestra.

      And while you are correct that our concertmaster is departing for Houston, it’s also true that a number of musicians turned down offers from similar orchestras to stay in Detroit, citing the potential for growth (I know; I was one of them).

      Jeremy Epp
      Principal Timpanist and Orchestra Committee Chairperson, Detroit Symphony Orchestra

      • Jaime Herrera says:

        I fully agree with your comment. The DSO has always been a top notch orchestra, though underrated. Like the Milwaukee, Cincinnati, St Louis, and Minnesota orchestras, it has had to live in the shadows of the Chicago, Cleveland, and Philadelphia orchestras. The City of Detroit has been in decline since the late 1960s, but that has not overly affected the quality of the DSO. Arts organizations are generally a world unto themselves. Best wishes!!!

      • Kolb Slaw says:

        Hire an American! There is plenty of talent. Open the door wide.

      • Marc Haxer says:

        Nice response Jeremy. Appreciate you clarifying misstatements from others.

    • fflambeau says:

      “the gap between Jarvi and Slatkin was interminable, filled by Peter Oundjian.”

      All of the names mentioned are first-class people and conductors.

  • Jeremy says:

    “Conductors who cancel are ruled out of selection.”

    Please provide your source for this assertion. No such policy exists at the DSO. There are many reasons why a conductor might cancel, most of which would not prevent re-engagement or consideration for a titled position.

    Jeremy Epp
    Principal Timpanist, Orchestra Committee Chairperson, Detroit Symphony Orchestra

  • Jeremy says:

    Also worth noting that the position has only been vacant for a single season; Leonard Slatkin held the title of Music Director until the end of the 2017-2018 season.

  • Johanna says:

    The assertions this article make come as shocking news to all of the musicians in the DSO. Would love to see proof of this. Very interested.

    Johanna Yarbrough
    DSO musician

  • Caroline says:

    Get your facts right – Gabor Takacs-Nagy didn’t cancel, however the DSO applied too late for the visa.

  • Kolb Slaw says:

    It’s sad, because it is a fine orchestra with a fine hall. They should hire Glen Cortese. The problem is when they only look at the clients of top managements, who are always too busy, too much on the road. That doesn’t make them the best conductors, not by a long shot.

  • Gilbert Rose says:

    I did not realize that Yoonshin Song was leaving the DSO but I guess it’s not surprising given the current absence of a music director to influence the orchestra’s present and immediate future. But even without her, and her predecessor and the former principal flute, all of whom went to Texas (I assume they are all masochists and fond of heat, humidity, floods and hubris), the DSO is a fabulous orchestra and a credit to the City of Detroit and all of Michigan. I only wish management was a little more urgent and somewhat more forthcoming in their efforts to hire a new leader. I know these searches are tricky, but a little more information would be appreciated.