Pittsburgh sounds out future maestros

Pittsburgh sounds out future maestros


norman lebrecht

February 11, 2020

It is no secret that Manfred Honeck is in play, eyed up by both Chicago and New York as their next music director.

So it makes sense for Pittsburgh, his present post, to start running out possible successors.

Conudctors making their Pittburgh debut in the coming season are:  Karina Canellakis, David Afkham, Dima Slobodeniouk and Fabien Gabel.

Also visiting are Vasily Petrenko, Pablo Heras-Casado, Mark Elder and Juraj Valčuha.

That has the makings of a shortlist.



  • Patrick says:

    None of the above. Better chance that Marin Alsop jumps.

    • Flutista says:

      You mean Marin Alsop, the most overrated female conductors of all times, the one who can’t hear anything / lacks basic musicianship skills and the one who just ruined Baltimore????? LOL… I don’t think so.

      • Oh how right you are Flutista.

      • Talking the Talk says:

        One and the same and just to add, having a great deal of influence on the future, advancing those who reflect all the qualities you mention, back to her reassure her and make her feel comfortable with her own abilities. It’s really quite astounding that people take her recommendations and judgements seriously. But this is true of quite a number of conductors also. Obviously on the subject of how to get ahead, she’s unquestionably an expert.

  • MacroV says:

    With Jaap VanZ in only his second year, it seems unlikely the Philharmonic is looking around for a new music director. The CSO? Maybe.

    Mark Elder is 72, so I suspect he’s not really looking for a MD job in the United States.

    • G.G. says:

      SD is the only place that talks about Jaap running away since not even in the gossips of backstage in NY, it is a subject. In 2009, SD also said that Gilbert was about to be a huge mistake and in the end, of course, it wasn`t Bernstein, but far from a huge mistake. He was the face of the city, and the chemistry with the orchestra was very strong. He knows he was born inside that orchestra, since the beginning.

      By the way, SD also compared Gilbert with Dudamel at that time and now Dude was the first candidate pointed here, until LA contract was renewed and SD declared that NY had to wait. As far as I know, Duda isn’t so busy as other colleagues of the same generations, and it is about time to broke that conception that an MD of a top-notch orchestra, cannot be MD in other USA big shoot orchestra. If it did already happen, please correct my dears.

      Let see what is going to happen now in NY. Perhaps the SD hint is 100% accurate this time. For Berliner Philharmoniker, Petrenko wasn`t even on the big list. En passant, Dudamel was in the short.

  • Miguel Cervantes says:

    Honeck was an also-ran for the Israeli Philharmonic MD post. I don’t see him as a top-tier candidate for Chicago or NY.

    Chicago will inevitably get a big name who is supposedly “unavailable” and “uninterested.”

    NY Phil with Borda back in charge will look into the future and hire someone young. I know she’s quite a fan of Mirga.

    • MacroV says:

      That’s been my theory for the CSO; don’t know why it would get a lot of thumbs down.

      My bet is the CSO will go after Sir Simon, Thielemann, or Chailly. All of whom would insist they have no interest in a US directorship, but will be persuaded to come guest conduct and say they were so impressed, they changed their minds. Like Haitink, like Muti.

  • Clare Abend says:

    “It is no secret that Manfred Honeck is in play, eyed up by both Chicago and New York as their next music director.”
    New York? !!! Please explain…

  • fflambeau says:

    Honeck is very good. I thought New York would have taken him but they made a huge mistake a few years ago in choosing Jaap instead. I think Honeck will go to the CSO. He’d do well there.

    Karina Canellakis is extremely talented (best “Rites of Spring” I’ve ever heard) but perhaps too much to the liberal side for Pittsburgh. I think she will end up either at the Minnesota Orchestra or in Madison. Either place would be more receptive to a female.

    Petrenko sounds like a better bet in Pittsburgh.

    • Stickles says:

      Regarding Canellakis, are your referring to the “Rites” she did with Milwaukee? I also caught a radio brocast with her “Leningrad” with San Francisco. Also very impressive. I very much appreciate the sincerity in her approach.

    • Evan Tucker says:

      I heard through the grapevine that New York offered it to Honeck and he turned them down.

  • Hal Sacks says:

    Sounds like Jaap Van Zweden is Concertgebouw bound.

  • Evan Tucker says:

    A partnership like Honeck and Pittsburgh comes along once in the career of a conductor, and at best, once in every fifty years of an orchestra’s life. New York would tire of him as they do of every conductor (and didn’t Zweden just start?), Chicago would probably ditch him at the first opportunity for a marquee name. For the Honeck/Pittsburgh partnership to end before they hit 20 or 25 years together would be an act of musical vandalism.

    • guest says:

      Please sit in a rehearsal with this guy for 20 minutes before opining. He’s not well regarded among the ranks.

      • Peter says:

        Do explain please,

        • guest says:

          Where to start? Musical disagreements aside, he has no technique. He has no poise. He regularly gets so far ahead of the orchestra that we have to play entirely by ear. There’s a complete disconnect between the rhythmic motor and his body. By now, I should be used to ironies like this, but I still find it strange that someone who can’t keep time AT ALL is considered a great conductor.

          Contrary to what a NY Times critic said, his “stories” do not give us musical focus. He wrings his hands and mumbles about things we learned from liner notes in high school, like how Brahms waited a long time to write his first symphony.

          It takes him forever to learn new repertoire. He sometimes ends up trying to keep his place in the score with his left index finger while beating with the right hand. Sometimes he’s lost during the concerts.

          He has no confidence in himself and therefore is completely unable to instill confidence in the musicians he conducts. As always, we do our best under his baton. Orchestras in general should be given credit for doing what they do despite conductors.

          • Calvin says:

            … and yet the Pittsburgh, on the merits, is better regarded than it has been for years — perhaps ever. Not that it was chopped liver previously, which only makes it all the more an achievement. Some people obviously have an ax to grind, but this guy should have signed his hissing objurgations as “Paul Bunyan!.”

          • Gaffney Feskoe says:

            It is universally acknowledged that the Pittsburgh is now a great orchestra which then follows that it is made up of exceptional musicians, of which you appear to be one.
            If MH is so bad, how do you account for the critical acclaim the orchestra has received and the universal praise of virtually all the CDs released under MH’s direction?

          • Talking the talk says:

            In these times where is it any different regardless of quality? In this regard – and many others, this situation is nothing out of the ordinary and replicated throughout the ‘music industry’ ad infinitum at the moment at least.

          • G.G. says:

            We can find very often ranks saying similar things about all conductors. Working together at such demanded high level extenuate everyone. That`s the reason why long tenures rarely work anymore.
            It wasn`t too much time ago here on SD, we could read an interview with a former trombonist of London Philharmonic, and he just destroyed every conductor he had worked from Haitink to Masur taking no prisoners. Probably he had his reasons, but he didn`t mention any conductor that he liked at the least. That`s not your case, and I`m not criticizing you. I had worked with S. Jobs that is considered a genius by a huge part of the world, including people that don`t know a single name of a conductor, perhaps of a composer. Believe me, I could kill that guy myself for similar reasons. However, in the end he is still Steve Jobs big brand and no one buys anything due to me, even if the truth was that maybe I created the goods. I cannot lie that I was happy that my payroll was huge, cos his name was included.

          • Stickles says:

            As a music fan, I really appreciate your post. Always interesting to see the other point of view. When Honeck first appeared with the CSO, I had a strange feeling that this man must be spending hours in front of a mirror trying to emulate Carlos Kleiber’s arms and hands, but his body would not follow. There was a disconnect between his body and his arms. The result was autopilot. He did not get invited back for quite a few years. Then came a Heldenleben that turned quite a few heads. CSO somehow figured out a way to work with him to good results. Now I am curious about the details of that disparaging remark against Malkki a few days back, since both Honeck and Malkki are on local critics’ watch list fore next Chicago MD. However neither has turned in truly trensendental concerts (his Mahler 5 and her Sheherazade came close). Among regular guest conductors at the CSO in the last decade or so (not counting Muti, Haitink, Boulez etc.) only a handful can claim that: Zweden’s Bruckner 5, Bychkov’s Leningrad, Manfred and Brahms 1, Juanjo Mena’s Tchaikovsky 6, Masur’s Bruckner 4, Salonen’s Mahler 9 and Sibelius 2, Dutoit’s Shostakovich 11, Szeps-Znaider’s Shostakovich 5. And some of them have turned in equally bad ones with the CSO.

          • G.G. says:

            I liked your perspective as a regular audience member. It is a very important side to listen, but sometimes underestimated. What are your thoughts about Bychkov as MD? I’m just wondering here, after your comment. I’ve never heard him with CSO, nor listen to anything about him as MD of this orchestra before.

          • Stickles says:

            Bychkov is one of the most welcome visitors to Orchestra Hall. He is very good in the core rep, and the orchestra respects him. He is also a defector of the USSR and has life experiences that others may not have otherwise. He clearly knows what sound he wants and how to get it and he does not make outrageous miscal gestures in poor taste. To me he is as solid as they come.The subpar concerts he had with the CSO were not entirely his fault, eg. a very bad posthorn solo in Mahler 3 affected the whole brass section and it was all damage control from there on. In general his concerts are excellent. I miss him dearly, and will jump for joy if he is named next MD.

          • G.G. says:

            Me too if he gets it. “he does not make outrageous miscal gestures in poor taste”
            It seems a maniacal fashion nowadays.

          • Larry W says:

            And yet, somehow, Honick gets the PSO to sound fantastic. His musical descriptions and analysis shows a remarkable conception of the music. His scrupulous editing of recordings has led to several Grammy nominations as well as awards. It may have even made you (whatever you play) sound better than you actually do. Maybe you are simply past your due date. Such a negative attitude as yours cannot contribute anything positive to this great orchestra.

          • Evan Tucker says:

            On the one hand, I trust the opinion of orchestral musicians very much, they’re the ones who work with the conductors. On the other hand, no two musicians ever seem to agree, and personally I trust the ones who don’t care about their technical skill nearly as much as the spirit of the performance. The pressure of working with the same conductor for years and years is unbearable, orchestras, particularly American orchestras, are still basically an autocracy, and it is so easy to fall out of love with a conductor who when he was appointed still hadn’t displayed his weaknesses.

            All I can say is that I sometimes drive four hours out of my way to come up to Pittsburgh to hear concerts. The PSO is not as technically slick as Cleveland or Philadelphia, and I’m sure Honeck is not as technically virtuoso as either YNS or Welser-Möst. I hear a technical error every few bars in Pittsburgh, but the errors do not sound like errors of competence, they sound like errors of effort, because the extremity of what Honeck is trying to achieve puts a strain on the technique, and as far as I’m concerned, who cares?… Orchestral musicians think everybody cares about their technique, as though 90% of the audience even hears the errors, and of the 10% that do, 99% don’t care. We just want to hear a performance that catches the music’s spirit, and in capturing the spirit of traditional repertoire, Honeck has no superior among today’s conductors.

      • Greg says:

        I’m a bit muddled . . . which ‘guy’ are you talking about? Honeck or Zweden?

  • Old Man in the Midwest says:

    Manfred replacing Jaap? Nope.

  • The best choice would be either Petrenko or Elder….Petrenko, young & brilliant…Elder,older & brilliant,but probably not interested.

  • Barry says:

    Vasily Petrenko would be an interesting pick with good potential.

  • Music lover says:

    All of the above are terrible

    • Michael Landman-Karny says:

      Terrible, shmerrible.

      Pittsburgh does not have the mega-budgets of Chicago and NY. Vassily Petrenko and Mark Elder are probably the best that Pittsburgh can pay for. And both are fine conductors, even if they’re not at the level of Chailly, Rattle, Muti, etc..

      Both Petrenko and Elder have recorded extensively. They are both very good.

      • PJL says:

        surely Sir Mark is settled living in London and Manchester? He has already had a post in Rochester for 5 years and used to guest in Chicago (I flew over to hear 2 concerts of Elgar 1) And he conducts opera in Paris when the ‘greves’ permit…

  • William says:

    Are you saying the NY Phil is currently looking at him to replace Jaap? Or that he was looked at prior to them picking Jaap? Anything’s possible…

  • Stuard Young says:

    It does seem a bit early to consider that Jaap would be leaving the NY Phil soon enough to open it up for Honeck. Mark Elder is a fine conductor, but has had a recent back issue, though that is possibly resolved? Among the newcomers, Karina Canellakis had her debut with Philadelphia Orchestra this past weekend, and it was very impressive indeed! If she continues to champion new music such as “Lineage”, by Zoshs Di Castri, and bring an audience to its feet with a thrilling performance of an underperformed 20th Century masterpiece (Lutoslawski Concerto for Orchestra), she has a magnificent career ahead of her. I enjoyed this young lady’s debut with my home orchestra, more than I did Mirga’s debut with them – she let me down in Mahler Symphony 4, when the gates of Heaven failed to open at the core of the slow movement. (At a rehearsal, she asked the Timpanist to dial it back! I remain very open to hearing more from her, however, because she is championing Weinberg. I’m looking forward to her visiting Carnegie Hall next season with her CBSO). Ms. Canellakis is definitely a young conductor to watch!

    • Music lover says:

      Are you kidding me? I watched every single concert this season of Orchestre de Paris, and so far, she was the worst out of all conductors invited. And she came twice, mind you!
      She is tied for first place with Oramo on the musical mediocrity leaderboard of this season.

      • Stickles says:

        Saw the Paris season opener and I agree the result in that collaboration was not good. I doubt her debut there last season was much better. Her work with the BBC is a bit spotty too. However I do enjoy her work in Stockholm, in the U.S. (outside of LA) and other minor orchestras around the world. The level of playing she manages to get out of these orchestras is staggering.

  • Stickles says:

    Speaking of VPetrenko, any thoughts here on his successor in Oslo, the 23 year old wonderkid Klaus Makela?

    • Clevelander says:

      From what I’ve heard, Cleveland has a really good relationship with Makela. I think most of them are happy with Franz for now but he would probably be the natural successor there.
      Pittsburgh and Cleveland are equally talented, polar opposite orchestras. Cleveland is extremely refined and controlled, with a remarkable homogeneity of sound and classical expression: Pittsburgh plays with passion, fire, and has some of the world’s best wind soloists, which carry the load of individualism and big personalities, as we can see from our lovely commenter above.
      Makela is far too clean-cut and refined for Pittsburgh – probably one of the worst fits imaginable for that orchestra. Out of next season’s conductors, Petrenko or Gabel would be fantastic MD’s for that orchestra. They really like Valcuha but I don’t know if he would take the post.
      I don’t honestly see Honeck going anywhere. He’s not a great fit for any other currently open orchestra and he’s crafted a great sound with Pittsburgh. He’s turned them into a top-tier American orchestra despite their board’s efforts otherwise and that’s all any Pittsburgher can ask for.