Just in: Omaha picks minority music director

Just in: Omaha picks minority music director


norman lebrecht

June 24, 2020

The Omaha Symphony has chosen Ankush Kumar Bahl as its next music director, starting in 2021-2022 for an unusually long seven-year term. The deal was negotiated by Columbia Artists.

Bahl, who is US born and of Indian origin, has been an assistant to Jaap van Zweden at the New York Philharmonic. Before that, he assisted Christoph Eschenbach in Washington DC.

He is 43 years old.

And before anyone asks, why the headline? Because it’s so damned unusual for a US orch to go non-white.


  • papasmurf says:

    have heard very positive things about him, bonne chance!

  • David Leibowitz says:

    Congratulations, Ankush! Glad to see this. They’re lucky to have you.

  • Cubs Fan says:

    No it’s not! His predecessor is Thomas Wilkins – a fine black conductor who also happens to conduct the Hollywood Bowl orchestra. In California the orchestras of San Diego and Los Angeles have minority conductors. Black conductor Michael Morgan leads the Oakland Symphony and the Bear Valley Music Festival. For a long time, Black conductor Denis DeCoteau was music director of the San Francisco Ballet. Portland, Oregon for years was led by the sensational black conductor James DePriest, who retured in Arizona and led the Phoenix Symphony through a music director search. In Arizona the two largest orchestras, Phoenix and Tucson, are headed by Hispanic men. The Southern Arizona Symphony is headed by a Brazilian who just happened to make recording with the Royal Philharmonic. I could go on but won’t. That’s just a small sample – the USA is NOT the racist, intolerant place a lot of people would like to think. It’s true that the Big 5 orchestras of New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Chicago are stuck in the rut of White, European males – usually. All four cities are liberal strongholds. That’s where the real racism is.

    • Certainly true on all counts, but at the end of the 20-21 season, not one of the top budgeted American Orchestras will be headed by an American. There are still many glass ceilings to break.

      • Larry says:

        Not to dispute you, Maestro — I have too much respect for your musicianship and talent — but it was up to very recently MTT was in San Francisco, Bob Spano in Atlanta, Marin Alsop in Baltimore, James Levine in Boston, Leonard Slatkin in Detroit (!), etc. These things go in cycles, as I think you might agree. So it seems that American conductors have broken the glass ceiling and, most certainly, will continue to do so.

        Don’t know what you mean by “top budgeted” orchestras but I didn’t mean to neglect JoAnn Falletta in Buffalo, still going strong. What about Ken David Masur, new in Milwaukee? Might he be considered as “American?”

        We wish Mr. Bahl great success!

        • fflambeau says:

          Good points, Larry. Ken David Masur, although born in Leipzig, and coming from a famous German father, spent most of his years in the USA: at Columbia and now in Milwaukee. If not American, he is certainly a hybrid.

      • fflambeau says:

        Isn’t Robert Spano (Atlanta Symphony) from Ohio? Ken-David Masur may have been born in Leipzig with a famous German papa but he has a Japanese mother and spent most of his life in NYC. I think your error in thinking is two-fold: on this count, and in regarding the old “Big Five” as the only orchestras that count: their time is long gone as the strength of American orchestras has moved South and especially West.

      • fflambeau says:

        Evan Rogister Washington National Opera, plus, he’s been conducting lots of American orchestras.

    • V.Lind says:

      I’m just amazed that it is in Nebraska! Good on them. They must be a little more open-minded than their neighbouring states.

      • Mick the Knife says:

        Do you actually know anything about the neighboring states? Can you name them? Have you spent any time in them? I have and your stereotyped comment is wrong.

        • V.Lind says:

          Can name ’em, can name their capitals (and all the other ones of the US). But I will bow to your greater expertise as they are not among the states I have visited.

          • American says:

            There are intelligent, decent people in every state, V. Lind. It’s very common in the U.S for people to move for college, jobs, or other circumstances. I have family members in red states who would never vote red. No region is homogeneous. Even small towns often have great universities, hospitals, and cultural institutions. Just because you hear about a racist woman in Missouri doesn’t mean everyone there is racist.

    • Tony Mazzaferro says:

      I played for Denis DeCoteau several times. Finest baton technic I’ve ever seen.

    • drummerman says:

      Giancarlo Guerrero, Nashville Symphony. Carlos Miguel Prieto, Louisiana Philharmonic. Carolyn Kuan, Hartford Symphony. Kayoko Dan, Chattanooga Symphony. Congratulations to Maestro Bahl!

      • Karl says:

        David Allen Miller, Albany Symphony. Robert Moody did a great job in Portland. Kent Nagano was in Montreal for the past decade. Will he ever come back to the US?

    • There is also the fact that Zubin was Chief Conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic for sixteen years, but why get preoccupied with race, anyway?

    • “…All four cities are liberal strongholds. That’s where the real racism is.”

      Too bad you had to spoil your otherwise excellent comment with this last bit … I downvoted it for that.

  • Richard Elder Adams says:

    Ankush, this is GREAT news. Congratulations!!

  • sam says:

    What novelty, an Indian, oh, wait a minute, wasn’t there a certain Zubin Mehta?

    What novelty, an Asian, oh, wait a minute, wasn’t there a certain Seiji Ozawa?

    What novelty, a minority, oh, wait a minute, wasn’t there a certain Gustavo Dudamel?

    What novelty, a non-white, oh, wait a minute, wasn’t there a certain Michael Morgan?

    American orchestras are infinitely more diverse than European orchestras.

  • Good Luck in the new post.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    I wasn’t personally concerned in any way about his ethnicity; I was interested in his work with two excellent conductors. I feel that consideration of the former would have been just patronizing.


  • Tito Muñoz says:

    Very happy and excited for Ankush. Well-deserved. All my best to him.

  • Phf655 says:

    Xian Zhang, music director of the New Jersey Symphony, a woman born in China.

  • fflambeau says:

    “Because it’s so damned unusual for a US orch to go non-white.” That should read: “it’s so damned unusual for an orchestra to go non-white.” Lots of non-whites in the US, none almost in Europe or abroad. Remember Zubin Mehta? Also an Indian and became conductor of the LA Philharmonic and then the NY Phil.

  • John Borstlap says:

    It is to be hoped that the choice was motivated by Mr Bahl’s abilities.

    But then, if he is a member of a minority, does the type of minority count? How large is the Indian minority in the US? Does it figure as a minority within a larger minority, i.e. a majority within a minority? Is the minority of original US Indians to be measured against the immigration Indian minority or against the overall immigration minority? Form the immigrated Indians a majority against the local Indians? After how many generations do people shift from minority to majority?

    Do people with exceptional musical talents count as a minority? In numbers they definitely are. But should they be measured against a majority within music life, which can be seen as a minority in the majority of entire society? And can the musically-challenged staff members in musical institutions count as a majority in relation to the performers, and if so, should they be counted as part of the majority of musically-challenged perfomers as well?

    It seems that the concept of majority / minority assessment is rife with practical and moral pittfalls.

  • Stephen Lord says:

    I have conducted that orchestra many times. They are terrific and having him will be a further boon

  • Ed Gordon says:

    I don’t even have to drive five miles from my Berkeley house to hear orchestras with black conductors. Michael Morgan has been at the helm of the Oakland Symphony for 30 years now, and Joseph Young is the conductor of the Berkeley Symphony, headed for many years by Kent Nagano.

  • Congratulations, Ankush … hope you are staying well!