Maestro gap: Baltimore names filler after Marin Alsop

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has named James Conlon as its Artistic Advisor, starting next September when Marin Alsop steps down as music director after 14 years.

Both the orchestra and Conlon have made clear that he is not interested in the music director role. He’s just holding the fort.

Conlon, 70, remains music director of LA Opera.

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  • Best wishes to Conlon. Musical potential remains–but speaking sadly after years of observation: nothing very good can happen in Baltimore until the current management is replaced and the management ‘model’ is significantly revised.

    • Replacing the management is necessary but not, I fear, sufficient. Revising the model is the vital thing. A new management that buys into the old model would mean nothing changes. The board employs the head honcho, whatever the title is, and someone who talks about making big changes at their interview is not likely to get hired; and even if they do get hired, they will be steered in the direction the board wants, and maybe even brainwashed into believing it’s the right course. (And of course, if they hire someone cautious, the board won’t even have to do that.)

  • He is deeply musical, knowledgeable, and seems to have strong integrity. He should be good for the orchestra. Is there any inside info favoured candidates for the music directorship?

    • Everybody in Baltimore desperately wanted Markus Stenz. The chemistry and results were even beyond Zinman, whom nearly everybody here regards as the Golden Age, but for whatever reason, Stenz didn’t go for it. The greatest Firebird and German Requiem, anybody had ever heard. The lowdown is that management very much wants Peter Oundjian, a solid musician and nice guy who is very easy to work with, but the players have always had their director imposed upon with no say, and they are insisting on a thorough search. So now management has imposed Conlon as a temp. Conlon is Conlon, the biggest name to regularly come here since Temirkanov, but in thirty years of attending the BSO I have not recalled him conducting the orchestra even once.

      There are a couple names in the running, some surprising. Matthias Pintscher has expressed serious interest after one guest engagement, but I doubt Baltimore wants his modernism. Juanjo Mena nearly got the BSO last time before management made a left-turn with Alsop, and I have to imagine he’s a candidate again, but he apparently felt severely burned last time so he may be gun shy. I also have to imagine Hannu Lintu is in the running, as he’s a dearly beloved guest conductor here, I’m amazed no bigger American orchestra has snapped him up.

      But in many ways, the two most interesting names are little knowns named David Danzmayr and Rune Bergmann, judge for yourselves. I’m particularly a big Mena fan, but they may be the best conductors whose names are being bandied about:

      Judge them both in Beethoven 7:

      Bergmann
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pBCIM7pYzak

      Danzmayr
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YUZaBi_E_xY

  • I’ve greatly enjoyed James Conlon the several times I’ve seen him conduct. He’s had an excellent career, of course, but I suspect that, like David Zinman, he is sometimes underappreciated because he’s an American.

    I get that at age 70 he might not be looking for another MD job, but Baltimore could do worse. I look forward to seeing him conduct if concerts ever return to normal.

    • Underappreciated because he’s an American and also because James is more interested in making great music and working with good people, and less interested in thinking he’s only as good as his frequent flyer miles balance. Truly a great conductor and first-rate artist.

  • If the Baltimore Symphony could somehow talk Conlon into assuming the music directorship, it would be quite a coup.
    He is brilliant.

    • But he’s not stupid. Can’t imagine why he’d be attracted to this uninteresting and ill-managed orchestra in this equally uninteresting city.

      • I think this is a very logical decision given the fact that his contract with the Rai orchestra in Turino is ending this year amid the pandemic. And I would not be surprised if he chose to stay on – or take on another major American orchestra – instead of heading back to Europe, his love of Italy notwithstanding.

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