Light up the scandelabra!

Thanks to AC Douglas for pointing out this little oddity   (more here and here) about and orchestra and a conductor at each other’s throats. I hate to sound glib, but one should really not take these things too seriously. As one of my dear friends in grad school used to say- there’s a bright new light on the scandelabra today!

The media loves these little tempests in teapots, as do readers, it would appear.

This scenario unfolds all the time at big and small orchestras, and everyone seems to like to figure out what the “truth” is. Is the conductor really that bad? Are the orchestra musicians all bitter and washed up? Is it the union mentality run amock? Surely it’s the board’s fault? Why didn’t the management do something to prevent this? Is the conductor’s career over.

The fact is, at times like this, the metaphor of a marriage seems particularly apt, except that, with very, very few exceptions, all musical marriages, by their very nature, end in divorce, amicable or not. When a conductor sues an orchestra (really, that’s a good one, I have to say- I’d love to hear the testimony “but your honor, they play so damn late!”), or a players committee leaks a damning artistic assessment to the press, things have been bad for a long time, and, almost without exception, all parties- board, management, musicians and conductor- have helped shape the slow moving train wreck now so publicly on show. If I have one general sense of these situations, it is that, if things have gone sour, separate and move on. Fighting off a coup or holding onto a job you’re not happy in or where the work is not satisfying everyone makes nobody happy and only delays the inevitable.

Just as people can go on to find love again after a painful break up, so musicians find new opportunities. Believe me, if an orchestra enjoys working with a conductor, the last thing they’re going to worry about is whether or not the last orchestra liked him or her. Likewise, if they don’t get on, the fact that the conductor in question is considered a saint, genius and national hero at his previous orchestra means nothing. Remember how Charles Dutoit’s career was supposed to be over when he and the Montreal Symphony fell out so publicly- would someone so controversial ever work again? Well, if you consider principal conductor appointments with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Royal Philharmonic to be working, then, yes he is. Riccardo Muti, anyone?

I don’t know anyone involved in this scenario and have no idea about the past history leading up to this meltdown, but maybe, when everyone’s so obviously gone all “War of the Roses” on each other, the best and most dignified thing to do is to just say- “sorry, we all kind of lost it there… painful time…. lets move on.”

Besides, the real cloak and dagger stories of intrigue and evil never make it into the press. Believe me, there are things worse than conducting too fast…

c. 2007 Kenneth Woods

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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

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2 comments on “Light up the scandelabra!”

  1. Kenneth Woods

    Well exactly… None of them are exactly starving are they? As a matter of fact, I can’t think of any famous conductor who hasn’t been slammed by critics or musicians at some point in their career. As long as they don’t make their agent too mad, it usually has minimal impact….

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