Handicapping the Seattle horse race

Bernard Jacobson has a very interesting article in this Sunday’s Seattle Times on the search for a  new music director for the Seattle Symphony. I LOVE Seattle, and can’t think of a job I’d rather have, but I think (know) I’m still 5-10 years and 20 CDs away from getting considered. I can only hope that whoever is hired this time leaves about the time I’m ready for the gig. His list of hot prospects for the job?

Lawrence Renes, who has spent several years as music director of both the opera and the orchestra in Bremen, Germany, gave some outstanding concerts with the Seattle Symphony in recent seasons. He also led a spectacular account of Strauss’ “Elektra” for Seattle Opera last October.

Yakov Kreizberg, head of the Netherlands Philharmonic in Amsterdam, is a charismatic musician who has, I believe, not been invited back after his artistic successes here only because he has differed with Maestro Schwarz on matters of orchestral layout.

Ignat Solzhenitsyn, one of the greatest pianistic talents to have emerged in recent years, is equally gifted as a conductor. In his mid-30s, he is in his fifth season as music director of the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia and may well be ready for a bigger challenge.

Asher Fisch, in his eighth season as music director of the Israel Opera (and appointed principal guest conductor of the Seattle Opera last season), has demonstrated formidable skill and intelligence in both opera and symphony.

And JoAnn Falletta wowed both public and critics here a few weeks ago with a stunning performance of Ravel’s “La Valse”; she heads both the Buffalo Philharmonic and the Virginia Symphony but might be attracted by the Seattle post. 

Jacobson saves the real controversy for last, with a list of people he hopes won’t be considered- conductors whose “careers have outrun their talent.” Ouch.


Please, no!

This final group makes up five conductors whose careers, in my opinion, have vastly outrun their talents. Valery Gergiev is a world figure, and a charismatic one, but an undemanding rehearser whose results too often lack focus and artistic insight.

Roberto Abbado is one of those conductors in whose performances absolutely nothing seems to happen.

Another is the widely admired Osmo Vänskä, darling of some of my critical colleagues. When I started to plan this article, I bought his much-praised recording of Beethoven’s Third and Eighth symphonies to find out if my negative response to his concerts might have been misplaced, but the first movement of the “Eroica” was so drearily uneventful that I couldn’t listen any further.

David Robertson is an inventive programmer who seems to lack corresponding musical inspiration.

And, though it is politically incorrect to say so, I do not think Marin Alsop would have been offered the music directorship of the Baltimore Symphony were she not a woman and the orchestra’s board (strongly opposed in the matter by most players) wanted to make a sociopolitical statement. She can conduct composers like John Adams and Toru Takemitsu well enough, but her forays into such music as the Brahms symphonies have been disastrous in both interpretive and technical terms.

Well- It’s not my list, to be sure!!!! However, we’ve all got people whose fame and celebrity leaves us scratching our head in confusion. I can’t begrudge him getting his list in there while he’s got a chance, even though I don’t think Gergiev is applying for the Seattle gig, much as it is about my favorite city with a great orchestra in a great hall.

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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.

Learn about Kenneth at www.kennethwoods.net

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4 comments on “Handicapping the Seattle horse race”

  1. Travis

    I was disappointed to see that you didn’t make the “Left Field” list. I would totally come to your concerts if you were in Seattle 🙂

  2. Jane

    And I would totally come to your concerts if you were in Salt Lake City! It’s Keith Lockhart’s last season, y’know! The symphony board is keeping the search pretty close to the vest with no announcements this year. We may be in for a season of guest conductors which would be fabulous. I love energy they bring, although the orchestra may not appreciate an entire year of guesting. The last concert of 2010 is Mahler’s Titan. Come play with us!

  3. Kenneth Woods

    Erik Klackner writes of Gianandrea Noseda- not on this list, nor have I heard his name mentioned for any of the current batch of major US posts. There’s no more exciting conductor on the planet- he came in 3rd in Jessica Duchen’s poll of greatest living conductors behind only Abaddo and Haitink, and he deserves it….

    I’d put him on my list if I was running Seattle or Salt Lake or any other band.

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