UPDATED: 2010 Conductor Repertoire Report Showdown, Comparison and Analysis

Repertoire Report season is nearly at it’s end. A number of you have emailed recently to say you are working on a report- it’s now or never, my friends!

Meanwhile, we thought it might be interesting to compare the reports of four of this year’s conductors side by side. We’ve combined the Reports for Semyon Bychkov, Paavo Jarvi, Leonard Slatkin and me here.  It’s a relatively small sampling of musicians, but still, the comparison might tell readers something about who is doing what and how much.

It won’t surprise most readers to know that Beethoven had the most works played of any composer, and his works appear more times (29) than anyone else. However, if you take away Paavo Jarvi, who did a complete cycle of the symphonies and quite a few overtures, that gives you 16 fewer occurances of Beethoven, leaving just 13 Beethovens. Take away Ken’s 9 Beethovens as well and Beethoven falls out of first place, with just 4 occurances between Leonard and Bychkov. Compare that with 11 Rachmaninovs,  5 Shostakovich’s, 6 Tchaikovsky’s etc just from Leonard and Bychkov.

It was a banner year for Rachmaninov- 14 appearances if you add in Ken and Paavo. Schumann did do very well in his anniversary year with 20 appearances putting him in 2nd place, in spite of the fact that Leonard did no Bobby Schumann at all in 2010, sticking to the “other Schuman, William, whose music deserves all the advocacy Leonard can give it.

What about the other birthday boy, Gustav Mahler? Well, surprises all around: he appears only 6  or 7 times  (depending on whether one includes the 6th on my list, which was rehearsed in 2010 for a 2011 performance- I’m inclined to include anything that’s “in rep” as on the list). Take away Ken and you’ve only got one work each from Paavo and Bychkov, and none from Leonard. I would never have dared hope the year would come when I would get to do so much more Mahler than three conductors of their stature, and record a Mahler album. I shall savor my victory while I can, and they can enjoy the bitter aftertaste of envy while they sip their Bollinger in their mansions. I have a strong feeling that balance will shift a lot in 2011, which is, after all, the second year of the Mahler biennium. I expect we’ll see some complete cycles from at least one and maybe more of them, while I’m reduced to last place.

How about new music? 11ish newish pieces (works by living or very recently deceased composers) for me out of 91-2. Actually, not bad considering I don’t have a new music ensemble I get to work with regularly. 6 out of 103 for Paavo. 3 out of 50 for Semyon. Then there is Leonard- 27 out of 90 works if you don’t count William Schuman, 31 if you do. And Leonard is not doing most of this at new music ensembles, but at mainstream symphony orchestras in Detroit, Pittsburgh and Lyon. His service to the composers of our time is pretty inspiring.  Someone like Leonard has the pull in the industry to get these new works onto programs in a way that someone like me does not.

Finally- what’s not on the list? Well, it looks like I’m the only one doing much Haydn out there. Leonard did an excerpt from The Creation, and that’s it for everyone else, while I felt guilty about only doing 4 pieces, down quite a bit from last year.

Radio 3 may have just played the complete works of Mozart, but his music looks less-than-central on this list. Bychkov conducted none, Leonard only 2 things, I did 3 and Paavo 4.

Finally, it is interesting to see that so-called warhorses didn’t do all that well. Beethoven 5 (the ultimate so-called warhorse) and 9 each only appear once. No piece appeared four times (ie, once on everyone’s list). Nobody played the Jupiter Symphony or the Messiah. Dvorak 7 and 9 appear on my list, Paavos’s and Leonards, and the Rachmaninov 3rd Piano Concerto was played by everyone but me.

What trends to you see? Whose music isn’t showing up on these lists that should? What surprised you? Please share your comments.


We’ve made a new comparison document including the recently received Alan Gilbert Report, which you can see here. Alan gives the total combined outlook a stronger contemporary music profile, as he comes in 2nd behind Leonard Slatkin for most modern music, but a very different profile- more hard core modernism and less American tonal music. He also breaks the spell for Mozart 41.

And, I just have to point it out- even with Alan on the list, I still did the most Mahler….. 🙂

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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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3 comments on “UPDATED: 2010 Conductor Repertoire Report Showdown, Comparison and Analysis”

  1. The Weatherman

    Thanks for posting the comparative repertoire report. I’ve run this through my “repertoire safety index” to show who’s playing the safest programs, based on broad measures of popularity both of composers and individual works. See the blog for a fuller description. The lower the score, the ‘safer’ the repertoire:

    Semyon Bychkov….3.6
    Paavo Jarvi………….3.8
    Leonard Slatkin……5.7
    Kenneth Woods…..4.5

  2. Kenneth Woods

    Hi Weatherman

    Welcome! Thanks for an interesting perspective.

    I certainly am interested in this kind of metric, but I think it’s perhaps, in my opinion, too simplistic a measure. How “safe” a work is depends on many factors- does the interpretation break any new ground or rattle any cages? Is the work heard in a new perspective? Is it part of larger programmatic agenda? Does the conductor have something really strong to say about the piece?

    I know from experience that the same work can be a safe choice or a big risk depending on the market, the orchestra and the mindset. I’ve said no to pieces I love because I felt the impulse behind programming them was too cynical, but I’ve also felt that there were times I needed to include something beloved and comfortable to encourage the audience to try something daring on the same program. Once you give an upbeat, playing Rachmaninov 2nd Piano Concerto or Ferneyhough aren’t that different. Nothing feels safe or familiar when you’re playing your heart out.


  3. The Weatherman

    Hi Kenneth.

    Thanks for your insight. If my metric seems a bit simplistic that’s probably because it is! Its original intention was to help deflate an argument that orchestras in some parts of the country played more adventurous repertoire than others – a cursory glance at the programs of the orchestras involved suggested that this was mere hubris, but it was good to have some simple science to support that observation.

    I like your quote about Rachmaninov PC No 2 and Ferneyhough. For the record I haven’t heard either of these – I wonder if its the two sides of the same coin: too safe and too adventurous.

    A question – what in your view constitutes programming that is “too cynical”, to use your expression?

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