The elusive maestro: why the process of finding a new conductor makes music lovers weep.

Pop, jazz, and classical.
April 12 2011 11:20 AM

The Elusive Maestro

Why the process of finding a new conductor makes music lovers weep.

(Continued from Page 2)

The conductor's artistic skills come first, the mantra goes, then everything else. But everything else looms hugely. In the BSO's case, health and age will be issues, surely, more than ever. Levine was not the first conductor to falter at the helm. In the late '60s, the orchestra got burned badly in hiring the aged and ailing William Steinberg. For four years he was indisposed much of the time, replaced by a brilliant but very green assistant conductor, Michael Tilson Thomas, age 24. The orchestra was furious, but there was nothing to be done until Seiji Ozawa took over in what might be called a rebound relationship. (The official BSO history on the website does not mention Tilson Thomas at all.)

With the BSO now, hot tickets the press has speculated on include, of all people, Michael Tilson Thomas (doing wonders in San Francisco, recently returned for a stint at Tanglewood after many years away, so perhaps forgiven by the orchestra); Robert Spano (started his rise as a BSO assistant, has led Brooklyn and Atlanta, teaches conducting at Tanglewood); Riccardo Chailly (superstar who has a contract with the Leipzig Gewandhaus till 2015 and has never conducted the BSO); and Mariss Jansons (late 60s, a heart condition, currently with the Concertgebouw in Holland).

Then there are the wild cards. Not all great or potentially great conductors are international superstars, and those are the ones you'd love to uncover. One name put forth is the Russian Vasily Petrenko, who now conducts the Liverpool Phil and is 34. Wouldn't you know, he just signed a contract with Oslo that begins in 2013. Oslo to Boston is some commute. Of course, there's Venezuelan Gustavo Dudamel, aka "the Dude," who took over L.A. in 2009. He's the closest thing out there to a young Lenny Bernsteinian rock star. But Dudamel is 30 years old and only in the majors for about five years, and he ain't gonna happen with Boston. The orchestra would erect barricades.

Advertisement

Naturally, the above are already music directors of important orchestras, with obligations stretching years ahead. That was the situation with Levine and the Met. He insisted on maintaining both jobs, which did his health and the BSO no good at all. With any major conductor who can be tempted away from a booked-up gig, it will take years to extract him from the old position and have him fully committed to Boston. Like Levine, some of them may want to sustain dual, if not dueling, podiums. That is not what the orchestra needs, but they might have to put up with it. It's safe to say that this time the BSO will hope for younger and healthier candidates who show promise of settling in Boston. All that coming after artistic matters, in theory, of course.

And that's what it's like with orchestras and conductors. To summarize, for those who care about the Boston Symphony and the state of classical music in the United States: Just shoot us. Levine had his last rehearsals with the BSO on the Mahler Ninth, which he noted is "a work of farewell." At its end, that symphony, like Levine's career, dies and dies and dies. He collapsed before the performances.

Somehow, someday, the moment will come when the new guy (almost certainly a guy) will step onto the podium and a couple of thousand people sitting in the darkness will hope to be thrilled, and many of them will remember Levine and the Mahler Eighth and the German Requiem and other golden nights, a brief golden age bookended between hmmmm and pffffft, and that audience and thousands of others will feel hope again. Until then we've got a row of pretty faces week after week, and maybe some splendid three-night stands.

TODAY IN SLATE

Doublex

Crying Rape

False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

No, New York Times, Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman” 

Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 1:39 PM Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman,” New York Times. Neither Are Her Characters.

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B

How Will You Carry Around Your Huge New iPhone? Apple Pants!

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Television

The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

There’s a Way to Keep Ex-Cons Out of Prison That Pays for Itself. Why Don’t More States Use It?

Why Men Can Never Remember Anything

The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Why Men Can Never Remember Anything
Behold
Sept. 19 2014 11:33 AM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
Foreigners
Sept. 19 2014 1:56 PM Scotland’s Attack on the Status Quo Expect more political earthquakes across Europe.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 19 2014 3:24 PM Why Innovators Hate MBAs
  Life
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 3:07 PM Everything Is a "Women's Issue"
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:03 PM Kern Your Enthusiasm: The Ubiquity of Gotham
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 12:38 PM Forward, March! Nine leading climate scientists urge you to attend the People’s Climate March.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 12:13 PM The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola  The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.