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CLASSICAL  October 2006

CLASSICAL October 2006

Subject:

Lebrecht on Eschenbach's Exit

From:

Janos Gereben <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sat, 28 Oct 2006 12:23:27 -0700

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (96 lines)

   Eschenbach Experiment Shows Musicians Now Rule: Norman Lebrecht
   By Norman Lebrecht
   
   Oct.  27 (Bloomberg) -- Christoph Eschenbach may go down as the
   last conductor of a major orchestra to be appointed above the
   heads of its players.
   
   When Philadelphia announced Eschenbach as its music director in
   January 2001 sour faces could be seen all around the front desk.
   The shaven-headed German, a decade-long success in Houston,
   Texas, had not conducted the elite Liberty Bell ensemble in five
   years and the musicians had not liked him much at the time.
   
   But Philadelphia was in a race for new batons with New York and
   Boston and its impatient chairman demanded a recognizable name
   on the podium for the year's big opening -- the $265 million
   Verizon hall at the Kimmel Center, a mall-type 21st-century
   upgrade on the quaint old Academy of Music.
   
   Although the musicians had a representative on the search
   committee, his voice went unheard. When a canny agent sparked
   rumors that Eschenbach was on New York's shortlist, the deal was
   done within days, with the conductor to take up his post in
   September 2003.
   
   The hall, which opened in December 2001, turned out to be an
   acoustic letdown with poor sound diffusion and some fuzziness
   on stage. Lawsuits flew, the orchestra's manager departed and
   Eschenbach's bad start went gurgling into a black hole.
   
   When the orchestra announced last week, amid the usual affirmations
   of mutual esteem, that his contract was not being renewed after
   the 2007-8 season, Eschenbach became the first maestro ever to
   be bounced by Philadelphia and the closeted world of music
   management got a wake-up call.
   
   Mismatch
   
   Why did it unravel so fast? Was his Debussy too prissy, his Haydn
   too sweet? There was adverse criticism aplenty in the local
   papers, but if bad reviews ever drove a player out of town no
   football club would be able to field a full team. The trouble
   lay in the original mismatch. The Philadelphia Orchestra has a
   high opinion of itself, and rightly so.  Leopold Stokowski formed
   a crack outfit in World War I and exploited electric recording
   to trademark the Philadelphia Sound.
   
   His successor, the physically unprepossessing Eugene Ormandy,
   preserved that sound in aspic for half a century as the highest-
   selling maestro in America. Riccardo Muti, the La Scala chief
   (until toppled last year by a musicians' revolt), maintained a
   high profile through the 1980s and early 1990s; Wolfgang Sawallisch,
   a pedigree German, tended the flame to general satisfaction.
   Eschenbach was an outsider, not of the same league, and that
   stacked against him.
   
   Podium Ballet
   
   Many of the players in Philadelphia are professors at the Curtis
   Institute. They have a low tolerance for showiness and resented
   Eschenbach's designer outfits and balletic leaps. Their faces
   were often a tableau of discontent. At a concert of fifth
   symphonies by Beethoven and Tchaikovsky at the BBC Proms this
   summer, it was noticeable how little some of the musicians looked
   at their notional master.
   
   "I look upon my past three years as music director of the
   Philadelphia Orchestra with satisfaction and great pride," said
   Eschenbach, 66, last week at the parting of ways. "I am proud
   of particular accomplishments, such as the appointment of nine
   musicians including four principals."
   
   The orchestra's chief executive, James Undercofler, said of
   Eschenbach that "being able to work with him closely, albeit for
   a short time, has deepened my respect for him."
   
   Top of the musicians' wish list is Vladimir Jurowski, 34, the
   Glyndebourne and London Philharmonic chief who has been asked
   back twice after an impressive debut. Other names may come into
   the reckoning but Philadelphia will listen closely to its players.
   
   In the days of great dictators such as Toscanini and Koussevitzky,
   Solti and Karajan, musicians were seldom asked for their opinion
   and did as they were told. In the era of instant communications,
   they expect first and final say in who conducts. The failure of
   the Eschenbach test has confirmed who's paramount.
   
   (Norman Lebrecht is a critic for Bloomberg News. The opinions
   expressed are his own [and those of the Mayor of New York City].)
   
   To contact the writer of this story: Norman Lebrecht at
   [log in to unmask] .

Janos Gereben/SF
www.sfcv.org
[log in to unmask]

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