The plot thickens...
By Peter Dobrin
Inquirer Music Critic
When the Philadelphia Orchestra announced the impending end to
the Christoph Eschenbach era, it gave no reason for his departure.
One Eschenbach spokeswoman said he was leaving because he had
achieved what he set out to do. And Eschenbach spokesman Kevin
Kleinmann told the Washington Post that the conductor no longer
wanted to be tied down to a major orchestra.
But in his first rehearsal with the orchestra since announcing
the decision to step down as music director, Eschenbach told
musicians that it was the news of their troubled musical
relationship that led to his departure.
After rehearsal Monday, nearly alone with the musicians, Eschenbach
told them that orchestra president James Undercofler had made
three points to him - that 80 percent of the musicians did not
agree with his artistic interpretations; that 80 percent of the
musicians left concerts feeling great anger; and that the orchestra
was a "ticking time bomb."
Eschenbach's comments, in speeches before and after rehearsal,
were confirmed by four musicians, all of whom declined to be
Undercofler offered no comment. He declined to refute the content
of Eschenbach's speeches.
Musicians said they did not know what Eschenbach meant by the
"ticking time bomb" reference.
The orchestra announced last month Eschenbach's departure at
the end of the 2007-08 season, making his five-year tenure the
orchestra's shortest in nearly a century.
Eschenbach, 66, said at Monday's rehearsal that he was surprised
to learn of the musicians' feelings and that he had considered
not returning for his remaining scheduled concerts, but in the
end he decided music could not be a divisive thing.
At the start of the rehearsal, he said he was glad to be making
great music with the orchestra again. The truth is in the score,
he said, pointing to the score for the work being rehearsed,
Mahler's Symphony No. 4.
Musicians said the conductor spoke quietly and nervously. He
was applauded after both speeches.
Eschenbach is music director not only of the Philadelphia Orchestra
but also of the Orchestre de Paris, and regularly guest-conducts
the Berlin Philharmonic, the NDR Symphony Orchestra, the Chicago
Symphony Orchestra, and other groups.
In a "show of support" letter sent out two weeks ago, a form of
which was also e-mailed and posted on the orchestra's Web site,
the Orchestra Association, which manages the ensemble, made no
mention of the state of the musical relationship between the
players and Eschenbach.
"Maestro Eschenbach has always been treated with respect by the
board, management and musicians of the Philadelphia Orchestra.
It is simply irresponsible for anyone to disregard this fact,
make assumptions about his motivations, or manufacture possible
reasons for his departure."