Can new music directors re-energize orchestras during recession?

Posted on: September 29, 2009

“New season. New beginnings. New music directors,” writes Anne Midgette in Sunday’s (9/27) Washington Post. “The New York Philharmonic welcomed Alan Gilbert on Sept. 16, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic is gearing up for the arrival of the 28-year-old wunderkind Gustavo Dudamel. The demand for free tickets to a ‘Welcome, Gustavo’ concert on Oct. 3 produced lines around the block. That’s what orchestras would like to see. American orchestras need help. The recession has cut into endowments; all over the country, orchestra musicians have voluntarily accepted pay freezes and cuts as their employers struggle to stay above water. … So orchestras hope that a new music director will bring in new life, new energy and—more to the point—new attendance. … The traditional best-case scenario for an orchestra involves luring a big name as music director. It’s this model that the National Symphony Orchestra has followed in securing the leadership of [Christoph] Eschenbach, nearly 70, widely acclaimed, a regular guest on the world’s podiums. But these days it’s not clear that big names necessarily translate into big buzz, or big ticket sales. … The two biggest success stories in the orchestra world last year support the idea that a new wind can be powerfully refreshing. They involved two unknown Europeans taking over two American orchestras: Manfred Honeck (Austrian) and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra; Jaap van Zweden (Dutch) and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Both cities seem to be caught up in honeymoon fever.”

Posted September 29, 2009