The missed opportunity

The New York Philharmonic announced Jaap van Zweden as its new Music Director. My reaction to the news evolved like this: 1. Ok, so he’s not Esa Pekka Salonen... (my first choice, as I have previously stated). 2. Seriously? I mean, really? Is this, like, real? (this is how my disappointment sounds like). 3. So, he’s not Esa Pekka Salonen... (include sigh of resignation). Van Zweden comes with great credentials, truth be told. He was the concertmaster for the Royal Concertgebouw for 18 years -one of the finest orchestras in the world. He then dropped the bow to take the baton and worked for several orchestras in Europe until he became the director for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra -a second-class ensemble that he managed to take to higher levels. His recordings have also been praised. He seems to gravitate to late 19th-century romantics like Bruckner and Mahler, and his taste for accuracy and precision has been hailed as one of his trademarks. In Dallas he was often celebrated -with the exception of a notorious claim by some members of the orchestra who didn’t share his dictatorial or despotic ways of conducting. Full disclosure: I am not questioning his technical proficiency. He seems to be an excellent musician. What I am really angry about is the enormous opportunity the New York Philharmonic has missed. It just have blown a huge chance to make a statement. This appointment, as NYTimes’ Anthony Tommasini declared, is too safe, which is precisely the route that has led orchestras to periods of crisis -and even bankruptcy. So why the hell the New York Philharmonic -the oldest orchestra of the US and one of the most prestigious ensembles in the world- made a decision as tasteless as this one? Why? I know Salonen repeatedly affirmed that he was not interested in going to back to working full-time as a conductor because he wanted to dedicate more time to his composition endeavors, but the NYPhil didn’t seem to really want him in the first place. Could you imagine the excitement that could have been propelled if Salonen were named the new conductor? Well, it would have been pretty similar to the excitement ignited by the announcement of City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra’s new director: the young (29 years old) and impressively talented conductor Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla. Because excitement is the key word here, people. If orchestras want to survive as an institution in times like these where there’s a hectic, competitive and overcrowded cultural offer, then they need to inject enthusiasm. It’s exactly what have made television enjoy a new golden era -compelling, interesting, exciting stories. It’s what has given renown to small independent avant-garde opera companies -exciting productions. It’s what has been selling lots of tickets for ballet companies -exciting dances. The NYPhil has missed a huge chance to put a remarkable figure in its podium: a woman (Malkki, Alsop) an emerging conductor (Heras-Casado), an immensely talented underdog (Honeck). Instead, the main orchestra of New York City has made a choice that is unfortunately too similar to previous -and lackluster- appointments like Kurt Masur or Lorin Maazel: great conductors, but too conservative, musicians who were not bringing anything new to the table, which is exactly the opposite profile of the tenures that have proven successful: Mahler, Bernstein, Boulez, and yes, I would include the current conductor Alan Gilbert! This news left me baffled, then profoundly disappointed. But since I adore the NYPhil, I really hope Van Zweden proves me undisputably wrong...


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