BY JANELLE GELFAND
The Cincinnati Enquirer
After 13 years, three international tours, 20 recordings and a centennial celebration, Jesus Lopez-Cobos announced he is leaving the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.
On Thursday, he told the CSO board and musicians he will not seek renewal of his contract. It expires at the end of the 1999-2000 season. At the board's request, he'll remain as music director through 2000-01 while it looks for his successor.
Trish Bryan, chairman of the board, said she was surprised by the announcement. The executive committee had not decided whether to renew his contract.
"We needed to have a decision made by Jan. 1. In the meantime, Jesus came to us and said this was his decision," she said.
The news places the CSO with seven other major international orchestras looking for new music directors: the New York Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra, the Berlin Philharmonic, and the Atlanta, Houston and Indianapolis symphonies. "He will be a very difficult music director to replace," CSO President Steven Monder said.
Mr. Lopez-Cobos, 58, said in a statement that it was time
for him and the orchestra to prepare for a change.
"Between the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, the Berlin Opera and the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra I have been music director for 20 years," he said.
In April, the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra in Switzerland announced it would not renew Mr. Lopez-Cobos' contract, which expires in July 2000.
Jesus Lopez-Cobos has the longest tenure of any CSO music director except Eugene Goossens (1931-47), and the third-longest tenure among current music directors of major American orchestras.|
He is the CSO's 11th music director.
He has made 20 Telarc recordings with the CSO, more than any previous music director.
He has taken the orchestra annually to Carnegie Hall and on domestic tours, including the West Coast (1992 and 1997).
He led the CSO on a Far East tour in 1990 and conducted the CSO's first televised concert, broadcast in Japan.
In 1995, he took the CSO on its first European tour since 1969 in celebration of the CSO centennial season.
In 1997, he conducted the CSO's American television debut on PBS.
In June 1998, he conducted the CSO at the Pablo Casals Festival, San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Mr. Lopez-Cobos, a native of Spain, told the CSO board that he wished to "slow down" because when his CSO contract expires he will be 60, Ms. Bryan said.
"In addition, he said his life has changed considerably the past two years (because of a divorce and a remarriage). He would just like time to settle down, reflect and be with his family. Those were the reasons he gave," she said.
During Mr. Lopez-Cobos' tenure, the orchestra weathered an $8.4 million financial crisis. In 1994-95 he presided over the orchestra's centennial season and led its first European tour in 25 years.
Of the 18 full-time orchestras nationwide, the CSO has the seventh-largest budget ($26.1 million) and the sixth-highest income. Locally, the orchestra receives more money from the Fine Arts Fund, Ohio Arts Council and the city of Cincinnati than any other arts organization. A search committee of "musicians, management, board and perhaps several people from the community" will be formed in the coming weeks, Ms. Bryan said.
She was not sure what specific qualities the board will look for in a candidate, but she stressed that it will consider "young, old, American, female -- I would like for us to be very open-minded." In recent years, the orchestra has struggled with a graying audience.
The musicians hope to attract "someone of real international status," said Martin James, associate principal bassoonist and spokesman for the musicians. "I wouldn't want to choose an unknown; we need strong direction."
Under his baton, one-third of the orchestra personnel has turned over, with 33 members hired by Mr. Lopez-Cobos, including eight principal players and concertmaster Timothy Lees.
In a unanimous vote, the board named Mr. Lopez-Cobos music director emeritus of the CSO beginning with the 2001-2002 season. That means he will continue to have a relationship with the orchestra, including guest conducting.