Sunday, October 31, 1999

Many maestros are candidates for top spot here

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Who will be the 12th music director of the CSO? An orchestra usually looks at its guest conductors when it holds a search. Outgoing music director Jesus Lopez-Cobos was hired after one guest appearance in 1981.

        Cincinnatians will not see maestros being mentioned in searches by major East Coast orchestras, including Christian Thielemann, James Levine or Riccardo Chailly. But a look at CSO guest conductors since the 1997-98 season — plus a few others — reveals some possibilities.

        • Front runner — Paavo Jarvi. The 36-year-old Estonian-born conductor is being courted by the CSO, but he's also being eyed by other orchestras. Following a spectacular success in Cincinnati in February, he was a late addition to this season. Recently he was asked back for a third visit, Nov. 12-13.

        A superb musician, Mr. Jarvi learned at his father's knee (Detroit Symphony's Neeme Jarvi). He has an EMI recording contract, and is guest conducting great orchestras such as the Berlin Philharmonic and Philadelphia Orchestra.

        In his visits here, he has energized the players and the audience and showed a keen grasp of the mainstream orchestral literature. His Virgin Classics recording of works by Leonard Bernstein is one of the most electrifying I have heard since the composer's own, and his discs of music by Scandinavians Sibelius and Stenhammar are top-notch.

        CSO musicians think highly of Mr. Jarvi, who has a strong podium presence and is an articulate speaker. His ideas about the role of the music director in the community, observed during his years as principal guest conductor of the City of Birmingham (England) Symphony, are insightful and refreshing.

        • Long shot — James Conlon, 49, music director of Cincinnati May Festival for 20 years, has international name recognition. He's a hot commodity in Europe, having triumphed at the Paris Opera where others have failed — and where he has renewed his contract to 2004.

        He also leads the Cologne Philharmonic, with whom he has made a series of widely hailed recordings of music by post-romantic composer Alexander Zemlinsky.

        This talented American has been overlooked in job hunts by the big American orchestras in the past, although he is a welcome guest conductor. Now, with so many openings, he could easily win a major post such as the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia or Boston, who pay their maestros more than $1 million annually.

        • Underappreciated — Jahja Ling, 48, who last conducted the CSO in the 1997-98 season, is resident conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra, music director of the Florida Orchestra and the National Symphony of Taiwan. His concerts here have been exciting, precise and profound. Widely admired, he is an advocate of American music and a concert pianist. (He will conduct the Indianapolis Symphony March 3-4.)

        • Rising star — William Eddins, 34, resident conductor of the Chicago Symphony, impressed in his CSO debut last weekend. An excellent — and outspoken — musician, he was reportedly a cut-up in rehearsals. A concert pianist, too, he's clearly someone to watch. “I do not conduct Mahler,” he says, “And I drastically will not conduct Bruckner.”

        • Dark horse — Alessandro Siciliani, 47, music director of the Columbus Symphony, first came to Cincinnati's attention for his exquisite work in the pit for Cincinnati Opera's La Traviata.

        I heard him lead a thrilling performance of Beethoven's Fifth in 1998 in Columbus, where he continues to build the orchestra.

        His father, Francesco Siciliani, headed Italy's La Scala for 20 years. He debuts April 7-8.

        • Popular guest — Junichi Hirokami, 40, will make six appearances in three years with the CSO by the end of this season — more than any guest conductor. A dynamo, he proved stronger in dramatic, pictorial music than in Schumann.

        He is learning English, and admits he is not ready to head an American orchestra. The Tokyo native returns Nov. 26-27 and April 13-15.

        • A woman's place — Marin Alsop, 42, music director of the Colorado Symphony, has impressed Cincinnati's audience and players, but is not returning this season.

        A serious contender in Atlanta, she could become the first woman to head a major orchestra. She conducts in Indianapolis (also searching) Jan. 27-29.

        • Gone but not forgotten — Keith Lockhart, 39, Boston Pops conductor and former music director of the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra, is a household word here. He is charismatic, articulate, a good programmer and a fine musician. But, in his second season heading the Utah Symphony, he is not likely to leave either Boston or Salt Lake City.

        His experiences in both places should prepare him for the next round of major searches.

Good dates, but marriage?
        • Carlos Kalmar — When the Uruguayan-born conductor came in the 1997-98 season, he challenged the CSO with Berg, Webern and Strauss. The musicians played with a rare intensity, then lined up later to shake his hand. He returns Feb. 25-26.

        • Christof Perick — The German conductor, former music director of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, impressed with Bruckner's Fourth in 1998. He returns March 3-4.

        • Peter Oundjian — The former first violinist of the Tokyo String Quartet is succeeding as the artistic director of the Caramoor Festival in Westchester, N.Y.

        He's a wonderful musician, but may not have the conducting experience to head a major orchestra. He debuts March 10-11.

        • Back of the pack: Michael Stern, Alan Gilbert, Claus Peter Flor and Alexander Lazarev.

Hot prospects

        These hot young conductors are being courted by several orchestras, but have not made it to Cincinnati.

        • Robert Spano — Music director of the Brooklyn Philharmonic, he has been compared to James Levine, Michael Tilson Thomas and Leonard Slatkin.

        The Ohio-born maestro has never conducted the CSO, but you can see him in Indianapolis March 30-April 1.

        • David Robertson — A member of CSO management reportly observed this American maestro in Aspen last summer. This season he'll make his debut with the Cleveland Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic and Toronto Symphony.

        He's music director-designate of the Orchestre National de Lyon and directs the Ensemble Intercontemporain in Paris.

        • Roberto Abbado — A member of an Italian musical dynasty, he seems to be guest-conducting everywhere but Cincinnati.

        His opera conducting (the Met, La Scala) receives high praise, and he records for BMG (RCA Red Seal).


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