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Finding Jansons' successor likely to be a difficult job

Friday, June 07, 2002

By Andrew Druckenbrod, Post-Gazette Classical Music Critic

This time it's for real.

Just two years ago, it looked as if the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra would lose music director Mariss Jansons when he showed up on the short list of a number of orchestras in search of new conductors -- most notably the New York Philharmonic.

That open courtship not only prompted the PSO to think about possible successors, but enticed local music lovers to write letters urging Jansons to stay.

With the possibility then a reality now, given his decision to leave the PSO at the end of the 2003-04 season, the orchestra must make haste to recruit a conductor of Jansons' prestige and musical ability.

On the surface, the project seems especially difficult, as major orchestras in Europe and the United States have filled most of the vacancies that were the talk of the classical music world in the past three years.

"But a process like this takes years, and there will be many people available then who aren't now, and people who will make themselves available when they find out when this job is open," said Harold Smolier, PSO English horn player.

It's conceivable, if not likely, that the PSO will operate without a music director in 2004-05, as it did in 1996-97 after Lorin Maazel (who, coincidentally, is the new music director of the New York Philharmonic) left. That additional year would give orchestra management and its search committee more time to find the perfect fit.

Most informed sources believe the job is held in enough esteem to guarantee a good replacement.

"Many, many major conductors will want to get that job," said pianist Yefim Bronfman, who frequently performs with the PSO and considers it a world-class institution. "There is no way this orchestra will not get anyone it wants."

Among other criteria, the PSO will be looking for a music director with name recognition, musicianship, considerable recording and touring experience, and rapport with symphony musicians.

PSO managing director Gideon Toeplitz said it will be September before a search committee of musicians, staff and board members is finalized. Toeplitz said they'll begin the process by creating a profile of the ideal conductor.

The PSO list of potential replacements for Jansons is likely to include some of the following:

James Conlon, Paris Opera and Cologne Philharmonic. Many consider him to be the best American conductor now working, though in recent years he has been based in Europe. But his Cologne Philharmonic association ends next month, and his Paris Opera tenure ends in July 2004, so his availability is not in doubt.

Andrew Davis, Chicago Lyric Opera. This English conductor is renowned for versatility -- he was music director of the Toronto Symphony -- and has made many acclaimed recordings.

Charles Dutoit, most recently with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. He's available, having just severed his relationship with Montreal after 24 years at the helm. Previously a PSO candidate, he has a good rapport with many members of the PSO. His exit from Montreal, however, was under severe duress, and his stock may have fallen.

David Robertson, Orchestre National de Lyon. Probably a long shot due to his lack of name recognition, he nonetheless is an American conductor who many think will someday lead a top five orchestra.

Esa-Pekka Salonen, Los Angeles Philharmonic. A conductor/composer who brought the Los Angeles Philharmonic out of its doldrums and increased its reputation, his specialization in contemporary music and his desire to maintain his career as a composer may weaken his chances.

Robert Spano, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Up-and-coming American conductor who just landed the position in Atlanta is highly regarded, especially in New York, for innovative programming and technical skill.

Yuri Temirkanov, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Another former Soviet conductor of Jansons' generation, he's a capable conductor, though limited in his repertory.

Christian Thielemann, Deutsche Oper Berlin. He's a tremendously talented and creative German conductor, but his unpopular political views and dictatorial managerial style may cost him consideration.

Michael Tilson Thomas, San Francisco Symphony. It's unlikely he will leave his post in San Francisco, where he has experienced enormous success. Still, he's twice been on the short list for the PSO post and might harbor interest.

Senior Editor Robert Croan contributed to this report.

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