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The PSO candidates

Sunday, May 04, 2003

By Andrew Druckenbrod, Post-Gazette Classical Music Critic

To speculate as to who has a spot on the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra's short list of candidates to succeed music director Mariss Jansons, it would be wise to begin with the following conductors:

Christoph von Dohnanyi

Affiliation: Retired from the Cleveland Orchestra.

The score: He has the big name and ingratiated himself to musicians, board and patrons alike with his performance here last fall. But he has retired, rather than resigned, after 18 years with the renowned Cleveland Orchestra, and indications are that he is not interested in being fully engaged again. Also, his musical background with Cleveland might be at odds with the very different sound of Pittsburgh. But money and the artistry of the PSO could change things quickly.

Last here: October 2002.

Leonard Slatkin

Affiliation: National Symphony Orchestra and BBC Orchestra.

The score: He is American, affable and creates interesting programs, such as Beethoven's symphonies orchestrated by Mahler. In many respects, he would be the perfect choice for the job. Said to make more than $1 million with the National Symphony, which provides great exposure and reportorial freedom, why would he leave? The best reason is that the PSO is a far better ensemble, is willing to pay big dollars and doesn't have a political backdrop.

Last here: November/December 2001.

David Zinman

Affiliation: Tonhalle Orchestra, Aspen Music Festival.

The score: This American conductor has more than 80 acclaimed recordings and five Grammy awards and has turned the fortunes of a mid-sized orchestra into a national name in the Balitimore Symphony (which he left in 1998). Also, his prosperity as a leader of Zurich's Tonhalle Orchestra gives him European cachet. He has the name, but has he been out of the big time for too long? Plus, will he want to get back into the trenches of running a bigger American orchestra?

Next here: June 2004.

James Conlon

Affiliation: Paris Opera.

The score: Many consider him to be the best American conductor now working. Of course, he's had the best opportunities in Europe. His experience running the entire classical scene of the city of Cologne would go a long way in helping him run an orchestra such as the PSO, and his long association with the May Festival in Cincinnati (dating to 1979) also makes him conversant with the region. He is available, with only the Paris Opera tenure, so an American orchestra would be a good fit.

Next here: May 2004.

Charles Dutoit

Affiliation: Formerly music director of the Montreal Orchestra.

The score: He's available, having just severed his relationship with the Montreal Orchestra after 24 years at the helm. Previously a PSO music director candidate, he has a good rapport with many members of the orchestra and legions of acclaimed recordings. He would be the big name many are looking for, but his style is quite different from the PSO's. Might he take it into an unwanted artistic direction? Also, his abrupt exit from Montreal last year under severe duress hurt his stock.

Last here: April 2002.

Pinchas Zukerman

Affiliation: National Arts Centre Orchestra of Canada.

The score: Zukerman has a stronger relationship with the PSO than any of the candidates, regularly leading and performing with the group to great results. While the musicians respect his prodigious abilities on the viola and violin and his freedom of interpretation, he is not known for the discipline or organization needed to right the PSO's ship. Although he has run the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and currently the National Arts Centre Orchestra, he would appear to be a long shot.

Next here: May 2003; April 2004.

David Robertson

Affiliation: Orchestre National de Lyon.

The score: This American conductor has technique to spare and an easy-going manner as speaker, and he is clearly one of the hottest conductors around. Although he made a strong impression on the board and audience in an appearance here this season, chemistry with the orchestra was an issue and the verdict is still out on his ability to conduct the canon. Because he is stepping down as head of the Orchestre National de Lyon in 2004, his availability is not in question. And he wants to move back to the United States.

Next here: April/May 2004.

Michael Tilson Thomas

Affiliation: San Francisco Symphony.

The score: Since he is probably the reigning conducting name in America, it's unlikely he will leave San Francisco, where he has had enormous success, for what might seem a lateral move to Pittsburgh (in terms of total organization). He seems to be set up for a Big Five position. Plus, he is still smarting from twice being passed over by the PSO, an orchestra he conducted almost annually from 1976-89. He also assisted with its former summer home at Great Woods. But the PSO could squelch any reluctance with a generous salary, and the change in management might engender renewed interest.

Last here: January 1989.

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