Inside baseball post ahead:
In immediate retrospect, it seemed as inevitable as it was unexpected at first glance. But there's something about this that feels wrong. Not just that they barely know each other, but that Salonen is going to be expected to top what he did in LA, and there's no way he can. He was thirty when he took over in LA, he'll be sixty-three. We know exactly what Salonen can do, and as much as he's injected new life into music, he's as much the establishment as Michael Tilson Thomas. This is a 'continuity' pick. It'll be a good time for SF, better than we get elsewhere, but we're going to have to look elsewhere for the real innovations. There were lots of OK tenures recently: Gilbert in NY, Alsop here in Baltimore, Robertson in St. Louis, Spano in Atlanta. But ultimately it was all little league stuff, and even Alsop now looks to be winding down here in Baltimore. Nobody, not even Gilbert in NYC, found the money to really shake things up. Except for the now slightly diminished returns of left coast, the best place now for new innovations in America may soon be, of all places... Gianandrea Noseda in DC, Osmo Vanska in Minnesota, and (oy) Franz Welser-Most and Jaap van Zweden and Riccardo Muti in Cleveland and New York and Chicago, and clearly none of them are setting the bar high at all...
There are American orchestras who play trad rep better, but America's West Coast Orchestras are the places you go for revelations - completely unexpected concert experiences, new and forgotten music. In terms of who provides real and new revelations, nobody even comes close to LA and San Francisco. But things are already getting a little stale. For all the talk about how innovative the LA centennary season was, Dudamel is still doing mostly trad rep and Susanna Malkki is the conductor doing the heavy lifting as Principal Guest. From the little I've heard, she is well thought of in San Francisco too. She, not Salonen, was clearly the best candidate to take the next step in innovation. We need someone here who can make an entirely new mark. We have young 'trad' conductors like Dudamel and Nelsons and Nezet-Seguin. Nezet-Seguin is in his early 40's and already a dinosaur, clearly never interested in challenging anybody with anything he programs. At least the other two stars are doing some serious new music, but in terms of actual ideas, the organizations around them are clearly coming up with the ideas, and for them, contemporary music is purely a matter of career climbing.
And if not Malkki, there were tons of others who could make a real and entirely original mark if anybody gave them a chance. Did they even consider other modernists whose careers have been stymied by insisting on playing plenty of new music? They all can clearly make enough time in their schedules for this appointment should they be asked? Pablo Heras-Casado, Daniel Harding, Francois-Xavier Roth, Markus Stenz, Marc Albrecht, Ingo Metzmacher, Xian Zhang, Joanne Faletta, John Storgards, Hannu Lintu, Mikko Franck, Lodivic Morlot, Andrey Boreyko, Miguel Harth-Bedoya, Michael Francis, Thierry Fischer, and so many others more interested in music than a celebrity career. If you're looking for them, the list is practically endless. And even now-veteran Americans like Gilbert and Robertson and Alsop and Spano. None of them ever got the chances or the budget they should have, and might be able to run rings with them. Every one of these names would have been an unprecedented opportunity to do something that's never been done before. Every one has different composers they champion, every one has different ideas. Insofar as anybody's paying attention, Europe is snapping up 90% of the most forward thinkers and we're getting stuck with the leavings. It's a feather in our cap to get Salonen back here, but it's nowhere near enough.