Thursday, June 23, 2022

What's Going On With My Hometown Orchestra?

So word is leaking that my hometown orchestra has apparently decided on a new conductor, though I've heard nothing about whom it might be. Considering that the search is over two years early, I suspect that can only mean one thing: somebody they previously wanted took the job, and I think it's probably the greatest conductor in the world.....

If it's a shame that the search finished early, it's only because a number of really wonderful conductors presented themselves this year: I was all set to hate Ken-David Masur as a nepotism career, but he floored me past even his father. It was like hearing a Brahms 2 from Fritz Busch, where the expression was completely natural and spontaneous even at top tempi. Christian Reif and Rune Bergmann were both superb in exact opposite ways - Bergmann a kapellmeister who knows exactly the essentials like Sawallisch, Reif a bravado-laden daredevil like Pretre. and even a few who were less than superb were still very good: Dalia Stasevska and Christoph Konig particularly stood out. I was out of town for Jonothan Hayward but people told me great things.... 
Maybe Conlon decided to come on permanently, and I'd certainly welcome that development. Conlon is not the excitable sort, but he's like a neo-kapellmeister for our time, who knows exactly what he's doing in all situations, knows every detail of hundreds of scores, will introduce all sorts of fantastic repertoire we'd never otherwise hear, will bring all manner of great soloists who love working with him, and will raise the bar concert by concert to an unheard standard. He's a wonderful communicator who could engage the audience magnificently and clearly feels a duty to both community and education. But since he was already in town this week, I'd imagine they'd have announced it then.

So before this 'worldwide conductor search' the perennial favorite guests here seemed to be Markus Stenz, Hannu Lintu, and Juanjo Mena (not counting Mario Venzago, who's nearly 75). Mena's amazing, even if I sometimes think to myself that he's either overly virtuosic or overly austere and never just right. I'd be absolutely thrilled to have Mena here a couple months a year. He should be consistently in front of the world's best, but he has the 'difficult' label affixed, so I'd imagine him changing his mind about us would not be sufficient to conclude a worldwide search. Lintu is often magnificent. I've never heard him be less than very good, from him I've obviously heard Sibelius for the ages, very good German rep like Beethoven 7 and Brahms 2, and, surprisingly, perhaps the best Dvorak 8 I've ever heard, including Ivan Fischer's. If Lintu comes here, I'll be thrilled too, but running a major opera house in your hometown makes little Baltimore a distant second priority - so I can't imagine there is reason enough to end the search two years early for Lintu either.

But Markus Stenz has no other job, and omgomgomgomgomgomg Considering the smallness of the audience I may be the only person in the world who cares about this, but I'm currently on vacation, and aside from depression over an enormous fight with a good friend, this is the only thing I can think about right now.

It would be such a triumph to get him here. He would do for Baltimore exactly what Manfred Honeck did for Pittsburgh, only still moreso. Honeck is a master of traditional repertoire, but past 1910 and the Rhine river, Honeck doesn't travel very well. Stenz does trad rep at least as well as Honeck, and everything that isn't trad rep he does just as well. Of any conductor I've heard more than half a dozen times live, he is, quite simply, so far over and above everyone else that I don't have words for the musicianship I've seen on display. There are obviously influences in him from Carlos Kleiber in his fleet electricity and Leonard Bernstein in his romantic extravagances, but Stenz is better than either of them. In his particular mix of classicism, romanticism, modernism, diversity of repertoire, precision and hyper-expression, he reminds me of no one so much as Ferenc Fricsay.

My seemingly modest hometown band punches well above its weight - and to this day, we have David Zinman to thank for raising standards so high. No amount of irresponsibility from Temirkanov or (undeserved) demoralization under Alsop could kill the esprit de corps - the precision, the electricity, the blend and passionate expression. But if Stenz is coming, then like Vanska in Minnesota before him, I would in all seriousness be sitting in front of the band into the best in the whole nation - better perhaps even than Minnesota under Vanska. But by the time Stenz is done, I might be the only person left in the concert hall, and unless we can get people to start coming to the increasingly mausoleum-like Meyerhoff Hall, the only person left who might appreciate all they've done. 

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