Sound Magazine ran one of my posts from January where I observed the comparisons between the San Francisco Symphony and the Seattle Symphony. The conclusion I made in that post was the SSO is sitting a similar place as the SFS was when they hired Michael TilsonThomas. Who is chosen to replace Schwarz is vital to the growth of the orchestra and the musical health of Seattle.
Officially, there is no search committee. Crosscut reported a few days ago the orchestra will announce its search plans next month. Still, the search process is coming together painfully slow. Schwarz steps down after the 2010/2011 season. When he announced he would not seek a contract extension last September, next season was being finalized. Next season will be interesting for what it’s not – a season built around finding Schwarz’s replacement. This leaves one season to air out the podium skills of anyone else who is interested in becoming music director.
Henry Fogel, CSO alum and orchestra Yoda, allegedly said the opening in Seattle is the most exciting opportunity in the United States right now. Really? Philadelphia is looking for a new conductor. I would say that is at least marginally more interesting. But Seattle is an exciting opportunity because of where we are. The Northwest has been a musical playground for many years. The right music director can help connect Seattle’s orchestra to the rest of musical life in the city. If Seattle is as exciting as reported, then all the more reason for the board to get moving. If the board goes too slow we could very well have to settle and that wouldn’t be good for the orchestra or music.
Being too deliberate might also mean a long period without leadership at the top. The Chicago Symphony got away with this because they had Pierre Boulez and Bernard Haitink. If Seattle does it, I fear it will just mean a few more years of Schwarz leading the orchestra, but not in an official capacity as music director.
Next season has a number of fine guest conductors, but I would be satisfied by only a few of them. This season’s guest conductor list is better, and I hope people like David Robertson, JoAnn Falletta, and others are seriously considered. Also, where is Stephane Deneve? He would be a wonderful choice for Seattle. Young, vibrant, engaging, French. He is also being bandied about as a possibility to lead the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Not only do I hope the SSO board gets moving to find a new music director, I also hope they open the process up and involve the community in the search. Why not have college students, musicians, arts critics (are there any left?), bloggers (I would gladly serve), and average Seattleites involved in the search? I probably love the Seattle Symphony more than the folks who snooze through concerts. The Seattle Symphony doesn’t have to carry an air of exclusivity. And, from a marketing perspective, it might make more sense to push the process now, before a successor is chosen, as a way to build interest in the candidates and ultimate choice. Seattle is a process heavy city anyway, and opening up the selection process can only be good for the health of the orchestra.
In any case, time is wasting. The Seattle Symphony board may want to get the process right, but getting it right also means actually finding a conductor who can help the orchestra grow, enrich the musical life of Seattle, and be an ambassador for the orchestra and serious music.