After presumably much internal consternation, the Philadelphia Orchestra announced that music director Christoph Eschenbach will be leaving his position after his contract expires at the conclusion of the 2007-2008 season. I wouldn’t be surprised if this event stokes the already hot topic of how orchestras select music directors but in the end, the Philadelphia/Eschenbach issue is a moot point…
It comes as no surprised that the marriage between conductor Christoph Eschenbach and the musicians of the Philadelphia Orchestra was, at best, arranged. Add to that musician disapproval over being officially left out of the process which resulted in an extension of Eschenbach’s initial contract and you have a very unhappy internal relationship.
Furthermore, it certainly didn’t help the situation at all when the Philadelphia Orchestra Association decided to issue the infamous “Roadmap to Extinction” campaign shortly after the renewal process. these volatile elements combined together to spur a tremendous amount of public attention on a number of negative organizational issues, nearly all of which were brought upon by internal actions. The resulting mess was a real quagmire.
Fortunately, the organization has had a change in executive leadership between then and now and perhaps taking a cue from world events, they decided the best way to get out of a quagmire is to prevent it from happening in the first place.
On September 24th, the Philadelphia Inquirer published two contrasting articles, one each from their resident music journalists, about the merits of either keeping Eschenbach around or letting him go now. I don’t think it is coincidental that almost a month later, an announcement comes from Eschenbach that he’s decided to leave.
I applaud the Inquirer for realizing the value in having two full time, top notch music journalists on staff and then allowing them to air opposing views about such an important issue. This is what every American newspaper should be doing.
Nevertheless, regardless of what you think about Eschenbach or the musicians of the Philadelphia Orchestra, the reality is that you simply can’t escape the necessity of having everyone working together toward a collective vision. Top-down strategic planning simply doesn’t work in an organization the size of Philadelphia.
In the end, it is important to remember that none of this is an indication that Eschenbach isn’t a good conductor and fine musician or the Philadelphia Orchestra musicians are simply playing a game of sour grapes. Instead, it is an indication that the combination of Eschenbach and Philadelphia simply wasn’t working: no big deal. this happens all the time in the real world, and it’s high time the orchestra business started to put egos aside and get in step with how the rest of the world works.
It is far more important to see that the organization, under new administrative and board leadership, has the vision to see the problems as they exist and move in a direction that is healthy for the entire outfit. After all, one only needs to look at Chicago for inspiration to find what might become. Shortly after Daniel Barenboim’s departure, the CSO found Bernard Haitink to serve as their interim artistic figurehead until they identify a permanent music director. The players seem to love Haitink, the management and board publicly espouse the positive impact his presence has had on the organization, and the orchestra hasn’t sounded better in years. I would call that a win-win solution and there’s no reason Philadelphia wouldn’t’ be able to follow suit.