Yesterday’s article announcing that conductor Andreas Delfs will be assuming the position of principal conductor at the Honolulu Symphony serves as another example for a growing trend…
Delfs’ new position marks the second instance in recent history where an ICSOM ensemble’s primary conductor has assumed an artistic leadership position in a U.S. ensemble with a smaller budget than their most recent position. The other conductor being Neeme Jarvi who went from the Detroit Symphony to the NJSO. It will be curious to see if this is going to become a trend among conductors operating in the U.S.
Generally, ICSOM level conductors only accept positions in ensembles with larger budgets, longer seasons, etc. Additionally, conductors may assume positions in multiple ICSOM ensembles of similar budget size but the trend is to move upward as much as possible.
Beyond the obvious reasons, higher status, better pay, greater artistic satisfaction, etc., why has it been unusual to see conductors move in the other direction? Unsurprisingly, ego likely plays a great part; nevertheless, there is something to be said for having the right person in the right place at the right time.
What needs to happen for this emerging trend to take hold is success: one conductor will need to achieve some sincerely fantastic accomplishments while maintaining their artistic status. For example, if Delf’s efforts in Honolulu can bring about the following conditions while simultaneously maintaining a guest conducting career equal to or greater than he currently maintains, he may very well change the nature in how conductors seek primary positions:
Delfs will need to be the undeniable catalyst for sincere artistic accomplishment while maintaining high musician morale.
Delfs will need to be a key figure in rallying board members and executive management to move the organization toward hereto unknown levels of financial resources capable of paying the musicians and staff what they deserve (and need in such a costly area to live) .
>From an artistic standpoint, Delfs’ presence in Honolulu is likely to be a good thing. Like many ICSOM level ensembles these days, the Honolulu Symphony plays at a level which exceeds their pay scale (not unlike the ensemble Delfs is leaving). I’ve never attended a bad concert or listened to a sub par radio broadcast with Delfs on the podium. Furthermore, the majority of personal conversations with musicians who have played under Delfs have always been good; not gushing but not vitriolic either (although smattered with the normal handful of opinions at either extreme). If I had to use one word to describe Delfs artistically based on the input I have received from these players, it would likely be “solid”.
Regarding Delfs ability to help inspire a successful wave of capital fundraising; only time will tell. In his two most recent U.S. posts, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and the Milwaukee Symphony, both ensembles experienced sincere financial problems during his tenure. That certainly doesn’t mean Delfs is responsible, that would be ridiculous to presume, but it does indicate that an organization will have to rely on more than a sense of presence to inspire improvements to their financial position.
As for now, there is nothing but opportunity for all of the Honolulu Symphony’s stakeholders. It will be interesting to see what they make of it.