Place Your Bets

At the rate music directors at big budget orchestras are leaving, we might as well begin a betting pool. First Alan Gilbert in New York and now Christoph Eschenbach is leaving his position at the National Symphony Orchestra at the end of the 216/17 season.

Adaptistration People 142The official Kennedy Center press release has the relevant details although you can be sure that the speculation circuit is certain to be kicking into gear sooner rather than later. If nothing else, at least the National Symphony Orchestra doesn’t have to worry about navigating as many rapids as their New York peers; moreover, they now have Deborah Rutter at the helm and she was instrumental in securing Riccardo Muti as Chicago’s music director. If she can manage to produce similar results for Washington, that group stands a very good chance at accomplishing what no other orchestra has done since San Francisco entered the ranks of top tier orchestras.

Rutter’s predecessor, Michael Kaiser, managed to solve most of the financial part of that equation; National already pays its musicians a higher base wage than Cleveland and Philadelphia, yet at the same time, it ranks solidly at the bottom of that same group for competitive overscale among the vast majority of principal and key musician positions. But from a comparative point of view, becoming competitive with overscale is an easier task than base wages.

Read the official Kennedy Center press statement

(WASHINGTON, D.C.)—The National Symphony Orchestra and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts announced today that Christoph Eschenbach will not extend his position as Music Director after the conclusion of the 2016-2017 season. He will then have completed seven seasons as Music Director and an additional season as Music Director Designate. With the 2017-2018 season he will become Conductor Laureate of the National Symphony for a three-year term.

“I am proud of the legacy I leave and I am deeply grateful to the musicians who have joined with me to create an internationally prominent and unified ensemble,” stated Maestro Eschenbach. “By 2017 I will have served as Music Director of American orchestras for almost 30 years, and it makes sense to step away from these obligations. Nevertheless I am happy to accept this new role as Conductor Laureate which will allow our collaboration to continue and flourish in the years to come.”

Jeanne Ruesch, Chairman of the National Symphony Orchestra Association Board of Directors, commented, “Christoph has successfully raised the artistic quality and standing of the National Symphony Orchestra. He has given NSO audiences many thrilling nights in our concert hall. The entire board joins me in thanking him for his contributions and commitment to our beloved orchestra.”

Executive Director Rita Shapiro added, “We are deeply grateful for Maestro Eschenbach’s work with the National Symphony Orchestra, particularly in the engagement of new musicians. His tenure has greatly strengthened the NSO, and we look forward to the continued relationship.”

The position as Conductor Laureate will begin in 2017-2018, and will end with the 2019-2020 season. During each of those seasons he will spend a minimum of two weeks with the NSO.

Christoph Eschenbach came to the National Symphony as Music Director Designate in 2009, and formally became Music Director of the NSO and the Kennedy Center with the 2010-2011 season. Steeped in the standard repertoire, he is widely credited with re-focusing the NSO’s approach to the core canon of Central European orchestral music. Additionally, under his leadership, the NSO has commissioned or co-commissioned 11 works by the end of the current season, eight of them by American composers.

The Orchestra’s board will form a search committee to begin the process of finding the next Music Director of the National Symphony Orchestra.


About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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5 thoughts on “Place Your Bets”

  1. This is being totally candid. I thought Eschenbach was a good fit, because while he has a personal style and core repertoire, it allowed for guest conductors to bring what they were good at (which in most cases is better than what any one conductor could do). I think with the public after a while, his style would’ve otherwise outstayed its welcome, but this way his visits will continue to be enjoyed by a not insignificant group of loyal supporters over many years.
    Personally, I think the NSO learned a good lesson with Howard Mitchell. That reign was perhaps too long, and left much to be desired in a world also including Szell, Reiner, Monteux, Ormandy, etc. With the exception of some clever educational initiatives, I know some people who were a little embarrassed of his tenure. Recordings have suggested that the NSO was never really a bad orchestra – just not having a Stokowski, Szell, or Reiner on the podium, or a Bernstein – the wider public never got to know them for anything distinctive.
    Enter Dorati, a “touch” of Rostropovich, then Slatkin – after Slatkin, I remember hearing a world class guest conductor and thinking this was nothing to be embarrassed about – really something to be proud of. And proud because the sound in some way honored the qualities of those three men. I was a fierce collector of recordings, so another good sign was when the live performance was winning over the recordings at certain points.
    As of the 2011-2012 season, it was the 6th highest paid orchestra, and in a metropolitan area that is I believe 5th in GDP. Had problems at times like everyone else, but I think there has been some good luck as well.
    One of the exciting things about the orchestral scene is seeing where the conductors go – and as long as they don’t spread their love too thin, there’s going to be some great music making at all these places.

  2. Well, LA Phil is probably an even better example. “Class” is getting more subjective and not really tied to “playing the right notes at the right time in the right way.” There are good musicians who don’t mind earning a little less to have the prestige of playing in those orchestras, but there are also good musicians that will go where the money is.
    Cleveland and Philadelphia don’t sound as they did 30+ years ago (which on some level is true of everyone) – nor does that affect their stature. There will always be something special about hearing these particular orchestras in Carnegie Hall, Vienna, Amsterdam, etc. No one can touch that – but other sounds are out there that are musically and artistically compelling. One of the greatest things about classical music is that while the score itself is a pretty fixed thing, the performance of it can vary widely. In some cases we’re just not being open enough to those differences, which could actually be good for us.

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