MD Hide and Seek Part 2

In early 2007 the search committee was starting to get a clearer picture of just what we were looking for. One member of the committee was the CFO for Rockwell, and came up with a great idea from the business world- lock ourselves in a conference room for eight hours or so until we come up with the most detailed profile possible. In the process, we’d be forced to get to know each other a little better, and hopefully apply that to what was probably going to be a lengthy process.

In many ways it seemed to work, and I think overall it was a worthwhile day, however foreign the idea seemed to all of the musicians. We usually struggle just to make it through a rehearsal, so eight hours was kind of a stretch. The free food helped.

By March we had begun that mysterious process of filtering candidates and trying to find the best use of our limited guest spots for the 08-09 season (we had done our best for 07-08 without much of a formal profile). 08-09 is both the MSO’s 50th anniversary as well as the final season for Andreas Delfs, so counting various celebratory events we figured we’d have about 12 weeks to work with as far as “guests”, whether or not they were MD candidates. Not a whole lot to work with when I would observe the avalanche of PR material that began to appear at every search meeting, courtesy of various artist managers around the world.

Gathering information about potential MD candidates is a bit like trying to book soloists, but obviously the stakes are higher. Plus I really believe there are many more first-rate soloists than conductors to go around. But the game is the same- managers and PR firms try and convince us how talented their people are, clearly rising stars of a quality the world has never seen. We read their stuff and try to get accurate information from a variety of sources, and then filter out as much bias as we can to make some kind of informed decision.

“Buzz” and artificially generated enthusiasm (meaning “marketing”) is sometimes hard to cut through without an actual rehearsal or performance (the best way to save time in this regard). So the quality and diversity of sources was really important to us, since there is such a subjective element to all of it. Everyone had a unique perspective, sometimes with obvious agendas, but usually well meaning. On the management side, there were the Executive Directors and ASOL people (now the League of American Orchestra people), along with the artist managers themselves. Then there were the musicians’ contacts, which often yielded wildly divergent views; I also spoke to a few Concertmaster types, who sometimes have their own take on things (to put it mildly). Sometimes a consensus would emerge (eventually), but often the grey areas were hard to resolve.

It became more apparent just how small the classical music world can be (or is, depending on your perspective), and I also began to understand in greater detail why some conductors get as far as they do despite the lack of any obvious expertise. This is in contrast to soloists, who actually make a sound- even with all the hype and connections, if you really don’t have much to say as a soloist it’ll probably run its course in maybe four or five seasons (as far as the “mainstream” orchestras). With conductors of even modest talent, it can go on much longer due to the various intangibles, such as an affinity for certain repertory, the length of a contract, or the fact that various orchestras may have completely different experiences with the same conductor, and feel quite passionately about those experiences. I think this subjectivity is also why some well-known conductors never appear with certain groups.

One other element that began to complicate things was the desire of many conductors (and managers) to keep their interest in our opening absolutely secret, which was not all that surprising. More intriguing was the response from several conductors that politely made it clear they were not interested in the MSO position. This was at a time when several orchestras were also searching, including New York, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Philadelphia, Dallas, Nashville, and a few others. Although they were prominent on the guest conducting circuit, none of the conductors I am referring to had an American orchestra, and I found it interesting that evidently they were holding out for a higher “entry level” orchestra than Milwaukee- there’s a certain perception that we generally have stayed a little under the radar in the past few years, although in my experience people are usually surprised at the level once they actually hear us. At the time I believed it unlikely that these conductors would all get Chicago or New York or Philadelphia (not to mention Nashville). Since then a few of those positions have been filled, but as of today none of these conductors have been appointed; I suppose time will tell.

Two other things became clear to me. The first was the realization of just how time-consuming and intrusive this process had become, and that it could easily go on for two more seasons (or more). Second, that approximately half the population of both Estonia and Finland had evidently studied conducting over the past 10 years or so, and now they needed jobs.

We soldiered on, sifting through paper and making phone calls, sometimes traveling and seeing conductors in person. I had a great trip to Cincinnati and soon afterwards we booked one of the Estonian crowd, who distinguished himself not only with his obvious talent as a conductor, but also his strong resemblance to Mike Myers. Even though that didn’t really figure into our decision to engage him, I couldn’t help but ponder “Austin Powers Night” at the MSO.

Around this time I remember Edo de Waart being discussed, but (ironically) we didn’t really take it seriously beyond wishful thinking. Mostly because we didn’t think he’d be interested, and if he was he’d probably be really expensive, or difficult to deal with, or not around much, or something else. We went on with our meetings and the bios and pictures kept piling up as the summer approached.

Then in May 2007 I heard this bizarre rumor that Edo de Waart was living in Wisconsin.

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1 thought on “MD Hide and Seek Part 2”

  1. inside a music director search

    Frank Almond, concertmaster of the Milwaukee Symphony (and partial concertmaster of the Seattle Symphony), writes a very interesting entry about the recent search process that ended up with the surprise hiring of Edo de Waart as their next music dir…

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