MD Hide and Seek Part 4

Our management managed to find a couple of services in early December 2007 where we could at least have him in front of the orchestra, even if we didn’t do an actual concert. At this point the committee was thinking that (at a minimum) the orchestra could get a sense of that intangible chemistry we were looking for (or lack thereof), and also perhaps there might be time for Mr. de Waart to look around the city, meet some Board people and the committee, and get a feel for the organization.

As I noted before, discretion was a high priority; we didn’t want musicians drawing any conclusions by his presence, and it was critical that no press leaked with their own opinions of what was going on. I think what finally happened is that the orchestra was told a few days before he was coming, and the issue of confidentiality was strongly emphasized. Predictably, several members of the orchestra immediately drew their own conclusions (it’s an orchestra, after all), but fortunately no one was tempted to alert any media types.

As it happened, the dates with Edo coincided with a previously planned trip of my own to Montreal (I was playing with the orchestra there as a guest Concertmaster). I had painstakingly arranged to be back the morning of our first rehearsal with Edo, but (surprise) both the weather and Air Canada worked overtime against me, so I wound up sitting in the Toronto airport most of the day instead of working with Edo de Waart. It’s a nice airport, but I wasn’t too happy about it. After a quick reunion before the second service, we read through Don Juan and parts of the Elgar cello concerto with our Principal, Joseph Johnson. The orchestra sounded great, and everyone seemed sort of blissful, in fact (not that common at most orchestra rehearsals). Edo seemed to be in a jovial mood (and actually quite surprised at the level of the orchestra); the whole atmosphere overall was pretty upbeat. I was relieved, and started to get very enthusiastic about the next steps. The committee quickly passed out the little survey forms to the orchestra, so we could get a prompt reading on their general impressions.

Immediately after the second rehearsal (the one I was actually there for) the committee had a long dinner/discussion with Mr. de Waart. We had done our homework, and saw this as a great opportunity to further explore some of the areas we had researched involving both his artistic strengths, perceived weaknesses (by some), and his own viewpoints on a wide variety of matters. I found it promising that he strongly encouraged us to have a genuine dialogue, no matter how blunt we needed to be; the questions were quite direct but respectful, and he seemed genuinely honest and fairly comprehensive with his answers. By the end it seemed clear which direction things were headed, especially when we saw the surveys returned by the orchestra members.

Barely one year had passed since the search had started. At the next committee meeting (I think it was the next day) we tried to hash it all out. The main question was if we wanted to go for it and end the search much earlier than we’d anticipated, or wait until we could resolve some minimal questions, get him in for a concert in April, and continue the search in the meantime. There were a number of elements to consider (artistic and otherwise) and time was of the essence. It became very clear that there was a huge upside for the MSO if we were to appoint him as our next MD, and almost no downside even if it wasn’t the miraculous fit everyone hoped for. Consider that:

– The MSO would get Edo de Waart, which would shock a lot of people and be fairly newsworthy, instantly elevate the orchestra’s profile, and most likely be a huge artistic success on many levels.

– If we acted quickly, the timing could not be better, as the MSO approaches its 50th anniversary season (08-09), which is also the final season for outgoing Music Director Andreas Delfs. The new appointment could thus integrated as part of the overall marketing strategy for the 50th anniversary season, which had not been announced yet. If we waited, we would lose that advantage, and likely have Mr. de Waart for far fewer weeks in his first season; we couldn’t expect him to hold weeks for us in 09-10 while we spent months making up our minds.

– Both the above would ensure a smooth artistic transition; Mr. de Waart would conduct a couple of weeks in 08-09, and 12 weeks in 09-10 (his first “official” year with us). So no “interim” issues.

On the downside, maybe it wouldn’t be so great after all. But even if something unforeseen got in the way of a massive artistic upswing, we’d still get some kind of “bump” on many levels for at least a couple of seasons, and then (maybe) everyone moves on. Meanwhile the institution still benefits overall, and hopefully so does Mr. de Waart.

By January it was quietly settled, although I’m not sure how relaxing the holiday season was for Mark Hanson (our Executive Director) or Larry Tucker (our VP of Artistic Planning). They were now responsible for negotiating a mutually beneficial contract, which is sometimes not as easy as it sounds, even with everything looking good going in. Predictably (and thankfully), everyone involved expertly navigated the process. The announcement was made to the orchestra at a rehearsal on January 2 (to audible gasps and hearty applause), and made public the next day.

I’m happy to report that Edo de Waart seems thrilled to be our next Music Director, and already has immersed himself fully in artistic planning and a host of other issues involving the MSO, despite his demanding schedule. The city of Milwaukee and the musicians of the MSO are very much looking forward to his first “official” week with us in two weeks, as well as many seasons to come.

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