Newslets are compiled with the help of ICSOM delegates and ICSOM Members at Large from sources that include direct submissions, member orchestra websites, and topical news items. The editor encourages input and submissions.
The National Symphony Orchestra’s new Principal Guest Conductor, Ivan Fischer, of the Budapest Festival Orchestra, has led two subscription programs so far this season. One of them, an all-Mendelssohn program, was part of the Shakespeare in Washington Festival, a multi-disciplinary event involving most of the city’s arts organizations in events highlighting the connection between various art forms and Shakespeare’s work. Other recent artistic highlights included a concert performance of Salome featuring Deborah Voigt. On another front, delegate Jeff Weisner reports that the music director search committee is continuing its work of seeking a successor to Leonard Slatkin, who will leave at the end of the 2007–2008 season.
The New York City Ballet Orchestra is winding down its first winter season with their new music director, Faycal Karoui. Karoui has conducted several outstanding performances, including a recent all-Stravinsky program that contained Agon, Monumentum Pro Gesualdo, Movements for Piano and Orchestra, and Symphony in Three Movements. This spring, he will conduct a new choreographic production of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet to begin the season. Karoui has expressed his determination to bring the City Ballet Orchestra out of the pit and onto the stage for orchestral concerts. The company will travel to Washington, D.C. for a week of performances at Kennedy Center and will return for three weeks to its summer home in Saratoga Springs, New York.
According to delegate Ethan Silverman, City Ballet Orchestra musicians are grappling with the health insurance crisis that has infected many Local 802 musicians, when their union-administered “Plan A” virtually disintegrated without warning at the beginning of this year. The orchestra committee and an appointed sub-committee are busy trying to find alternatives.
San Francisco Opera Orchestra delegate Leslie Ludena reports that the San Francisco Opera continues to make positive financial and artistic strides. In October, Mrs Jeannik Littlefield, a longtime subscriber and former board member, made a gift of $35 million, the largest private donation ever received by the company, with no restrictions placed on the funds. Nicola Luisotti has been chosen to become the new music director, starting in 2009. The appointment has generated much excitement among musicians and patrons alike. Also, there will be a simulcast of Mozart’s Don Giovanni during the 2007 summer season, the third such live event in the last year. So far the performances have proved to be very popular, with the average outdoor attendance of around 10,000.
The musicians of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra ratified an extension of their current contract, guaranteeing a $30 weekly salary increase for the 2007–2008 season and the continuation of the Anthem Blue Cross health insurance policy. Their management and board have agreed to continue to pay the full cost of single and family premiums through January 31, 2008, when the existing policy expires; a 10% cap on increases will then apply. (The health insurance premium increase this season was around 30%.) As the board and management embark on an aggressive deficit reduction and capital drive, the extension enables the organization to stabilize finances as well as giving both sides the opportunity to examine possible health care alternatives before full negotiations in 2008.
In other news, the Cincinnati Symphony performed a special event concert conducted by Valery Gergiev on February 22, 2007. The program featured Stravinsky’s Petrouchka and Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony. The large audience responded enthusiastically to both pieces. Music Director Paavo Järvi invited Gergiev to conduct when, in 2003, the Cincinnati Symphony and Maestro Gergiev’s St. Petersburg orchestra were on tour in Japan at the same time.
A recent Nashville Opera performance of Aida, featuring the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, was threatened by two unrelated elevator incidents in the same evening. The first involved three orchestra musicians who shared a parking garage elevator with opera fans. The crowded elevator, which had exceeded its 20-person capacity, became stuck between floors before its final stop. Keiko Nagayoshi (violin), Radu Rusu (horn), and Dan Vidican (horn) were pulled from the lift 45 minutes later by emergency firefighters wielding axes. They were able to join their colleagues in the pit just ten minutes after the downbeat. They were not docked.
A short time later, a blocked loading dock forced two dromedary camels to make their entrance for the second act’s Triumphal March scene through the musicians’ entrance. Lacy, the smaller of the two, was easily loaded onto the backstage elevator, but the door was not quite tall enough to accommodate Callie’s big hump. After a 15-minute struggle, during which no one was harmed, the elevator doors were finally closed on the reluctant pair, with NSO musicians quietly witnessing the spectacle. Later, emerging from the pit, they were glad to find that the hallway had been cleaned and deodorized.
There is much activity surrounding the San Antonio Symphony. The first post-bankruptcy contract negotiations began in March, and searches are underway for a music director, an artistic advisor, and a resident conductor. The artistic advisor would be an interim position to fulfill music director duties after Larry Rachleff’s tenure ends in 2008. The music director search is being conducted by a nine-member committee, composed of three board members, the CEO, one community representative, and four staff musicians.
The orchestra committee of the SASO is concentrating on creating positive PR and network-building. It has beefed up the musicians’ online offerings by adding a blog and an e-newsletter to the musician website. In keeping with its focus on PR, the orchestra committee took advantage of the AFM’s intensive on-site PR training session with Barbara Haig. According to delegate Emily Watkins, as the first orchestra to receive the on-site version of this training seminar, they enthusiastically recommend it.
Concluding a three-year search, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra announced that Jaap van Zweden will assume the music director position in the 2008–2009 season. Jaap van Zweden hails from the Netherlands and is the former concertmaster of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. As music director designate, he will conduct the DSO for three weeks next season. After that, he will conduct 12 weeks in 2008–2009 and 15 weeks in each of the following three seasons. Even though the musicians of the DSO have worked with van Zweden only once (in February 2006), there is much excitement over his appointment. The DSO will record the works for piano and orchestra by George Gershwin with pianist Anne-Marie McDermott and conductor Justin Brown this spring. The recording will be released by Bridge Records.
In October 2005, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra launched its own e-label, MSO Classics, and became the first American orchestra to distribute recordings previously unavailable for purchase through digital music stores. A check of the MSO’s online Symphony Store shows another first: download-only binaural recordings. MSO’s binaural recordings are largely the idea of Robert Levine, who is the orchestra’s principal violist, president of Local 8, and chairman emeritus of ICSOM. The binaural recording process uses a dummy head with a single microphone embedded in each ear canal. When the binaural recording is played back through headphones, the experience is said to reproduce very closely what would be heard during an actual concert if the listener were situated where the dummy head was during the recording. MSO’s first binaural recording, Saint-Saëns’s Symphony No. 3, is also being offered in a standard stereo version. The next binaural releases planned include Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 and Grieg’s first suite from Peer Gynt. MSO’s goal is to make 10 to 12 new binaural downloads available each year.
The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra recently completed a 10-day tour of Eastern Europe with Artistic Partner Roberto Abbado.
Delegate Lynn Erickson says that they traveled to Budapest, Zagreb, Maribor, Vienna, Warsaw, and Berlin. A live performance was broadcast by Minnesota Public Radio on January 23 from the Musikverein in Vienna. As part of an ongoing collaboration with Twin Cities Public Television, the orchestra was also accompanied by a film crew that is doing a documentary on the tour. The concerts were well-received by audiences and critics alike. Sadly, the SPCO mourns the loss of its dear friend and colleague, violist Alice Preves, who died of cancer on November 15, 2006. Her joyful spirit and wonderful musicianship will be greatly missed.
The Los Angeles Philharmonic is on a high brought on by a surprisingly seamless transition of music directors, according to delegate Meredith Snow. Although there was no formal search committee, their management worked quietly and effectively with the orchestra’s Artistic Liaison Committee. For several years, that committee has been distributing conductor evaluation questionnaires to each member of the orchestra after every guest conductor’s appearance. Those evaluations were taken very seriously by management. The overwhelmingly positive response to Gustavo Dudamel was virtually unanimous among the players.
The surprise dual announcement made to the orchestra regarding Esa-Pekka Salonen’s departure and Gustavo Dudamel’s arrival was stunning. Management and Salonen jointly informed the orchestra, even before telling the board of directors, and entrusted the orchestra to maintain silence so that there would be no press leaks. At the press conference where the dual announcement was made public, it was quite remarkable to see Salonen literally pass the baton to Dudamel. Officially, Salonen will step down at the conclusion of the 2008–2009 season, at which time he will have been music director for 17 years. Many orchestra members commented on the bittersweet nature of the news. Salonen is highly regarded by the members of the orchestra. Salonen has said that the LA Phil will always be a part of his life and that he will have a continuing relationship with the orchestra.
In February, Honolulu Symphony musicians welcomed ICSOM Chairperson Bruce Ridge and AFM SSD negotiator Nathan Kahn. Meetings with the orchestra, orchestra committee, local officers, and management, as well as radio interviews, kept Bruce and Nathan very busy. Delegate Steve Flanter relayed the orchestra’s appreciation of the visits, where both Bruce and Nathan gave advice about HSO’s upcoming negotiations while attempting to put things into the context of the larger orchestral community.
On March 6, after a search lasting more than two years, the Honolulu Symphony announced the appointment of Andreas Delfs as its new artistic leader. Signed to a three-year contract, Delfs will hold the title of principal conductor for two years, becoming music director in the 2009–2010 season. Delfs, currently music director of the Milwaukee Symphony, expressed his intention to raise the reputation of the HSO both locally and internationally, to learn about the culture and history of Hawaii, and to help establish a bond of trust with local audiences.