The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Playing musical chairs in The Big Apple: The New Yorker magazine gives you the dirt on who might succeed James Levine at the Metropolitan Opera and Alan Gilbert at the New York Philharmonic. | October 4, 2015

By Jacob Stockinger

They are two of the most high-profile jobs in the world of classical music and they are both in New York City: the music director of the Metropolitan Opera and the music director of the New York Philharmonic.

And right now candidates are being examined as possible successors to their current heads, James Levine and Alan Gilbert respectively.

According to a story in The New Yorker magazine, one major player reportedly is the acclaimed firebrand and openly gay French-Canadian conductor Yannick Nezet-Seguin (below, in a photo by Hiroyuki Ito for Getty Images), who currently heads the Philadelphia Orchestra. Guess which post he is a candidate for?


Another major candidate seems to be the conductor-composer Esa-Pekka Salonen (below). Can you guess for which post?


The Ear asks: Whatever happened to American candidates?

Are we going backwards from the Leonard Bernstein achievement of putting American maestros on a par with European or other foreign conductors?

To be fair, though, some report that Bernstein protégée Marin Alsop, currently music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, could be a contender for the New York Philharmonic post.

Anyway, the recent New Yorker magazine had a very good take on the game of musical chairs being played around the two major vacancies.

The story shows careful research and excellent deep sourcing. But it also reads a bit like an engagingly conversational gossip column.

Maybe that is because it is written not by music critic Alex Ross but by Russell Platt, who is the classical music editor for the Goings On About Town column that starts the magazine.

Here is a link to an excellent read and what seems to be a pretty good crystal ball about the future leaders of the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic.

It’s great reading for a Sunday afternoon. Enjoy!


  1. Another note on America’s major orchestras. The New Yorker article linked really sounds quite provincial, doesn’t it?

    Maybe what is noteworthy now is that the other major orchestras in America have eclipsed the scene in NYC. First, there’s the kid maestro in NYC’s main rival city, the hated L.A.

    Also on the West Coast is an orchestra which has had the same leader for decades and has become one of the country’s great symphony orchestras: The San Francisco Symphony under Michael Tilson Thomas.

    And there’s also a very good symphony in Seattle.

    Moving inward, the CSO has an excellent (world- renowned) Italian conductor who seems quite happy there.

    And the group on Boston (which has the largest endowment of any orchestra anywhere) has a lively new conductor and it has always been known for innovation.

    And like it or not, Baltimore, of all places, has had outstanding conductors recently with Marin Alsop and before her, David Zinman.

    And there’s that group in Philadelphia.

    So, maybe the question should be: is NYC all that pivotal any more?

    Comment by foodloversofchiangmai — October 4, 2015 @ 2:06 am

  2. Gossipy indeed. And some low blows too. Like this one directed at Yannick Nézet-Séguin, present conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra:

    “The orchestra’s (Philadelphia) upcoming program at Carnegie Hall—an evening of post-Romantic European nationalism that begins with Grieg’s “Peer Gynt” Suite No. 1, a work that major orchestras usually perform nowadays as a pops piece—could have been beamed in from the nineteen-forties.”

    Ouch! That makes it sound like it is old, outdated and worse, “pop” (shocking!), right? In fact, here is the entire program and note that it is well-selected, balanced and features quite modern composers, contrary to the scandalous gossip spread in the article:

    GRIEG Suite No. 1 from Peer Gynt
    BARTÓK Violin Concerto No. 2
    SIBELIUS Symphony No. 5

    It’s pretty easy to tell which conductor is the writer’s favorite: Esa-Pekka Salonen. But he may NOT be the pick at the Philharmonic for several reasons: even the article indicates, he’s interested in composing now. He can do that in his current post but would not have much time if he is the full time conductor.

    I also think that if the Philharmonic is smart, they will move heaven and earth to get Marin Alsop. She’s smart, has world-wide connections, has done well in recording (with many honors and accolades), wowed everyone at the BBC proms for 2 years, and is a terrific educator, etc. And, she’s an American.

    She is a woman, of course, and for the rather stodgy New York audiences and their even stodgier sources of funding (see the article in question) that is not a positive. She might be better off in a place that is more innovative.

    Comment by foodloversofchiangmai — October 4, 2015 @ 12:49 am

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