CSO conductors, 08-09 season

To sum up the Columbus Symphony Orchestra 2008-2009 Winter season, the following is a chronological review of our guest conductors (who were also music director candidates), along with my personal opinions of them.

DAVID LOCKINGTON, music director of the Grand Rapids Symphony since 1999, and the Modesto Symphony in CA since 2007, conducted Tchaikovsky's 4th symphony with us. He didn't seem to make a lasting impression on me or the orchestra. Lockington seemed detached from the music and its emotions, though the orchestra, in our usual fashion, added what was missing and played well, despite not having played together for months.

EDWIN OUTWATER, music director of the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, led us in Beethoven 8th Symphony, a Mozart piano concerto and David Diamond's Rounds for Strings. He is known for his innovative programming ideas, as that program showed. His abilities off the podium are also impressive. But the orchestra had trouble playing well under his guidance. Beethoven's 8th is very tricky for conductors, with "in the cracks" tempos and style, neither here nor there. Too slow and it's logy, too fast and it's comical. Outwater tried too hard to make the music his own, in my opinion, rather than letting it develop on its own with our help.

French Canadian JEAN-MARIE ZEITOUNI, who conducts Les Violons di Roi, conducted Rossini's Semiramis Overture, Mozart's Jupiter Symphony, Elgar Violin Concerto. If you read this blog regularly, you know my opinion of him. (I wrote about him HERE and also HERE and HERE.)

If we need to hire someone young and upcoming to save money, Zeitouni is our man. He is brilliant, speaking some 7 languages. His ear is excellent. It's rare that a conductor will suggest pitch corrections to orchestra members, knowing the potential backlash, especially if they're wrong. But Zeitouni had the confidence to do so, successfully.

Though much of the music was new to him, we wouldn't know it by working with him. He sized up the pieces and their necessary rehearsal structure without blinking.

The Semiramis Overture of Rossini is notoriously difficult both for conductor and orchestra. He didn't baby us with his tempos, asking for "Toscanini" speeds. But he also kept the players from rushing their parts, a great temptation in fast tempos. (funny, you'd think the opposite would be true, to drag when asked to play fast, but that's not usually the case)

In one short conversation I had with him, he told me he had sized up the situation in Columbus as well, and already knew how he would proceed if he were asked to head the CSO.

Several key players in our orchestra predict a star-studded career for Jean-Marie Zeitouni. I agree. With his gifts, his relative lack of experience won't slow him down.

The music director from the San Diego Symphony, YAHYA LING, took the driver's seat for Dvorak 8th and the Brahms 2nd Piano Concerto, soloist Emmanuel Ax. Ling is the real thing: calm, sure, stable. He inspired us with detailed analysis of the music's style and performance tradition. Having worked with the Cleveland Orchestra for many years, he has inherited their great tradition.

THIERRY FISCHER did a French program (Debussy Noctunes, Frank D minor Symphony). I was very impressed with him. His European training and upbringing molded him into an effective and confident musician. Unfortunately, along with that high tradition came some professional condescension and patronizing, not a good way to win respect in our Midwestern culture.

Hailing form Mexico, via private schooling in England and New York, ALONDRA DE LA PARRA recently formed her own orchestra in NYC- Philharmonic of the Americas, which features new music and players from the American Continent. She also did a 20th Century program with us, Jennifer Higdon's stunning and relatively new Concerto for Orchestra, Copland Danza Cubano and Gershwin's Piano Concerto in F. In my review of that week, I barely mentioned de la Parra, instead focusing on Higdon's music, which I LOVE.

De la Parra donned a smartly tailored suit with sparkling rhinestone buttons in the performance. She is certainly impressive to watch, and seemed to have the undivided attention of all the men in the orchestra (and perhaps the audience). Her astounding confidence was infectious.

But her confidence was not infectious enough to help us navigate some very dicey rhythms in Copland's Danza Cubano. When she sang the rhythms to us in demonstration, they were extremely fast and rushed, surely not the way she wanted us to play them. Several orchestra members, including myself, went to speak to her about the critical importance of rhythmic stability to keep the ensemble together. Luckily she listened. But it left me wondering.

In the piano concerto, de la Parra had trouble following the soloist, at times stepping on his toes with an orchestral entrance after a piano solo section. During some orchestra tutti passages with solo lines, de la Parra seemed impatient for the music to happen faster than it was. It left us uneasy, not a productive feeling for seasoned players capable of so much.

Overall, her verve and style created a very exciting performance.

Finally, GEORGE MANAHAN ended our season with a bang, or I should say, a fateful knocking at the door. He directed us in Beethoven Leonore #3, the Piano Concerto #3, and the 5th Symphony.

Manahan is my kind of conductor: experienced, knowledgeable, efficient, clear, respectful and also worthy of respect. And the cherry on top? He achieves exciting performances.

Friends of mine who regularly attend our concerts told me how great the orchestra sounded, how well he followed the soloist, and how exciting the overall effect was.

A decade of running the NYC Opera has honed his extensive experience running a large arts organization in the US. He's also an American who regularly conducts and runs American orchestras. He knows how they tick, inside and out.

Listen to his interview with Christopher Purdy HERE, to hear him speak. He is confident, informative and interesting.

So, don't let me sway you. 🙂 Who would you pick for our next music director?

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2 comments for “CSO conductors, 08-09 season

  1. June 10, 2009 at

    @anne melvin: Hello Anne- Thank you for your supportive comment, and for all you do to help good music continue in Columbus.

  2. anne melvin
    June 10, 2009 at


    Thank you for taking the time to assess all of the conductor candidates. I wish we could clone several of them, although I do not see Manahan in rhinestones, or de la Parra in Zeituni’s tails.

    Keep up the wonderful work you do. You make so many lovely things happen for all of us!

    anne melvin

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