Where's the buzz?
Riccardo Muti starts as music director of the Chicago Symphony, and the classical music press congregates in Chicago. Christoph Eschenbach starts as music director of the National Symphony Orchestra, and I don’t see a single out-of-town journalist at either the season-opening gala or the start of the regular season -- unless you count Tim Smith, of the Baltimore Sun, as “out-of-town.” Even the local coverage seems relatively scanty. DC Arts Beat also reviewed the opening gala, and Charles Downey reviewed the regular-season opener on DCist, and Tom Huizenga of NPR also wrote about it. (There was a big advance piece in Washington City Paper, but I haven’t seen a review.) No reviews from the Examiner; the Washington Times; TBD.com? No entries on other local blogs? Where's the buzz, the conversation, the interest? Have you seen others that I’ve missed? Send them in.
(read more after the jump)
You could say that Muti is, at the moment, a bigger star than Eschenbach, but the two approximately coeval conductors (Muti turns 70 next summer) have a lot in common. Both have significant international reputations. Both divide opinion, with passionate partisans and harsh critics; Muti is currently riding a wave of popularity, but there have been times when Eschenbach was the flavor of the month. Both are former music directors of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Both have been stung when they had to leave prominent music directorships earlier than anticipated (Eschenbach in Philadelphia, Muti at La Scala). Both unexpectedly took American music directorships this fall, and both are being welcomed rapturously by very happy musicians.
Whatever you think of their relative merits, frankly, part of the contrast between these two debuts has to do with simple PR. I’m talking about buzz. I’m talking about giving a free concert to the citizens of your new city (as the LA Philharmonic had Gustavo Dudamel do last year, and the Chicago Symphony did with Muti this year). I’m talking about attracting the national press -- at least getting a critic from the AP to show up for your music director’s first concerts with your new orchestra, so that newspapers around the country can pick it up.
Why can’t the National Symphony Orchestra, with the whole power of the Kennedy Center behind it, attract more attention for one of the biggest events in its history? Eschenbach is introducing some fine new ideas during his first weeks here: live music as part of post-concert discussions, a free concert at the Millennium Stage with him, the violinist Christian Tetzlaff, and NSO musicians on October 8. But I find it surprising that nobody at the Kennedy Center came up with a new way to kick off the tenure of their new music director: rather, it was the same gala and regular-season opener they do every year.
I'm sure there are excuses: scheduling difficulties, previous commitments, a lack of a national music press to appeal to. Nonetheless, it seems to me that this was a missed opportunity to spotlight our country's "national" orchestra and its important new conductor. What do you think?
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