Perambulating the Bounds

Friday, September 01, 2006

Leonard Slatkin in Nashville

So the Nashville Symphony is opening its new hall, which really should mark a new era for the orchestra. The group will sound better in this building. They’ll be able to hear themselves better, and presumably any weaknesses will be audible. And it may bring in larger audiences. The LA effect.
The next step is to fill the music director’s slot, a process that takes a long time in symphonies. Kenneth Schermerhorn died in April 2005, leaving the orchestra without a leader for the next season. The search continues this year, but the symphony just announced that they have signed up Leonard Slatkin as “musical adviser” for 3 years. According to Jonathan Marx’s article on it, he’s going to help with the director search and with some of the key music director duties: “programming future seasons, hiring musicians and selecting guest artists and conductors.”
Getting Slatkin involved with Nashville is a coup. They hired him for a recording, then the opening gala, and then got the idea for this extended relationship. Slatkin has a reputation for having built up St. Louis and continuing to improve the reputation of the National Symphony (that was my orchestra as a kid, and in the pre-Rostropovich days it was definitely in a tier below groups to the north).
My first thought is they are trying to pull a Gordon Gee here. Gee had only been at Brown a year or so when the people at Vanderbilt contacted him for advice. Apparently they got to talking and decided he was the man for the Vandy job, offered him a lot of money and he got here in 2000. Is the Symphony trying the same thing? Sidle up to Leonard Slatkin to ask for advice and then try to convince him Nashville is the place he needs to go next.
This seems like it would be a harder sale than getting Gee to leave Brown for Vanderbilt. Brown and Vanderbilt are much more comparable in reputation than the 2 NSOs. There are fewer orchestras and thus a more well-defined hierarchy. So I imagine it would take more work to convince Slatkin to come here permanently. Maybe after he has “assisted” in hiring some musicians and seen what the group sounds like in the new hall, he’ll see big enough possibilities here.
Or they’ll do what they say they’re doing and hire someone who's making what seems more like a parallel move or a clear step up.

Update, Sept. 4: The New York Times weighs in about Nashville's hall. The tone is a little more skeptical. The Times arts pages are funny. They'll tease kind of provocative in their titles and then turn much softer and accomodating in the body. The title on this articles makes it sound like the piece says these halls are wasteful boondoogles, but it doesn't quite go there.

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