Thursday, August 18, 2016

Lionel Bringuier, Riccardo Chailly, and the Conductor timetable

It has just been announced that Lionel Bringuier has not been renewed at the Tonhalle Orchestra in Zurich, Switzerland. He was 26 when he began his tenure there, and will be done after four years, which is short by most standards. His tenure as an assistant to Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic was wildly successful, but the plaudits from one city don't always translate to another.

Riccardo Chailly was 26 when he conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic in Stravinsky's Le Sacre du printemps.  Audiences and critics were underwhelmed.

That was 1979. Chailly has since gone on to become one of the finest conductors in the world today. His performance a few years ago with the Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig (on tour in the U.S.) of Strauss's Don Juan was one of the most thrilling performances I have ever heard, of any work.  I have conducted the work several times, but this performance made me want to rush home and look at my score, to see all of the wonderful details that Chailly had brought into a new light. This was great conducting, with a great orchestra. (The Gewandhaus, the oldest orchestra in the world, whose first conductor was Felix Mendelssohn, is generally not regarded as highly as the great orchestras in Berlin, Vienna, Amsterdam and the United States, but it was hard to tell on this evening.)

Will Bringuier, like Chailly, go on to become a great conductor?   Only time will tell. But with rare exceptions - such as Dudamel, Andris Nelsons, Lahav Shani, and Esa Pekka Salonen and Simon Rattle before them, great conducting takes time. Leonard Bernstein became a great conductor long after his music directorship with the New York Philharmonic. In his forties, Carlo Maria Guilini was a very fine conductor; in his sixties, his conducting became otherworldly.

One more thing about Chailly . . .  I met with him after the concert, and he could not have been more welcoming, more engaging, or more generous with his time.  A real mensch.  The truly great artists, such as Yo Yo Ma and Guilini, share this quality.  We can only hope that Chailly makes more visits to the U.S. in the near future.

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