As the list of possible future music directors for the Philadelphia Orchestra remains dangerously short, the young Montrealer Yannick Nézet-Séguin returns for a second visit to the podium this week. I can't decide which is more worrisome at this point in the process - the possibility that the orchestra will take a big chance on an unproven talent, or the very real likelihood that the person offered the job will say no.
That said, I'm not sold on Nézet-Séguin, even if his stock is high. Industry sources say he will soon be announced as the Metropolitan Opera's new principal guest conductor. Even if that doesn't pan out, his career has clearly clicked, with major guest appearances all over in the near future.
Meanwhile, the orchestra still has said nothing publicly about its search criteria. Does it want the best possible conductor? A box-office star? A good fund-raiser? About the only time anyone publicly mentioned a specific desired quality was during the orchestra's annual meeting in September, when one board member said the organization was aiming for someone "young." Strange, isn't it - the idea of a major orchestra, one that hopes to affirm its place as one of the world's best, saying that age matters?
Seems to me that unless the process takes into account several key factors, the orchestra risks another partnership that will never quite get off the ground.
So, let's hope:
- That the music-director decision is made for purely musical reasons,
- that there is a clear consensus from the listening public and musicians for the person appointed,
- that the chosen conductor has an established rapport with the ensemble and the public,
- that no one is appointed until after having played three or four programs with the orchestra,
- and that the decision is made after the orchestra has worked with the largest possible field of candidates.
Not satisfying any one of these criteria means taking a moderate risk. Not meeting more than one would have the orchestra, once again, rebuilding itself upon a very shaky foundation.