Charismatic Conductors

There have been quite a few changes on the orchestral scene recently and I have picked up references to three conductors who have mounted the podium for the first time as musical directors of orchestras. The most sensational of them is of course the 28 year old Venezuelan, Gustavo Dudamel, who has featured in these blogs before (and in many other places!). He opened his tenure as director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic last week with a formidable programme of Mahler and John Cage, conducting without a score and receiving a ten minute standing ovation with the final work. ‘Here was a probing, rigorous and richly characterised interpretation’ wrote the New York Times music critic.

Here at home my local orchestra, The Bournemouth Symphony, was conducted by the Ukranian Kirill Karabits for the first time in his role as their chief conductor . Fiona Maddocks from The Sunday Observer was there, and she gave him and what she describes as ‘this fine orchestra’, an enthusiastic review.

She called it ‘an exhilarating debut which won a rapturous response from the capacity audience’. Andrew Clements in The Guardian was more cautious and complained that the performance of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring lacked ’a sense of overall organisation’ and strained the resources of the orchestra. The same orchestra, but different perceptions. I heard Karabits conducting his new orchestra last year ( see December ) and was impressed, and will be hearing this new combination again later this month.

There’s a new duo in Scotland as well. Donald Runnicles is now the chief conductor of the B.B.C. Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Rowena Smith reviewed a recent concert in the City Halls, Glasgow. Mahler’s 1st Symphony was the main work, as it had been in Los Angeles a few days before. The critic was impressed and, it ‘bodes well for the future’ she concludes.

With a passing reference to the number of young conductors around – Krabbitts is 32 – she says that despite the excitement of youth, Scotland has opted for experience. Runnicles has also come home. Scottish by birth, he has many positions of responsibility in America and Europe, some of which remain and has a considerable operatic reputation.

An interesting week with perhaps rather too much attention to the figure on the rostrum. Whatever the charisma of the man or woman out in front, its the players who make the music. Despite the enormous enthusiasm for Dudamel, it is significent that he accepted the applause by standing not alone, but with the orchestra.