Nothing but a Number

September 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

I promise that I will talk about more than just music directors at some point in the future, but today two separate articles about the same thing caught my eye. It was announced that Christoph Eschenbach would have his contract with the National Symphony Orchestra extended, after just one year of the orchestra, and Leonard Slatkin (who, by coincidence, was the immediate past music director of the National Symphony) is starting talks to extend his contract with Detroit.

These stories, alone or together, aren’t really earth shattering, but what is interesting to note is that Eschenbach is 71 and Slatkin is 67 — ages that by normal circumstances would qualify these men to be enjoying retirement by sipping Mai Tais on a beach in Maui. Age discrimination in the hiring process is illegal, and I’d like to think that conductors age like cheese or fine wine. Yet, extending the contract of an MD is expected to bring about stability for an orchestra, but in light of the recent troubles Boston had with JamesLevine’s ailing health, who is 68, I begin to wonder if an extended contract with a well-matured MD is a worry more than a safety net.

Eugene Ormandy served as MD of the Philadelphia Orchestra until he was he was 80, and others have conducted to ages older than that. Eschenbach and Slatkin will probably flourish and make music for many years to come. Regardless, even though age is a touchy subject and no reason to count anyone out, it’s a reality. As for any of the truly stable (read: truly unstable) facets of the arts world I wonder: how much effort is put into, perhaps, a contingency plan?

– Stephanie


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