New Year, new boss

On Wednesday we were informed that Edo de Waart would become our next
music director
. This came as something of a surprise to most of us. We
knew that some kind of interim position was under consideration, and he
had come in to do two so-called “secret rehearsals” in December, so
something was obviously up.

Most members of the orchestra regard this as very good news, I think. He’s arguably the best-known conductor we’ve ever had as music director (certainly the one with the most illustrious career prior to coming here). In fact we have rarely had conductors of his stature even as guests. And the orchestra reacted very positively to him when he was here in December. People were also relieved that the orchestra would be able to avoid being without a music director for a season or two, which is always death for ticket sales.

Will it “work”? It shows all the makings of working musically.  As I said, the orchestra was very happy about what they saw in December. And while his public words of praise for the orchestra were what one would expect, I though I saw genuine surprise and pleasure about the quality of the orchestra from him when he was here in December – a reaction I’ve seen many times before from first-time visitors to the MSO. Perhaps they’ve seen too many “LaVerne and Shirley” re-runs, but the quality of this orchestra does seem to be a closely-guarded secret in the business.

De Waart has a reputation as an orchestra builder, based in this country on what happened in San Francisco and Minnesota during his tenures there. In San Francisco he had the advantage of being able to replace about one-third of the orchestra when the opera orchestra split off to become full-time, but of course that still involved hiring the right replacements. The improvement in Minnesota resulted less from personnel changes than from simple hard work and high standards, I suspect. Milwaukee is a very good orchestra that wants to be better, so there’s good reason to be optimistic that de Waart will have a very positive impact here too.

In some ways de Waart looks like the anti-Delfs, in the way that music director picks often appear to be the opposite of their predecessors.  This was Delf’s first major position; de Waart was very open about his belief that this will be his last. Delfs was about half de Waart’s age at the time of his appointment. And they seem to have different strengths musically (although it’s hard to tell much on the basis of two rehearsals other than that de Waart is a very good conductor). But there are interesting similarities as well. Both have a strong interest and background in opera. They hail from cities all of 300 miles apart. They both served as assistant conductors at major American orchestras under major American conductors. They both have young families, and they both live within commuting distance of Milwaukee.

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