Monday, 21 October 2013

My (unsolicited) advice for the CBSO

This post is going to be short (-ish) and to the point. My opinion on these matters counts for very little but I have the following advice for the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra: sign up Edward Gardner to be your next Music Director and spend no more time searching for the 'next big thing'.

The following is an extract from my most recent review of the orchestra under Gardner (from The concert featured Mendelssohn's fourth and fifth symphonies:

"I was struck, as on previous occasions, by the way in which Gardner generates excitement in symphonies: choosing an over-arching tempo that is just right for a movement with subtle, if any, deviations, ensuring that the architecture of the music is very much in evidence through careful balancing and then really injecting energy and drive into climactic moments."

Earlier in the review I compared him favourably to Bernard Haitink in this respect. I do not make that comparison lightly and there are few younger conductors worthy of it. As with the elder conductor, Gardner is conservative in his gestures - there is nothing flashy or superfluous. 

In contrast with the majority of the Birmingham audience and critical press, it has taken quite some time for me to warm to the present (and now outgoing) Music Director, Andris Nelsons. I had difficulty overlooking his extravagant podium manner (jumping, grunting, leaning on the rail and baton passing are just some of the mannerisms I continue to disapprove of) as it is so alien to my own training and influences. However, it became clear that Nelsons has an extraordinary rapport with the orchestra and an obvious passion for music that is not at all self-serving. His way with dramatic and Romantic music is quite astonishing. I don't think I will ever witness finer accounts of Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances or Tchaikovsky's Manfred Symphony than his in my lifetime.

Where I think Nelsons is least successful, so far, is in the symphonic repertoire. I have seen and/or heard his Beethoven, Brahms, Dvorak and Mahler and not been terribly convinced. His unique ability to lovingly draw out the singing quality of phrases that many of us might overlook can be at the expense of the overall architecture of symphonic music. The results are often ravishing and spectacular, but not necessarily organic.

I do not wish to bring these two conductors into direct comparison. For one thing, I have not seen or heard Gardner in Beethoven, Brahms or Dvorak. However, his way with symphonies is uncommonly good, which is no mean feat in combination with his fine reputation in the opera house. Excellence in both the symphonic and the operatic is actually rather unusual. It was also obvious on Saturday that Gardner has a good rapport with the CBSO players, who played magnificently for him.

These are just some of the reasons why I offer up my (unsolicited) recommendation. I am sure there are logistical reasons why the choice would not be straightforward. For instance, Gardner begins his Principal Conductor post with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra in 2015 and he remains Music Director at English National Opera so he may well be too busy. Also, I don't suppose it would be the 'done thing' for an orchestra to promote their Principal Guest Conductor in this way. Nevertheless, think of being able to have homegrown talent once again at the helm of this very fine British orchestra, not to mention the prospect of having a well-known British record label at hand to record their adventures.

Well, that's my twopence worth. I have no conflict of interest to declare. I have no connection to Gardner whatsoever and have never met the man. My only interest is in my local orchestra making the right choice! Of course, there may be some unknown, hot property waiting in the wings to be snapped up by the orchestra over the next year or so. Who knows - perhaps they already have been...

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