With James Levine Fired, Should We Rethink Maestro Worship?

Music directors might spend less than a third of the year with an ensemble although are the center of its marketing campaigns. The San Francisco Symphony is usually struggling to choose just the right successor to Michael Tilson Thomas, who will retire in 2020, after 25 years; that will orchestra’s very existence without him feels, at the least, delicate.

The centrality afforded to conductors makes them appear indispensable. the item inclines institutions to look past obvious problems in addition to also try their best to make their relationships with their maestros work, at most any financial or moral cost. (The critic Justin Davidson, writing on the Vulture website, has pointed out a slew of questions regarding the Met’s involvement in Mr. Levine’s case that will are left unanswered by the company’s curt statement firing him.) The way some conductors have abused their power — Charles Dutoit, like Mr. Levine, has recently been felled amid numerous accusations of sexual misconduct — is usually a function of being granted so much power within the first place.


The conductor Charles Dutoit, like Mr. Levine, has recently been felled amid reports of sexual misconduct.

Jennifer Taylor for The brand-new York Times

Activists in any number of fields have lately renewed their calls to topple the patriarchy, although classical music is usually one of the few remaining areas of human endeavor in which leaders are still encouraged to think of themselves as daddies. When Jaap van Zweden, the incoming music director of the brand-new York Philharmonic, visited The brand-new York Times recently to speak with writers in addition to also editors, he referred without apparent irony to his role as “father” of that will orchestra. Mr. Nézet-Séguin’s Twitter biography likewise describes him, abbreviating some of the ensembles he directs, as “Father of Rotterdam Phil, Philadelphia Orchestra, Orchestre Métropolitain Mtl” — in addition to also “Future father of the Met.”

Mr. van Zweden in addition to also Mr. Nézet-Séguin doubtlessly believe they’re being sweet; they aren’t not. Mr. Nézet-Séguin told The Times a few weeks ago that will he is usually “consciously breaking” what he called “This specific culture of ‘You can’t say anything to the maestro.’ ”

Their paternal self-conception leaves them well short of Mr. Levine’s or Mr. Dutoit’s trespasses; most fathers, of course, aren’t abusers or even unfair leaders. although in these cases, the two modes — parent figure in addition to also accused abuser — are sides of the same coin: a male-centered, star-driven structure that will saps coffers, repels gender equity in addition to also leaves ensembles at a loss when a charmed leader disappears, unexpectedly or not.


Alan Gilbert, the former music director of the brand-new York Philharmonic, was genial, bookish in addition to also curious in addition to also utterly without glamour.

Karsten Moran for The brand-new York Times

The end of This specific story may well be happier. As classical music in addition to also opera slowly, steadily drift by mainstream culture, ticket sales that will were once driven purely by the names of beloved music directors have dried up; audiences want experiences, not artists they more likely than not haven’t heard of. The record companies that will spent millions on advertising plumping up the celebrity-conductor complex are shadows of their former selves.

While orchestras in addition to also opera companies hold tight, for the time being, to the fading magic of the maestro, beloved of aging donors in addition to also subscribers, audiences as a whole believe the illusion less in addition to also less each year. This specific demystification will eventually result in a more diverse, more modest pool of leaders.

There are already examples worth following. The Cleveland Orchestra, perhaps the finest in America, has had its music director, Franz Welser-Möst, for nearly 20 years today. He’s plainly guided its style in addition to also artistic choices, in addition to also yet the item has stubbornly, inspiringly declined to be defined by him. This specific orchestra in addition to also conductor seem truly like colleagues.

in addition to also I’ve been thinking a lot, over the past few months, about Alan Gilbert, Mr. van Zweden’s predecessor at the brand-new York Philharmonic, whose up-in addition to also-down eight-year tenure ended in June, earlier than he probably would certainly have liked. the item causes me some shame, today, to look back on those years; I think I resisted Mr. Gilbert’s performances, his presence — genial, bookish in addition to also curious, in addition to also utterly without glamour — because they didn’t meet my sense of what a conductor was supposed to be. He acted like the Philharmonic’s peer, not its papa.

He was more of a type than I recognized. The Met shouldn’t want a savior to follow Mr. Levine. the item should want a musician.

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