This morning, I heard an amusing “joke” from the music world that involves conductors. The Philadelphia Orchestra is currently looking for a new music director. While the search committee searches, conductor Charles Dutoit is acting as artistic director for them. The musicians apparently have been talking among themselves about how the choices for conductor have been winnowed down to one: “God.” The questions are, of course, who is God’s manager and how do they get God to come to Philly?
For any orchestra, the search for a new music director can be daunting. The American Symphony Orchestra League has guidelines (http://www.symphony.org) for the traits and skills expected in a music director as well as resources for search committees. The search process is no less daunting for a conductor who may or may not know that he/she is being considered. Here’s a general outline of my understanding of how it works:
— The music director gives his notice to the orchestra’s board of directors and executive director
— The orchestra’s board forms a search committee that includes board members and orchestra musicians. I imagine that as soon as the news hits about the music director leaving, artist managers that represent conductors may or may not be reminding the orchestra of their conductors.
— The search process is usually kept secret, at least until the finalists are agreed upon, and sometimes even then.
— The search committee proceeds to observe conductors who are available (although they observe conductors who have not indicated they’re available, too). They travel as well as attend the concerts of guest conductors at their orchestra. Sometimes they have a shortlist of conductors to start, but most of the time they are completely open. And depending on the orchestra, they might be looking for someone who’s been an associate conductor or someone who’s served as a music director of major orchestras. The Philly band, I suspect, is looking for someone experienced and not someone just starting out. But also, there is a general atmosphere out there among orchestra boards that they want the next big conductor, someone who’s charismatic, who will draw concert-goers and donors to them, someone who will generate a lot of excitement and publicity. Unfortunately, there are no guarantees. Someone who may appear to be the next big conductor could end up crashing and burning after a year or two, while someone who doesn’t appear to be that special one just might be after all….
— Ideally, the candidates conduct the orchestra at least once during the search process.
— Eventually, the search committee will present its recommendation(s) to the full board and the orchestra musicians and ask for feedback. Or, at this point, the committee nominates a single candidate and the board makes a decision about hiring or not. Different orchestras do this in different ways. Sometimes this part of the process can be contentious, and it’s important that the orchestra musicians approve the choice although they do not make the final decision (except, apparently, in Berlin where they have more influence).
— Finally, once the board of directors has chosen the candidate they want to hire, they offer him/her the job. Or they decide to abolish the music director position and establish a policy of hiring guest conductors throughout the season, as the Vienna Philharmonic has done for years.
For conductors, every time they step onto the podium to conduct, it is an audition. Someone at any time could be watching them to see if they would be an orchestra’s next music director. If a conductor knows that he’s being considered, then it’s the waiting, waiting, waiting for the final decision.
Evan Quinn in Perceval works as a guest conductor and does not have his own orchestra. However, he is very much in the public eye and I think eventually he will be offered a music directorship. In the meantime, he’s not thinking too much about it, although like any conductor he’d like his own orchestra, and he just keeps working.
Not unlike a writer waiting to hear from an editor or agent.