Thursday, 9 June 2016

Not so much power?

I've read some things about what Yannick might do as the Met's music director, when finally he starts that job.

(Can't stop myself from calling the guy what the Philly Orchestra calls him, though I've never met him, and couldn't in my wildest dreams imagine that I'd write about Muti and call him "Riccardo." The power of marketing for a new era!)

yannick blogIn some of what I've read, there seems to be an assumption that Yannick will have a lot of power.

But I wonder. In most US orchestras, the big ones, anyway, the music director has a more restricted role than many people know. Isn't in town all that much, may only plan the concerts he or she conducts. I know one top American orchestra where one music director, who reigned for several years (and was internationally famous), had nothing to do with the orchestra's new music initiatives.

And at another top orchestra, an incoming music director, also a world-famous name, told the artistic director not to ask him about the choice of guest conductors. He didn't hear many conductors, this music director said, so in most cases wouldn't have an opinion.

What will Yannick be involved in?

One thing music directors do, and it's important, is to play a role in hiring musicians. And thus shaping the sound of the orchestra. I assume Yannick will do that at the Met, no doubt expertly.

But will he help choose guest conductors? Help cast the operas? Will he make (or have a role in) artistic decisions of a kind that we don't often hear about, but which have to be made? I'm thinking of things like whether to use a new critical edition of a score, or which version to choose of operas whose composers gave them more than one form (like Idomeneo or Tales of Hoffman).

Or which cuts to make in an oversized bel canto score like Anna Bolena or Semiramide.These decisions have to be made. Will Yannick — with a title that suggests he's ultimately responsible for all the music played and sung at the Met — make these choices, or be involved in them? Even if he's not conducting the productions?

What I'd like to see

My guess, about the question I've just asked, is that the answer will be no. I hope I'm wrong. Would be lovely to see a unified artistic vision at the Met. Which also might extend to making sure that some conductors conduct in ways quite different from Yannick's, so we get many kinds of musicmaking.

But here's one small thing I'd like. In the past, I've noticed taht the Met orchestra could at times sound pretty bad — even though they're basically terrific — when Levine wasn't conducting.

I noticed this in productions of bel canto works, where maybe the conductor was an Italian-opera specialist the musicians didn't think had enough conducting chops. And when maybe the musicians didn't respect the score.

i'm guessing about those things. Though they're things that can happen. And in the 1980s, when I was much involved in opera, a member of the Met orchestra told me how much she hated playing Bellini, because she thought he wasn't a good composer.

I'd love Yannick — or any Met music director — to get involved here. To tell the orchestra the virtues of Bellini, and their special role in Italian operas, even those with what seeems to be simple orchestration. They have to breathe and phrase with the singers, and set the tone of arias, even when they just play a few oompahs before the singer starts.

Yannkick also — on my wish list — would know how the orchestra plays when he's not around. And if they don't meet their highest standard, would tell them so (in no uncertain terms). And would tell them that no matter what they think of a conductor, they have to do their best.

I wonder if these things will happen. There's one clear obstacle. Yannick can't hear every conductor who comes to the Met, because he'll often be away. Will he care enough to let someone else be his eyes and ears? And will he act on what he's told?

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