Friday, September 23, 2011

Vacancy chains and reneging on / recontracting for arrangements for musical performances

Different markets have different cultures regarding how binding are different kinds of arrangements reached far in advance. A recent fall by an orchestra conductor, which forced him to withdraw, casts some light on the classical music biz: Maestro’s Injury Ignites Game of Musical Chairs

"The effects of James Levine’s accident this month and his replacement as conductor at the Metropolitan Opera have rippled across two continents. There is rage in Rome and vexation in Vienna. Genoese music lovers have been deprived of a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth. At an opera house in Essen, Germany, unsung assistant conductors and a British import get to shine. Even student musicians at U.C.L.A. are affected; a famous maestro had to postpone a concert with them.

"The Met called on Mr. Levine’s standby and heir apparent as music director, Fabio Luisi, to replace him. That caused Mr. Luisi to cancel engagements next month in Rome, Genoa, Vienna and San Francisco. Substitutes for Mr. Luisi had to be found, and in some cases Mr. Luisi’s subs needed subs.

"The Tetris-like sequence of events also served as a vivid example of how haphazard classical music marquees can be: star singers, soloists and conductors come and go with regularity because of sickness or better opportunities, despite their long-term billing. Usually it’s done in a spirit of mutual back scratching and gentility. Sometimes protocol breaks down, as in this case, with public criticism from music officials in Rome and Vienna.

"Mr. Levine, who has suffered a series of physical ailments, needed emergency surgery after falling while on vacation in Vermont and will be out at least until January, the Met said. Mr. Luisi, who held the title of principal guest conductor, was instantly upgraded to principal conductor. He arrived on Sept. 11 and began rehearsals the next day. He will conduct various performances of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” and Wagner’s “Siegfried” through Nov. 5.

"The first casualty of Mr. Luisi’s Met engagement was a new production of “Elektra” at the Teatro dell’Opera in Rome, which issued a blistering statement saying that Mr. Luisi’s abandonment of his obligations on such short notice was a “regrettable matter” that had harmed the world of classical music. The house threatened unspecified action, possibly legal. Mr. Luisi was to have conducted five performances there.

"In defense of Mr. Luisi, Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, said the Italian opera scene was notoriously unstable. “Italian companies cancel right and left,” he said. “They of all people should understand that certain situations arise.

"The Rome company hired Stefan Soltesz, the general and artistic director of the opera house in Essen, Germany, who himself proceeded to cancel appearances at his own house to make time for Rome. Mr. Soltesz, a Strauss expert who has conducted five productions of “Elektra,” said he took the Rome job because he admired the production’s director, Nikolaus Lehnhoff, and viewed the Rome opera as on the upswing.

"Mr. Soltesz wanted to keep his options open for freelancing, a spokesman said.

"Mr. Soltesz, 62, said he had no qualms about bowing out of duties in Essen, where he conducts an enormous number of performances: up to 70 a year. He also drew a distinction between taking leave from his own house and cancelling a guest appearance, as Mr. Luisi did.

“In Essen I make the programs,” he said. “I am the boss there. It’s a big difference.” Mr. Soltesz said he would never cancel one guest appearance for another.

"In Essen, a respected German opera house, two staff conductors, Wolfram-Maria Märtig and Volker Perplies, will take over two free concerts that Mr. Soltesz was to have conducted and two performances of “Madama Butterfly.” They will also run rehearsals for the forthcoming “Tales of Hoffmann.”

"Michael Francis, a 35-year-old Briton who has made last-minute rescues a specialty, will conduct two symphony concerts on Sept. 29 and 30, giving up time he had planned to devote to studying scores. A conductor is still being sought for the opening night of “The Flying Dutchman” on Oct. 8.

"Mr. Luisi also canceled concerts with his own orchestra, the Vienna Symphony, where he holds the title of chief conductor. He was to have led performances of Mahler’s Symphony No. 7 on Oct. 12, 13 and 14 at the fabled Musikverein. The symphony has borne the brunt of Mr. Luisi’s Met substitutions. It had to replace him several times last season when he filled in for Mr. Levine.

“It’s practically becoming routine,” said Thomas Angyan, the artistic and executive director of the Musikverein, where the symphony often plays. Mr. Angyan never has trouble finding someone to conduct at the Musikverein, he said, and within a day or two he engaged the veteran German conductor Lothar Zagrosek, who has long experience in Vienna.

HT: Muriel Niederle

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