In much the same way that I’ll occasionally get on a kick of listening to a particular composer at length (the latest was my journey through Varese), I will often get on a kick listening to a conductor. This sort of exploration inevitably leads to creating favorites among the ranks of conductors throughout history, with my current (although it’s been this way for as long as I care to remember) favorites being Otmar Suitner, Kiril Kondrashin, and Takashi Asahina. One thing you’ll notice about all three of these gentlemen, should you care to notice, is that their heydays were 30 years ago. Which is sometime around when conducting died a slow and painful death.
Somewhere in the 80’s, which brought us Reaganomics, yuppies, New Wave, and me, in no particular order, conducting lost its way. People tell me there’s a great generation of conductors in there…names like Abbado, Chailly, Muti, Dutoit…I’ll just say: at least we still had Bernstein and Karajan at the end of their lives, with Haitink and Boulez lurking in there somewhere (Amsterdam and a basement filled with computer shit, respectively).
Quite frankly, there has been virtually no reason to seek out the work of today’s generation of conductors. It isn’t because they’re talentless hacks…far from it. But for one reason or another, there doesn’t seem to be much substance to match their obvious style. I have heard flashes of brilliance from many of the new popular maestros: a terrific, if angular, reading of Bruckner 9 conducted by Gustavo Dudamel; a tremendous Bruckner 3 led by Andris Nelsons; several great performances from Manfred Honeck, the new leader of the heroes in Pittsburgh. But overwhelmingly, my enthusiasm is tempered with further investigation of their conducting. That’s my super-scientific process in a nutshell…listen to a boat load, shit load, or boat shit (as my mother would say) of their work and see just how much of it I like.
Thanks to a tip from my friend Ken Woods, I have been in exploration mode again, this time with conductor Gianandrea Noseda. Maestro Woods clued me in to a performance of the Rachmaninov Symphony no. 1 that blew my hair off, so I picked it up from there. Since then, I’ve gone back and listened to a performance from Pittsburgh I recorded a while back with a stellar reading of Liszt’s Orpheus, the Tschaikovsky Violin Concerto (featuring the violinist most likely to save us Leonidas Kavakos in a bad ass performance), and a rip-your-face-off run through The Pines of Rome. You can listen to these performances if you’d like:
There’s also been an amazing Adagio from Mahler 10, kick-ass Les Preludes, terrific Schumann 4, and I am listening to a gripping Pictures at an Exhibition as I type this.
Noseda could save us, us being listeners and fans of great music. He’s currently the Chief Conductor of the BBC Philharmonic. He should be the Chief of anywhere he wants. Remember his name. We need him.