Somewhere between the world of Euro-retreads (Haitink, Boulez, Muti, Abbado, Chailly, etc.) and the new breed of pseudo-prodigy (Dudamel, Nelsons, Jurowski, Ticciati, etc.) lies a nether-world of conducting populated by the chronically under-appreciated. They don’t have exciting hair. They don’t have Johnny Cash’s Live from Folsom Prison wardrobe. They weren’t the brightest stars in the firmament 30 years ago enabling them to trade on their great Firebird recording from 1983 to this very day.
They give consistently great performances. And they do it in the kind of anonymity usually afforded Franciscan monks or Katie Holmes after Scientology.
Starting at guard for this would-be team of superheroes is Walter Weller, currently serving as the principal conductor of the National Orchestra of Belgium. Lovely country, Belgium, and a fine orchestra, but that would be like Tom Hanks working with the Mid-American Theater in Tulsa, OK. What is he doing there? Why doesn’t he have Simon Rattle’s job?
Take a listen to this recording of Tschaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, with Weller leading the bad-ass BBC National Orchestra of Wales:
It’s 52 minutes later.
How is it possible that a warhorse that’s been ridden more than Paris Hilton can sound so fresh and alive? Why do I fall asleep when I hear so many of today’s most prominent music directors perform the same music? Why isn’t Walter Weller President of the Universe?
Just an FYI…I’m listening to that Tschaik 5 as I type this and I’m having a hard time concentrating. Holy shit. Mind, consider yourself blown.
Weller isn’t alone. There are dozens of conductors at all levels who are criminally neglected. I wish I could pinpoint what it is that makes some people who are deserving of huge accolades dwell in relative obscurity while Keith Lockhart conducted 0ne of America’s finest orchestras for years.
There is always the faint hope that justice may be served at some point, but as we continue to spit out these precocious maestri like a musical eugenics program, more and more deserving people will be left wondering why some kid with little more than a smile and a glistening brow is conducting the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. In the meantime, we are left to sift through the remnants like YouTube videos, picking and choosing what good there may be to scrape into our listening purview.
I also hold out hope that the current wunderkind generation will eventually mature into making great music. It certainly won’t be from lack of opportunity. There is plenty of potential for greatness. Unfortunately, they are working out their kinks with some of the greatest orchestras on the face of the earth while great artists like Weller and the like work kink-free in the fog.
Enjoy that Tschaikovsky. You will.