In early May, young rising-star conductor Alan Gilbert stepped down from his post as Santa Fe Opera music director after just three years. Last Wednesday, the New York Philharmonic announced the 40-year-old Gilbert's appointment as that prestigious orchestra's music director.
And on Monday, SFO general director Richard Gaddes announced not a replacement for Gilbert's empty post, but a different kind of appointment: Dutch maestro Edo de Waart, 66, as chief conductor for an initial period of four years beginning Oct. 1.
While the three events might appear to form a domino effect, they're more probably a series of semiplanned coincidences, albeit not unexpected in the symphonic and operatic worlds. Gilbert's SFO years, both as music director and before, saw him lead a number of notable and generally well-received productions including Puccini's Turandot, Britten's Peter Grimes, Verdi's Falstaff, Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin and the American premiere of Thomas Ades' The Tempest.
But his orchestral and operatic career was expanding fast elsewhere at the same time, and on a global scale. Within the last two years, he was a front-runner contender for several major U.S. orchestral postings, including Chicago and Los Angeles as well as New York.
Their attractions were doubtless magnified by the fact that Gaddes, as SFO founder John Crosby did before him, has kept ultimate casting and artistic decisions in his own hands, with some reliance on the well-known American artists' manager and voice expert, Matthew Epstein. Gilbert had everything to gain by leaving SFO, and frankly, nothing to lose.
By contrast, De Waart's return is akin to a homecoming for a conductor of immense depth, experience and skill -- praised for his abilities with both opera companies and orchestras. His past work at SFO included productions of Wagner's The Flying Dutchman (his Santa Fe Opera debut, 1971), Britten's The Turn of the Screw and an English-language production of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro. In the mid-1990s Crosby named him as SFO's principal guest conductor with special responsibility for Mozart operas. The appointment quickly and quietly lapsed, though, presumably due to disagreements about repertoire and artistic control.
De Waart hasn't conducted here since the 1998 Beatrice and Benedict by Berlioz. He is slated for next season's Billy Budd, SFO's first mounting of Britten's opera based on Herman Melville's story, and is due to conduct at least one opera here every summer.
One thing definitely stands out in SFO's announcement of this appointment: the title of chief conductor as opposed to music director. A news release states the conductor's main responsibility ``will be oversight of the orchestra. He will also consult with Gaddes and the company's artistic team on musical matters and repertory.''
In other words, for all the real influence De Waart will wield, he will not be a major decision-maker, but an adviser -- and not the first among company advisers. But that clearly satisfies him enough to bring him back, and there's little question that having a mature musician of his skill overseeing the SFO orchestra will help solidify its ever-growing abilities.
Contact Craig Smith at 995-3821 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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