"The New York Philharmonic is one of the most exciting orchestras in the world," says the Swiss conductor Philippe Jordan. "But I don't want to say any more about it, because I haven't conducted it yet."
The Russian conductor Andrey Boreyko is also a little reticent. "I am looking forward to a fruitful collaboration," he writes in an e-mail, but realizes that, "Like any conductor, I have to first gain the confidence of the Orchestra."
If you were in their place, you'd say "wait and see" too. That's because this month, both of these musicians — each highly experienced, but still in his 30s — will face what is perhaps music's biggest blind date: a conducting debut before a major orchestra.
Don't worry: these men have been there before — in Berlin, Munich, Cleveland, Los Angeles, Leipzig, Vienna, Milan, St. Petersburg, Chicago, Zurich, Houston, London, and Montreal, to name a few places where they have led leading ensembles as guests. They also have impressive permanent posts. Mr. Boreyko is currently chief conductor of both the Hamburg Symphony Orchestra and the Bern Symphony Orchestra, as well as principal guest conductor of the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra. Mr. Jordan was named music director of the Paris Opéra just this October. Like a pianist or violinist talking about instruments he has played, he speaks enthusiastically about orchestras he has led as a guest. About Cleveland he says, "They listen to each other — it's like they're making chamber music." Chicago: "Brilliant, based on that famous brass [section], but balanced and shaped already" for a visiting conductor.
About his upcoming Philharmonic appearance after expressing his enthusiasm, Mr. Jordan adds, "I am curious to see how this will work." Similarly, Mr. Boreyko observes, "you cannot predict the chemistry — you can only do your job as well as you can, and hope the results are successful." He remembers the 2006 Philharmonic concert he attended at the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival in Colorado, and adds that "the performance level was of a very high standard." With such an ensemble, he feels, the conductor is needed "only for musical vision, ideas, and so-called 'interpretation.'"
Of course, the key matter of selecting the works to perform is of even more importance when one is being introduced to a new orchestra and a new audience. The dance of negotiation with the orchestra's management and other "players" is delicate, but fortunately both of this month's debutants pronounced themselves satisfied with it. "I want to take this opportunity," Mr. Boreyko writes, "to say thank you to Mr. [Zarin] Mehta and Mr. Tarnopolsky for their openness and flexibility toward me ... I am very glad my suggestion of Shostakovich's Fourth Symphony was met with such enthusiasm." He noted the sometime rivalry between the contemporary French composers Ibert and Ravel, and the latter's influence on the younger Shostakovich, as threads that link his program together. While allowing that it was the New York Philharmonic who proposed the soloist, Mr. Boreyko enthusiastically endorsed their suggestion, having performed with Hélène Grimaud before. He calls her "a great musician (not just a pianist) ... a talented writer and a beautiful, charming young lady!"
About the works by Czech composers on his Philharmonic program, Mr. Jordan says that despite his Swiss origins, "I have always loved the music of these composers, and Janácek is also one of my favorites. The Dvorák has a pastoral atmosphere." He was the one to propose Má vlast, but explained of the discussions that "It's a big work, and can get a little long, so we decided to do excerpts." For a change of pace between the Czech courses, he and Pierre-Laurent Aimard offer Beethoven's saucy Piano Concerto No. 3. Mr. Jordan, whose upcoming engagements include the Berlin Staatsoper and London's Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, is admired as a collaborator with soloists.
Both of these conductors are known for performing the very latest works in the orchestral repertoire, yet neither programmed any in their Philharmonic debuts. Mr. Boreyko seemed to speak for both himself and his Swiss colleague when he explained that, when "performing unknown, or lesser known, pieces, it is easier to 'make an impression.' ... By conducting well-known repertoire, the conductor has to prove his ability and position within the profession, facing comparisons to many wonderful historical performances and/or recordings. In my opinion, this is fair play."
Surely a fair assessment is what a conductor's New York Philharmonic debut is all about. Can you say, "Leonard Bernstein" and "1943"? Come and see these new guys in action this month.
David Wright, a freelance author, is a former Program Annotator of the New York Philharmonic.
- Philippe Jordan - December 6-8
Dvorák: Czech Suite
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 3, with Pierre-Laurent Aimard
Smetana: Selections from Má vlast
December 12 Rush Hour Concert -
Shostakovich: Symphony No. 4
December 13 and 15 -
Ibert: Hommage à Mozart
Ravel: Piano Concerto in G major, with Hélène Grimaud
Shostakovich: Symphony No. 4
December 14 -
Inside the Music - Shostakovich's Symphony No. 4