Not that the past would be a bad place to go, in this case. During Mester's first tenure there, from 1967 to 1979, the Louisville Orchestra had a profile and stature in the American classical music world much higher than its size and location might suggest. Together, Mester and the Louisville Orchestra filled a niche as champions of contemporary music, especially American works, and made dozens of recordings of mid- and late-20th century repertoire that most symphony orchestras were reluctant to present in concert, let alone on disc. (Under Mester, the Louisville Orchestra was the only one in the U.S. to produce, package and sell its own LPs; many of those recordings are now being reissued on CD by Santa Fe Music Group and can be found via www.firsteditionmusic.com.)
According to the Associated Press, Mester received a storm of applause when his appointment was announced yesterday at a press conference at the Kentucky Center, the orchestra's concert venue in Louisville.
"I think [he's] a terrific choice," clarinetist Tim Zavadil, head of the orchestra's musicians committee, told the Louisville Courier-Journal. "He is so enthusiastic about this orchestra, and enthusiasm is really necessary now."
On one level, there seems to be a certain provisional quality about Mester's appointment. His contract is open-ended — meaning that the orchestra's board of directors, which has been searching for a music director ever since it declined to renew Uriel Segal's contract in 2004 — could release Mester whenever it found another candidate it liked.
On the other hand, another music director could probably not be in place before the 2008-09 season — and even that is the "best-case scenario," as board president Joe Pusateri told the AP. "This gives us time to properly complete the search that we set out to do and fill a hole that needed to be filled."
Seven finalists conducted the orchestra this past season, but the board's search committee decided, according to The Courier-Journal, that it was imprudent to choose a music director based on only one appearance, and five of the prospective choices will guest-conduct in Louisville again this coming season.
The Louisville Orchestra is also in the market for an executive director, following the departure of Scott Provancher in March. The orchestra also lost its general manager and chief operating officer in recent months.
In addition to his earlier tenure in Louisville, Mester, now 71, has served as music director of the Mexico City Philharmonic (1998-2002), the Aspen Music Festival (1970-1991) and the Casals Festival in Puerto Rico (1976-79) and as head, until 1988, of the Juilliard School's conducting department.
Mester intends to keep the two other music director posts he now holds, at the Pasadena Symphony in California and the Naples Philharmonic in Florida. Asked at the press conference about that workload, the AP reports, he replied, "the busier you are, the more you can do."
"I am ready to roll up my sleeves and give my all to this orchestra that I've loved for all these years," he said. "It's a little bit like Back to the Future in the sense that I'm getting a chance to do it all over again, and maybe better — I hope better."