This announcement is surely heartening news for admirers of the German conductor: the revelation of his departure from the music director post came amid reports of a rocky relationship between him and the Philadelphia musicians — notwithstanding several considerable achievements during Eschenbach's tenure, including increased community outreach, the raising of more than $100 million for the organization's endowment, and the orchestra's return to commercial recording after more than a decade.
Eschenbach will return to conduct at Verizon Hall in Philadelphia in both the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons, in the latter for multiple weeks. He will also lead the orchestra in a previously announced European tour in January and February of 2009.
"I am thrilled to continue my collaboration with the musicians of The Philadelphia Orchestra," said the conductor in a statement released yesterday by orchestra management. "It is such a pleasure to make music with these gifted and dedicated individuals and I look forward to our ongoing relationship."
"This is clearly something that all of us wanted very much," orchestra president James Undercofler told The Philadelphia Inquirer's David Patrick Stearns. While no formal title for Eschenbach has yet been discussed and the number of weeks he will spend with the orchestra hasn't yet been finalized, he will be, writes Stearns, in effect principal guest conductor.
Simultaneously with this announcement, the Philadelphia Orchestra said that Eschenbach would be unable, due to a scheduling conflict, to conduct Mahler's Symphony No. 7 in subscription concerts next March, including a performance at Carnegie Hall. Charles Dutoit will take the podium for those dates (March 12-15) with a new program: a suite from Bart‹k's ballet score The Miraculous Mandarin, Debussy's Nocturnes and Holst's The Planets. The Mahler Seventh will be one of the programs Eschenbach and the orchestra perform in the 2009-10 season.
Dutoit, who has a longstanding relationship with the Philadelphia Orchestra, becomes its chief conductor for a four-year term beginning in 2008-09, while management and musicians continue a longer-term search for a full-fledged music director.