Three Decades of Excellence: Philadelphia Orchestra Celebrates the Dutoit Era

Classic Arts Features   Three Decades of Excellence: Philadelphia Orchestra Celebrates the Dutoit Era
The Philadelphia Orchestra celebrates the 30th anniversary of its collaboration with Charles Dutoit, who since 2008 has served as the Orchestra's chief conductor. When he concludes his tenure at the end of the 2011 _12 season, he will be honored with the title conductor laureate.


From the full-tilt Romanticism of Rachmaninoff to the spectacle of Berlioz's Romeo and Juliet, from the delicate colors of Mozart or Debussy to Mahler's thunderous pinnacles and valleys, and from the world's leading concert and opera stages to the Kimmel Center and the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Maestro Charles Dutoit's musical world is vast. This season The Philadelphia Orchestra celebrates the 30th anniversary of its collaboration with Dutoit, who since 2008 has served as the Orchestra's chief conductor; he also served as the Orchestra's artistic director at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts from 1990 to 1999 and its artistic director and principal conductor at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center from 1990 to 2010. When he concludes his tenure with the Orchestra at the end of the 2011 _12 season, he will be honored with the title conductor laureate.

"Over the past 30 years Charles Dutoit has become a boundless artistic leader and unique friend of the Orchestra," commented Philadelphia Orchestra President and CEO Allison Vulgamore. "His steadfast leadership has showcased not only his own extraordinary talents, but also the outstanding musicians of our great Orchestra, and his consummate artistry and musicianship have reaped rich rewards for music lovers in Philadelphia and around the world."

It is difficult to imagine a conductor of greater musical sophistication, breadth of knowledge, and depth of understanding of The Philadelphia Orchestra and the qualities that have made it unique. Dutoit began as a charismatic and enormously gifted young guest conductor at the Robin Hood Dell West, making his July 14, 1980, Philadelphia Orchestra debut on the summer series that would grow into the Mann Center concerts. Swiss born and European trained, under Ernest Ansermet and later at the Tanglewood Festival, he grew up in an environment in which he would regularly hear premieres of new works by Stravinsky, Martin, and Honegger. His first concert at "The Dell" on Bastille Day, 1980, included music of Berlioz, Rachmaninoff, and Rimsky-Korsakov, composers on whose music he would make an indelible mark during his career with the Philadelphians.

His Saratoga debut the following summer included Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto with violinist Kyung- Wha Chung, the beginning of a series of remarkable collaborations with the world's leading vocalists and instrumentalist soloists: including Yo-Yo Ma, Martha Argerich, Leontyne Price, Alicia de Larrocha, Jean- Pierre Rampal, Kathleen Battle, Joshua Bell, Itzhak Perlman, Van Cliburn, Gil Shaham, Sarah Chang, Emanuel Ax, Pinchas Zukerman, and countless others. His Orchestra subscription debut at the Academy in December 1981 included music of Haydn and Stravinsky and featured pianist Peter Serkin performing the Ravel Piano Concerto.

Dutoit came to the Orchestra in 1980 during the transition between the tenures of Eugene Ormandy and Riccardo Muti (music director from 1980 to 1992), and over the next three decades he became an essential agent of continuity through the music directorships of Muti, Wolfgang Sawallisch, and Christoph Eschenbach. "The Philadelphia Orchestra is full of the long traditions of Leopold Stokowski and Eugene Ormandy, which had formed a specific sound that was highly recognizable," Dutoit said. "I had the joy and privilege of starting my relationship during that period." Despite changes of Orchestra musicians and music directors through the years, he added, "I personally always tried to bring out the sound that I knew first. The famous Philadelphia Sound is something you have in you: If you feel the sound inside you, it comes out in the music."

"He knows the music so well because of his own rich life experience," said first violinist Herold Klein, who joined the Orchestra in 1971 and remembers Dutoit's first appearances in the 1980s. "I remember being so completely enamored by his whole style and presence. He also knows how to play a phrase instinctively: to go with it, shape it, encourage it, to intuitively adjust things to find the proper nuance, the proper palette for the moment."

Although Dutoit has been lauded for his mastery of the music of France and Russia, he continually showed a grasp of an enormous variety of repertoire. Among his milestones with the Orchestra are performances and recordings of the works of Rachmaninoff, Berlioz's The Damnation of Faust in 1988 (a piece that will he will again conduct in May 2011), Verdi's Requiem at Saratoga in 1990, concert performances of Bizet's Carmen in 1991 and Saint-SaêŠns's Samson and Delilah in 1993 at the Mann Center and Gershwin's Porgy and Bess at Saratoga in 2000, Honegger's Joan of Arc at the Stake at the Academy of Music and Carnegie Hall in 1995 and his King David at the Mann Center in 1997, Berlioz's Romeo and Juliet and Requiem in the 2008 _09 season: part of a multipleseason focus on the music of the French master: and Stravinsky's complete Firebird on the Orchestra's Asia tour in April 2010. More recently his Mahler Third was praised by the Philadelphia Inquirer as a "majestic, vital, and all-around satisfying performance" in which "even the smaller transformations in orchestral texture took on their own pulse, allowing the movement to build with step-by-step logic but with emotionally devastating effect."

In addition to his mastery of the central orchestral repertoire, Dutoit has throughout his tenure also shown an affinity for the music of our time, beginning as early as 1985, when he led the Orchestra in its first performances of M_taboles by French composer Henri Dutilleux, whose works have figured prominently in the maestro's concerts in recent seasons. Through the years Dutoit has presented the works of Elliott Carter, John Adams, Jacob Druckman, Lowell Liebermann, Steven Stucky, Krzysztof Penderecki, George Walker, Astor Piazzolla, William Russo, Jennifer Higdon, Behzad Ranjbaran, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Richard Danielpour, Bright Sheng, Tan Dun, and James MacMillan. Among the soloists whose careers he has encouraged are soprano Cecilia Bartoli, violinist Midori, cellist Han- Na Chang, and pianists Kirill Gerstein and Yuja Wang. Throughout his tenure at Saratoga and the Mann Center he has shown his strong belief in the importance of outdoor summer concerts: both to foster new and more varied audiences and for maintaining orchestral standards throughout the year.

"He's been so good to the Orchestra," said violinist Klein, who received the Orchestra's C. Hartman Kuhn Award earlier this year. "His time with us has been an unending gift. He can step on the podium and within the shortest imaginable time you can feel the richness, the nuance, the line, and all of the qualities that have made this Orchestra great." In rehearsal, Klein added, Dutoit can achieve results quickly and efficiently "because he has that trust and experience with us." Dutoit said that playing chamber music as a violist early in his career has enhanced his orchestral experience. "What I have learned from being a chamber musician is the technique of rehearsal, of what to say and how to get certain results," he says. "Of course, in Philadelphia, I know the Orchestra and they know me, and we get the results almost instantly. If the first time it doesn't click, with just a look the musicians know how to fix it. It has been great to be able to work that fast."

Dutoit said his seasons at the Orchestra's helm have been essential both to him as an artist and to the Orchestra and its community. "These years are important for the Orchestra, in terms of maintaining the standards of the playing and also integrating the new people coming in," he said. The maestro looks forward to two more richly satisfying seasons as the Orchestra's chief conductor, in which he hopes to continue his explorations of living masters like Dutilleux. When Dutoit concludes his tenure at the end of the 2011 _2012 season, the Orchestra eagerly anticipates continuing its relationship with him, both in Philadelphia and Saratoga. Discussing his future, he said that he will relish the opportunity to accept invitations worldwide that have been on hold for the last few years: in addition to continuing his guest-conducting stints in the United States, Asia, and Australia and enjoying his new post as conductor laureate of The Philadelphia Orchestra. "I would like to go back to my old friends in Europe whom I have neglected," he said with a laugh, "invitations that I was never able to accept. But I would also like to have a little more time for myself and for my family."

Vulgamore adds, "Our audiences, Orchestra, and the Board will enjoy these capstone years of Charles's role as chief conductor. Here's to enjoying the many concerts ahead and his return as conductor laureate."

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