The New York Philharmonic is the oldest organized symphonic ensemble in the USA. The orchestra was founded in 1842, at the time, Beethoven and Weber had been dead for less than twenty years; Mendelssohn, Schumann, Chopin, Wagner, and Liszt were all young men at the time, and many of the great masters to come hadn’t even been born yet. It should be no surprise to anyone that in December of 2004; the orchestra gave its 14,000th concert. Loren Maazel is its current musical director, and his tenure will end on 2009.
Since in the 19th century the USA had a very close kinship with Europe. It should be no surprise to anyone that most of the orchestra’s conductors were all European born. But what’s interesting about this orchestra, is that even in the 20th century, the orchestra has had few,-if any American born conductors. Here’s a list of the conductors it has had since the beginning of the 20th century, along with their tenure and country of birth: Walter Damrosch 1902-1903 (Prussian), Wassily Safonoff 1906-1909 (Russian), Gustav Mahler 1909-1911 (Austrian), Josef Stransky 1911-1923 (Czech ), Willem Mengelberg 1922-1930 (Dutch), Arturo Toscanini 1928-1936 (Italian), John Barbirolli 1936-1941 (British), Artur Rodzinski 1943-1947 (Polish), Dimitris Mitropoulos 1949-1958 (Greek), Leonard Bernstein 1958-1969 (Only USA born conductor the New York Phil has had), Pierre Boulez 1971-1977 (French), Zubin Mehta 1978-1991 (Indian), Kurt Mazur 1991-2002 (German), and Lorin Maazel 2002-present (French). I didn’t include a few temporary conductors and musical advisors the orchestra had. But none of them were USA born. So, with the exception of Leonard Bernstein, the orchestra has not had an American born conductor in more than 100 years.
There’s some hope though. American born Alan Gilbert is scheduled to take over when Maazel retires in 2009. His resume is quite impressive. He studied at Harvard, Juilliard, Curtis institute, and The New England Conservatory of Music. But even more exciting is: he was born in New York City…hurray!
What bothers me about The New York Phil is: in its almost 200 year history you’d think they could of hired at least a few American born conductors. You cannot be a President of the USA unless you’re born here; USA orchestras should have similar guidelines. There’s a lot of musical talent in the USA, many can be found in its universities and music conservatories….
I’m looking forward to Mr. Gilbert’s tenure. Not only will he be the 2nd American born conductor the orchestra has had in over 100 years; but he’s the only New York City born conductor the orchestra has had in its almost 200 year history.