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September 26, 2008

Eschenbach: music director of NSO, Kennedy Center

Christoph EschenbachAs expected, German-born conductor and pianist Christoph Eschenbach has been named music director of the National Symphony Orchestra and of the Kennedy Center (a newly created position). After serving as music-director designate during the 2009-10 season, the conductor will officially start his tenure; the initial contract is for three years, beginning 2010-11.

Eschenbach, 68, recently stepped down as music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra. That association with one of America's so-called "Big Five" orchestras (with New York, Boston, Chicago and Cleveland) was not entirely successful, although the Philadelphians seem to have warmed up considerably to him in his final year or so there. Eschenbach's previous tenure as music director of the Houston Symphony was, by all accounts from all sides, exceptionally fruitful. My own experiences hearing him conduct in Philadelphia, Houston, Miami (with the New World Symphony) and elsewhere have always been memorable. He strikes me as one of the most interesting, incisive conductors in the business, a conductor who has something meaningful and imaginative to say.

There has not been a longtime connection between Eschenbach and the NSO, but a specially organized concert last season, viewed as something of a trial run, generated lots of positive buzz. He was the unanimous choice of the NSO's search committee. He will make a strong contrast with predecessor Leonard Slatkin, who championed American repertoire. Eschenbach's strongest background is in the European classics.

Having input into the Kennedy Center's music programming, as well as the NSO's should provide a keen outlet for the conductor. "No other organization in the world is mounting festivals of the scope and the variety of the Kennedy Center, led by its president Michael Kaiser, and I look forward to participating in these projects," the conductor said in a statement released this morning. " I am particularly pleased at the prospect of working closely with the National Symphony Orchestra. It will be my mission to bring this great orchestra, in a great city, in a great country, to greater prominence around the world."

In a tangible vote of confidence in Eschenbach's appointment, NSO donors Roger and Vicki Sant announced a $5 million gift to the orchestra, bringing their total contributions to $20 million since 1999. Their gifts form the endowment to support  the music director chair.


Posted by Tim Smith at 9:57 AM | | Comments (0)

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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