Eschenbach: music director of NSO, Kennedy Center
As 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.
BALTIMORE SUN FILE PHOTO