It’s transition time for the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. For several years, the company has been led by internationally renowned music director and conductor Edo de Waart, with the aid of associate conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong, but 2015 marks the beginning of the end for that partnership — and the beginning of the hunt for a new leader to guide Milwaukee’s premier orchestra.
De Waart, who joined the MSO in 2009, announced in February that he would step down from his position at the end of the 2016–17 season, becoming the company’s conductor laureate. In June, Lecce-Chong announced his own departure, leaving to join the larger Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra this season.
Lecce-Chong’s successor, Yaniv Dinur, is in place, but MSO president and executive director Mark Niehaus says he and the official search committee are taking their time seeking out and appointing someone to follow de Waart.
“What’s really been quite wonderful in this particular process is how thoughtful Edo was in discussing his future plans,” says Niehaus, “and that we have over two years to plan for his departure which gives us the time to do a thoughtful search and really look at a lot of candidates.”
So what will it take to choose de Waart’s successor? For the search committee — consisting of musicians, board members and other staff — the process will be one of evaluation. Every possible perspective will be explored in the vetting process of each candidate, from ensemble members’ reviews of prospective candidates’ time on the podium to evaluations by audience members, who will see likely candidates perform as guest artists throughout the coming seasons.
“We do 18 weekends of subscription classical music concerts. Edo has done eight of those weeks, which means we have 10 weeks available for guests,” explains Niehaus. While the MSO’s schedule and candidates’ schedules need to be aligned, he suspects candidates will be invited to perform more than once, to make an educated choice.
Niehaus says the potential candidates’ qualifications vary. Some will be conductors who have worked with the MSO and demonstrated chemistry with the ensemble. Others are specialists who prefer a particular repertoire that would work with the MSO. And some are talented conductors who have established careers. “It’s really about inviting conductors who we think have a musical voice, have a strong sense of community entanglement and will do great artistic work for the city of Milwaukee and our orchestra,” Niehaus says.
To be sure they’re doing all they can to make an educated selection, Niehaus says he and other members of the search committee will be hitting the road, observing candidates with other ensembles and talking to their peers in the orchestral community. “We’re going to depend on the wisdom of our colleagues in other cities to inform our process,” Niehaus says.
And Dinur, an Israeli conductor coming to Milwaukee from Washington, D.C.’s American University, will be a particularly important colleague to consider.
“His energy is amazing,” says Niehaus. “Yaniv is an accomplished pianist. He speaks eloquently about music, He has a body language as a conductor that is familiar to our orchestra and I think he is going to be an inspired choice for us.”
It’s a process that will stay largely behind the scenes, unfolding week by week even as the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra continues performing with its world-class musicians. But if you keep a close eye on them, you should be able to catch the occasional glimpse behind the curtain — a precursor to the new era only a couple of years away.