Today, Leopold Stokowski would never last in the orchestra he made world class. Basically now the Orchestra gets into a tough spot financially and the suits take over, don’t want to make a brave decision and don’t want new music. It’s because of the audience, we hear, though I have never seen more people at the concert hall as when they played Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder.
The strike highlighted the absurdity of the situation: old-timer Wolfgang Sawallich was hired in the early 90s, declaring immediately that ‘Mahler is too noisy,’ which meant any record contracts would have to take the form of some label wanting to put out the gazillionth Brahms’ 1st, and the sought after, groundbreaking recordings from the former Soviet bloc countries could be had for a pittance by the record labels. The musicians loved Wolfgang and his repertory but wondered why EMI ditched them, and went on strike in ‘96 over lower recording bonuses.
What went wrong with Eschenbach is something that those privy to the rehearsals are best to answer to; I’m inclined to think that a clash of musical philosophies doesn’t tell the whole story. As much as he represented to some the modernization of the orchestra, I saw the programming as an insufficient departure from convention, which I tended to associate with Esch though he does braver stuff across the pond. I did see his Mahler’s 6th that everyone talks about and do recommend the CD to those who don’t have the whole Mahler set – there his tendency for tinkering was most vindicated.
Dutoit was the only older conductor with a strong relationship with Philly, and his forte is modernism, which means I get some quality time with my beloved Stravinsky. French standards: Dutoit's rendering of Symphonie Fantastique is worth timing your romantic angst for and you can go deep into the Ravel catalogue, as he does, without finding anything you don’t want to hear. I remember his massive production of Honegger’s Jeanne d'Arc au Bucher, the sort of thing he tends to go out on a limb for, which one would expect me to like on account of my Francophile tendencies but I couldn’t get over the fact that the librettist Paul Claudel had dissed the Surrealists. Dutoit doesn’t strike me, though, as someone who goes out on a limb for anything after 1950, the decade when Stravinsky effusively praised Boulez’ Le marteau sans maître, which changed the face of French music thereafter.