Christoph Eschenbach

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - View original article

 
Jump to: navigation, search

Christoph Eschenbach (German: [ˈkʁɪstɔf ˈɛʃn̩bax]; born February 20, 1940, Breslau, Germany (now Wrocław, Poland)) is a German-born pianist and conductor. He currently holds positions in Washington, D.C. as music director of the National Symphony Orchestra and music director of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Christoph Eschenbach

Early life[edit]

Eschenbach's parents were Margarethe (née Jaross) and Heribert Ringmann. He was orphaned during World War II. His mother died giving birth to him; his father, a politically active anti-Nazi, was sent to the Eastern front as part of a Nazi punishment battalion where he was killed.[1] As a result of this trauma, Eschenbach did not speak for a year, until he was asked if he wanted to play music.[2] Wallydore Eschenbach (née Jaross), his mother's cousin, adopted him in 1946 and began to teach him to play the piano. At age 11, he attended a concert conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler which had a great impact on the youngster. In 1955 Eschenbach enrolled at the Musikhochschule in Cologne, studying piano with Hans-Otto Schmidt-Neuhaus and conducting with Wilhelm Brückner-Rüggeberg. He then pursued further studies at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater Hamburg with Eliza Hansen (piano) and Wilhelm Brückner-Rüggeberg (conducting).

Musical career[edit]

As a pianist, Eschenbach has won numerous first-place piano competition prizes, including first prize in the Clara Haskil Competition in Vevey, Switzerland in 1965. In 1964, he made his first recording (of Mozart) for Deutsche Grammophon and signed a contract with the label. Eschenbach continued to study conducting with George Szell, with whom he worked for more than three years. In addition, Herbert von Karajan was his mentor for nearly twenty-five years.

In 1981, Eschenbach became principal guest conductor of the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich, and was chief conductor from 1982 to 1986. Other posts have included Music Director of the Houston Symphony Orchestra (1988–1999), where he now holds the title of Conductor Laureate; co-artistic director of the Pacific Music Festival, from 1992 to 1998; chief conductor of the NDR Symphony Orchestra, Hamburg (1998–2004); and music director of the Ravinia Festival, summer home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (1994–2005). In addition, he was artistic director of the Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival from 1999 until 2003. Since 2000, Eschenbach has been the Music Director of the Orchestre de Paris; in May 2007, it was announced that Eschenbach would conclude his tenure with the Orchestre de Paris in 2010.[3] In addition, from 2003 till 2008 Eschenbach was the Music Director of the Philadelphia Orchestra. In 2010 he assumed his position as Music Director of both the National Symphony Orchestra and the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

Christoph Eschenbach has made more than 80 recordings as piano soloist, conductor, or both, has appeared in several television documentaries, and has made many concert broadcasts for different European, Japanese and U.S. networks.

Having received great mentoring guidance in his early years as a conductor through both Herbert von Karajan and George Szell, Eschenbach is credited with helping and supporting talented young musicians in their career development, including soprano Renée Fleming, pianists Tzimon Barto and Lang Lang, cellists Claudio Bohórquez, and Daniel Müller-Schott, and soprano Marisol Montalvo.

Houston Symphony[edit]

Eschenbach was music director of the Houston Symphony from 1988 to 1999. In that period, he has been credited with enhancing the symphony both in terms of national and international prominence and well as musical quality.[4] The orchestra toured Japan and Europe under his tenure as well made several recordings with Koch International Classics and RCA. Eschenbach's era was marked by a strong relationship with the musicians, who admired him on and off the stage.

Yet the most pronounced characteristic of Eschenbach's tenure has been the continuing worship of him by the orchestra's musicians. "He's the kind of person who inspires absolute loyalty," said Fliegel, who ticked off some of the things that have made Eschenbach so unusual. "With him all rehearsals are special. They're so instructive." Eschenbach always seems to find a new detail to emphasize or a new insight to impart, even with pieces everyone has played many times.

The musicians have also adored Eschenbach's sensitivity to them as human beings. In the months before Fliegel retired in September 1995, for example, his wife was seriously ill; Eschenbach showed great sensitivity to Fliegel's schedule in caring for her. ...

The Houston Symphony has had an extraordinary list of music directors during Fliegel's association with the orchestra, but Fliegel ranks Eschenbach first. [5]

In honor of his many achievements and tenure with the Houston Symphony, the City of Houston placed a bronze commemorative star with his name in front of Jones Hall, the performance home of the Houston Symphony.[6]

Philadelphia Orchestra[edit]

Eschenbach was named the seventh Music Director of The Philadelphia Orchestra, effective as of 2003. Some considered this a controversial appointment because, at the time of the announcement, Eschenbach had not conducted the orchestra in over four years and there was a perceived lack of personal chemistry between him and the musicians prior to the appointment.[7][8][9] One musician from the orchestra had stated, after the announcement:

"'When this announcement was proclaimed after a half-hour meeting with us, there wasn't applause; there was criticism,' recalled a musician with the Philadelphia Orchestra. 'One member of the search committee got up and said, "You'll see, you'll like him." 'The orchestra was taken aback by the attitude because there was no meeting to verify what we thought,' the musician said. 'There was no chemistry with Eschenbach. He hasn't conducted us in four or five years and 20 to 30 persons had never played with him.'"[7]

In a 2004 article, Eschenbach tried to downplay such statements, and noted his own particular style of interpretation:

"I prefer to have flexible tempos and not be fixed. Quicker tempos tend to court superficiality."[10]

Partway into his tenure, his initial 3-year contract was renewed to 2008.

However, in October 2006, the orchestra and Eschenbach announced that he would conclude his tenure in Philadelphia at the close of the 2007-2008 season. In the weeks prior to his departure, Philadelphia Inquirer music critics Peter Dobrin and David Patrick Stearns had contrasting articles whether or not he should be retained, with Dobrin suggesting that Eschenbach should move on[11] and Stearns arguing that Eschenbach should remain.[12] Other harsh criticism of Eschenbach's tenure in Philadelphia has been aired.[13]

Following the announcement, Dobrin in the Inquirer wrote that Eschenbach's tenure in Philadelphia has been difficult for many musicians:

"In three seasons, Eschenbach and the orchestra have produced a handful of brilliant concerts. More often, though, his rehearsals and performances have elicited a long list of complaints from musicians: getting lost in the score at concerts; leading disorganized rehearsals and then asking for overtime; and insisting on a peculiar rushing and slowing of tempos."[14]

The paper also cited a number of accomplishments including a new recording contract and the appointment of nine musicians, four of whom were principals. In addition, Eschenbach has received praise for his work in fund-raising for the orchestra.[15][16]

Following the announcement and Dobrin's Inquirer article, The Philadelphia Orchestra Association posted a letter on its website, dated 27 October 2006, which also was sent by e-mail to orchestra patrons. A quote from this letter condemned Dobrin's criticism:

"We, and many in the community, feel that in recent press coverage there have been personal attacks on Maestro Eschenbach, along with negative innuendo about his relationship with The Philadelphia Orchestra. ...These types of comments about Maestro Eschenbach and our orchestra are ridiculous, offensive and defamatory. Our entire orchestra family is profoundly disappointed when reporters report the news in such an ungracious way."[17]

Dobrin, in turn, responded in a 29 October 2006 Philadelphia Inquirer article by quoting one of his 2001 Inquirer articles around the time of the Eschenbach announcement:

"....let me quote from something I wrote in March 2001 that might be an important reminder about how we got to this dangerous place:



It hit many musicians like the dull thud of pragmatism, this decision in January to hire Eschenbach as the orchestra's seventh music director, starting in September 2003. At a meeting announcing the decision, players responded with silence. No applause, no excited stamping of feet. Silence. And then the resentment poured forth.

One musician used the word "underwhelmed." Another said he felt "betrayed."...[9]

This contrasts with earlier reports of how the musicians "had input" in the choice of the previous Philadelphia music director, Wolfgang Sawallisch.[18] In addition, the new orchestra president (as of 2006), James Undercofler, had spoken with orchestra musicians, and had told Eschenbach this summary of his discussions with them:

"-that 80 percent of the musicians did not agree with his artistic interpretations;

-that 80 percent of the musicians left concerts feeling great anger;

-and that the orchestra was a "ticking time bomb."[19]

In an article by Cragg Hines in the newspaper The Washingtonian on December 1, 2009 Eschenbach was quoted:

"They said there was a survey of the whole orchestra and more than 80 percent of the orchestra was against me. I asked the management 'was that true?' and was told, ‘Yes, it's true.' It was not true at all. As I found out a little later, this survey never happened [...] All of the musicians regretted very, very much that [it] was reported like this."

In a 2007 article, Mark Swed of the Los Angeles Times has written about the Eschenbach/Philadelphia Orchestra situation:

"{Eschenbach} is one of the world's finest musicians and widely recognized as such. He has ideas. He has sophisticated tastes. He is cosmopolitan. He is an exciting interpreter. Colleagues speak of him warmly, and he is a favorite accompanist for singers.....So what's wrong? Just about everything. It is well known that the orchestra opposed the hiring of Eschenbach. He hadn't conducted in Philadelphia for five years when the appointment was made, and a memo was leaked to the press with 75 players' signatures asking management to hold off any decision until the orchestra got a chance to work with him. From the beginning, the relationship started off on the wrong foot...But the Philadelphia orchestra has not been exactly transformed by Eschenbach. I've been hearing reports of players looking bored onstage. Audiences walk out during performances. Even two years ago, at my last visit to Verizon Hall, the atmosphere was palpably unpleasant."[20]

In a June 2007 article, Stearns reported Eschenbach as commenting on the Philadelphia Orchestra management as follows:

"The management in both cases [Paris and Philadelphia], I'm sorry to say, is amateurish"...."The management knows what I think ... it's not a secret".[3]

In a July 2007 article, Dobrin emphasized that the problems in the Eschenbach/Philadelphia Orchestra relationship were not related to personality, but rather to musical quality:

"While many refuse to believe it, the factor that has undermined Christoph Eschenbach's tenure is not personality. He's a lovely guy; he and the players have a cordial off-stage relationship. The problem is the music. If 80 percent of the musicians leave concerts angry - as Eschenbach told players that president James Undercofler had told him - that's corrosive to the music and the institution."[21]

In August 2007, the orchestra announced extended guest-conducting periods for Eschenbach with the ensemble in the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 seasons, after the scheduled conclusion of his tenure as music director.[22][23]

Philadelphia Orchestra European tour[edit]

Prior to the announcement of Eschenbach's departure from Philadelphia, Eschenbach and the Philadelphia Orchestra received both positive and negative reviews during the Orchestra's European Festivals Tour in 2006.

"The members of The Philadelphia Orchestra played as though their lives depended on it. The strings are both sturdy and responsively supple to Eschenbach's calculated spontaneity; their woodwind soloists, particularly the liquid-amber principal clarinet, are to die for."[24]

"[In Hamburg, Eschenbach] was in what might be called Leopold Stokowski mode, drawing out climaxes with apparent spontaneity, sometimes reaching a nearly unbearable state of tension, and handling the tricky transitions with a daring that bordered on brinksmanship."[25]

"The Philadelphia Orchestra, under its Music Director, Christoph Eschenbach, commended itself completely unostentatiously as one of the leading orchestras not only of America, but of the world... One listens to this masterfully delicate playing in near amazement... They are masters of sound."[26]

"Christoph Eschenbach's monumentally slick account of Beethoven's Fifth took the shock of the new out of the shock of the old...The sense of striving in the piece was nowhere. It sat smugly, contentedly, in a comfort zone of its own making.....{Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5} was rendered merely showy by Eschenbach's portentousness."[27]

"Christoph Eschenbach....evinced a passion that was communicated through the orchestral playing as well. In Tchaikovsky's Fifth, there was a mellifluous continuity of thought....In Beethoven's Fifth, Eschenbach exercised similarly good judgment."[28]

"Christoph Eschenbach...gave this over-familiar classic {Beethoven's Symphony No. 5} newly minted status in a reading that never overstepped the line between vehemence and exaggeration.....Tchaikovsky's Fifth followed: the playing reinforced the Philadelphia's reputation as a virtuoso ensemble, with a particularly fine exposition of the second movement's famous horn solo. But Eschenbach's interpretation was less secure, inconsistently maintaining the level of nervous energy needed to fire the symphony's momentum and motivate its grand rhetoric."[29]

"The sound this orchestra makes is legendary...Whether the results are so convincing interpretatively is another matter. The articulation in Beethoven's Fifth Symphony was vigorous, if not downright oppressive....A predilection for idiosyncratic gestures became even more pronounced in Eschenbach's reading of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5 in E minor.....Such idiosyncrasies are unexceptionable, even welcome, when well motivated and provoke reappraisal. Here they seemed perverse....Great sound. Shame about the rest."[30]

National Symphony Orchestra (United States)[edit]

On September 25, 2008, the National Symphony Orchestra announced that Eschenbach would become the orchestra's sixth music director in the 2010-11 season, though he was scheduled to conduct subscription concerts and auditions earlier. He was also named to the newly created post of music director of the Kennedy Center.[31] In September 2011, the National Symphony Orchestra and the Kennedy Center announced the extension of Eschenbach's contract through the 2014-2015 season.[32] In March 2014, he was controversially granted an extra two years in charge, despite presenting a season devoid of American music[33]

Honors and awards[edit]

Eschenbach was made a Chevalier (knight) of the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, presented by French Culture Minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres in June 2006; in October 2002, he was present with the Legion d'honneur by French President Jacques Chirac; and in August 2002, the Officer's Cross with Star and Ribbon[clarification needed] of the Verdienstorden der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, and the Commander's Cross in 1993. He received the Leonard Bernstein Award (1993) presented to him by the Pacific Music Festival, where he served as co-artistic director from 1992 to 1998.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Christoph Eschenbach in "A Wayfarer's Journey: Listening to Mahler." Ruth Yorkin Drazen, PBS, 2007.
  2. ^ Interview with Margaret Throsby broadcast on ABC Classic FM on 31 Jul 2013.
  3. ^ a b David Patrick Stearns, "Eschenbach out of post in Paris". Philadelphia Inquirer, 1 June 2007.
  4. ^ "Maestro's Farewell". Houston PBS. Retrieved 2010-03-12. 
  5. ^ Charles Ward (1999-05-16). "The final movements, Eschenbach's remaining concerts attract interest near and far". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 2010-03-12. 
  6. ^ staff (1999-06-01). "City Honors Eschenbach". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 2010-03-12. 
  7. ^ a b Doreen Carvajal (2001-02-06). "Musicians Are Gaining Bigger Voice In Orchestras". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-04-29. 
  8. ^ Anthony Tomassini (2006-10-29). "Conductor Under Fire, Orchestra Under Pressure". New York Times. Retrieved 2006-12-03. 
  9. ^ a b Peter Dobrin, "Orchestra has some lessons to consider". Philadelphia Inquirer, 29 October 2006.
  10. ^ Peter Culshaw (2004-05-18). "Chemistry lessons". Telegraph. Retrieved 2007-03-17. 
  11. ^ Peter Dobrin, "Call it quits: Start search now for a harmonious match." Philadelphia Inquirer, 24 September 2006.
  12. ^ David Patrick Stearns, "Keep him: His personal music-making is a treasure." Philadelphia Inquirer, 24 September 2006.
  13. ^ Baxter, Robert, "Few standing ovations for Eschenbach." Courier-Post, 15 October 2006.
  14. ^ Peter Dobrin, "Eschenbach to bow out in 2008". Philadelphia Inquirer, 21 October 2006.
  15. ^ Peter Dobrin, "Palm Beach overture". Philadelphia Inquirer, 3 April 2005.
  16. ^ Peter Dobrin, "In tune with the task". Philadelphia Inquirer, 30 August 2006.
  17. ^ Letter from The Philadelphia Orchestra Association, 27 October 2006, posted on website 16 November 2006, sent to patrons by e-mail October 2006.
  18. ^ Leslie Kandell (1998-10-04). "A Visiting Orchestra Gets a Taste of Its Future". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-01-06. 
  19. ^ Peter Dobrin, "Eschenbach talks of a 'time bomb'". Philadelphia Inquirer, 16 November 2006.
  20. ^ Mark Swed, "A Classic Coup". Los Angeles Times, 21 January 2007.
  21. ^ Peter Dobrin, "Youth takes another podium, in NYC". Philadelphia Inquirer, 19 July 2007.
  22. ^ David Patrick Stearns, "Eschenbach, orchestra to continue relationship". Philadelphia Inquirer, 15 August 2007.
  23. ^ Matthew Westphal (2007-08-15). "Christoph Eschenbach to Maintain Relationship with Philadelphia Orchestra Beyond End of Tenure". Playbill Arts. Retrieved 2007-08-16. 
  24. ^ Hilary Finch at Albert Hall/Radio 3, The Times, September 6, 2006
  25. ^ David Patrick Stearns, "Warm welcome in Hamburg". Philadelphia Inquirer, August 30, 2006.
  26. ^ Klaus Geitel, "The Delicacy of Euphony," Berliner Morgenpost, September 3, 2006.
  27. ^ Edward Seckerson (2006-09-06). "Prom 67: Philadelphia Orchestra/Eschenbach, Royal Albert Hall, London". The Independent. Retrieved 2007-01-06. 
  28. ^ Geoffrey Norris (2006-09-05). "Keeping the embers glowing". Telegraph. Retrieved 2007-01-06. 
  29. ^ George Hall (2006-09-06). "Proms 67/68: Philadelphia O/Eschenbach, Camerata Salzburg/Kavakos". The Guardian. Retrieved 2007-01-06. 
  30. ^ Barry Millington (2006-09-05). "Little Pleasure from Perversity". Evening Standard. Retrieved 2007-01-25. 
  31. ^ Anne Midgette (2008-09-25). "Christoph Eschenbach to Lead National Symphony". Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-09-25. 
  32. ^ Anne Midgette (2011-09-25). "Kennedy Center extends Eschenbach’s contract; new organ in works". Washington Post. Retrieved 2011-09-28. 
  33. ^ http://www.artsjournal.com/slippeddisc/2014/03/washington-confirms-its-two-more-years-of-eschy.html

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Cultural offices
Preceded by
Herbert Blomstedt
Principal Conductor, North German Radio Symphony Orchestra
1998–2004
Succeeded by
Christoph von Dohnányi