Choking on the Pit?

Houston Symphony musicians rate the conductors who dare to replace Eschenbach on the podium

Kudos: Conducted Mozart's Don Giovanni at Glyndebourne Festival Opera in 1996, which was filmed for a video release.

Musicians say: According to bass player Red Pastorek, when a conductor is good, the players keep their music stands high. When he's bad, the stands come down. "[With Kreizberg], the stands were down."

"He had nice hair," said one brass player. "He clearly shopped at the conductor store. He wore the black turtleneck and black pants."

"I don't think he had any idea of what he was doing," said a woodwind player.

"He had all the trappings of a conductor," said a brass musician.

"He had a hard time accompanying Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, which is death to an orchestra," said a string player.

General impressions: Several musicians felt strongly that Kreizberg was better at playing the role of conductor than leading an inspired orchestra. Some said his refusal to conduct the orchestra without a score while accompanying esteemed guest artist Salerno-Sonnenberg was unprofessional.

Odds: 40 to 1. Wasn't terribly popular with musicians. Has more style than substance.

Hans Graf
Hans Graf

Born in 1949 in Marchtrenk, Austria

Music director, Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra and Orchestre National Bordeaux Aquitaine

Career highlights: Numerous guest conductor appearances in the United States, Europe, Japan and Australia. As opera conductor, he has extensive experience in German and Italian repertory.

Kudos: Recordings of Mozart's complete symphonies

Musicians say: "In my opinion, probably the overall favorite amongst many of the musicians is Hans Graf, who indeed does have some of Eschenbach's characteristics," said violinist Christine Pastorek.

"He's a gentleman. He hears everything," said associate principal cellist Chris French.

"And that gets a visceral respect with musicians," added Tom Elliott, who was interviewed at the same time. "The reason is simple. We put so much focus into what we produce.He has [a similar] focus on the music."

"He's extroverted, self-assured, prepared. He has good nonverbal communication skills. I wouldn't say he has a brilliant stick technique, but it's adequate," Elliott continued.

"He always had a smile. He wasn't trying to teach [his interpretation] to us in a way that was demeaning.The respect was there on both sides," said hornist Nancy Goodearl.

General impressions: The consensus among musicians was that Graf would win hands down if a popularity poll were conducted today. Most said Graf has the personal and musical qualities they want. Several felt he also has the administrative and leadership skills preferred by the search committee. This impression, according to Elliott, is based on Graf's success in rallying the Calgary community to build a new concert hall for the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra.

Odds: 2 to 1. Odds-on favorite to win. Musicians' first pick. Players think Graf has the ability to carry on Eschenbach's traditions of high standards, mutual trust and putting music before personal career goals.

Claus Peter Flor
Claus Peter Flor

Born in 1953 in Leipzig, Germany

Principal guest conductor, Dallas Symphony (1999-2000)

Career highlights: Permanent guest conductor of Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra (1991-1996). Successful opera conductor. Studied violin and clarinet.

Kudos: His recording of Mendelssohn overtures for RCA Victor

Musicians say: "I think the orchestra has great respect for Flor musically," said associate principal cellist Chris French.

"He's definitely a tyrant. I like him," said a string player.

"I've heard a lot of things about him," said a brass musician. "I could see him simmering."

"He's a very good conductor and very musical. But you have to weigh the negatives and positives. If [he has] the potential to make people miserable, it's not worth it," said a woodwind player.

General impressions: All who spoke had mixed feelings about Flor. They felt he was more than competent musically, and approved of his conductor skills, but perceived an impatience in his manner during rehearsal. One strongly felt that his tyrannical manner would strike a blow to the symphony's musicality.

Odds: 8 to 1. He's got no chance if the musicians have their way.

Peter Oundjian
Peter Oundjian

Born in 1955 in Toronto, Canada (schooled in England)

Music director, Nieuw Sinfonietta Amsterdam chamber orchestra (since 1998)

Career highlights: First violinist of the world-renowned Tokyo String Quartet (1981-1995). Studied violin and conducting at Juilliard. Became fascinated with conducting after appearing as a chorister/instrumentalist on three recordings under composer Benjamin Britten.

Kudos: Artistic director, Caramoor International Music Festival in New York, previously held by André Previn. His life and career were recently featured on CBS Sunday Morning.

Musicians say: "Being from a string background is a huge plus for any conductor," said associate principal violist Tom Elliott. "His ability to critique the string section was evident.His manner was disarming, very personal, and on-the-level."

"His demeanor on the podium was totally charming," said one musician.

"I thought maybe he was a little bit of a micromanager," said a string musician.

General impressions: Oundjian appeared to be the one candidate the musicians could identify with. They respect the fact that he successfully toured as a chamber violinist with the Tokyo String Quartet. They also approve of his "string knowledge" because it allows him to understand the largest segment of the orchestra. In rehearsals, they liked the fact that he worked fast and efficiently. Regrettably, most said, he won't get picked because he hasn't conducted all of the major works in the repertory.

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