There's a lot more to leading an orchestra than podium skills, so if you think just anyone can wave that little stick around in time to the music, forget about it. That said, the Colorado Symphony Orchestra has had an extended honeymoon with exuberant, multi-faceted conductor Marin Alsop in the driver's seat. It's easy to say she's a hard act to follow; even CSO president and CEO Douglas Adams admits that when he came aboard a couple of years ago, with full knowledge that Alsop would be pulling out, he couldn't help but look forward to the opportunity to work with her, if only for a short while.
Adams inherited a preliminary field of some thirty possible candidates for Alsop's replacement, but the real work -- whittling it down -- was still ahead. "We were looking for the same thing every orchestra looks for," Adams says. "Someone with the right combination of skills that American orchestras need today, someone who is an excellent musician, who has superior podium skills and the ability to build an orchestra. And then there's a whole other set of skills needed off-podium, such as the ability to turn around and talk to a concert hall full of people and make it seem like a personal address, and the ability to participate in fundraising or to communicate with patrons on an individual basis. We needed someone who could help with the growth of the organization through creative programming, who knew how to pick things that are challenging, but also music that sells tickets. That's a tall order. Those are the kinds of skills that don't often come together naturally.
"We've been very fortunate in having had Marin all those years," he adds. "She had all those skills. She may be the best in world in that respect." The real trick was to find someone as well-rounded and people-oriented as Alsop but who was clearly not just like her; in the end, Jeffrey Kahane, the tireless leader of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and Santa Rosa Symphony, came out on top by an overwhelming margin. Kahane, who will be in town this weekend to lead the CSO in an all-Russian program, is so popular with his public in California that he's become something of a cult figure there.
But what really put him over the hump in the voting? "His rapport with the musicians," Adams says proudly. "They really like him." And he's certain the rest of us will, too.