In case you missed it, Alan Gilbert last week said that he would leave his post as music director of the New York Philharmonic. Before the ink had dried on the announcement, social media was all, well, a-twitter with speculation as to who would replace Mr. Gilbert in arguably the most visible platform in the American orchestra scene.
Some folks, including Anne Midgette of the Washington Post and Will Robin, who pens articles for publications such as the New York Times, brought up the possibility that Pittsburgh Symphony music director Manfred Honeck would be considered. Ms. Midgette wrote: "Manfred Honeck and Jaap van Zweden, who both came to Pittsburgh and Dallas as relative unknowns and have both done some wonderful things in their respective cities, have been mentioned as intriguing possibilities." Mr. Robin mentioned Mr. Honeck in the course of several tweets about the announcement.
During a recent interview with Mr. Honeck (who has guest-conducted the NY Phil on a few occasions), I asked him about whether he'd be interested in the gig.
"Nobody has contacted me, and I'm not yet ready for any change. I love Pittsburgh very much," he said.
"There is not any connection with Alan Gilbert's leaving the New York Philharmonic and my presence with Pittsburgh," he said. While he said he likes the NY Phil, he firmly stated, "I am the music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra."
From a practical standpoint, Mr. Honeck has a contract with the PSO through 2020 and would likely have to be bought out of it. I don't know details of his contract or what that would require.
It seems like the NY Phil will try to get a new MD as close to 2017 as possible. Mr. Gilbert said he was leaving to let the new conductor guide the orchestra before and through the renovation of Avery Fisher Hall (set to open in 2021 or thereabouts). You don't want to have the appearance of unstable leadership during a period in which the orchestra will already be anxious about keeping ticket-holders around.
In addition, there are all sorts of symbolic reasons that conductors are selected. In the New York Times, Michael Cooper's article discussing possible replacements for Mr. Gilbert broke down conductors into various categories – the wunderkinds Nelsons and Dudamel, the Americans Robertson and Alsop, and so on. Mr. Honeck doesn't quite fit into any of those groups. And, of course, there's that little detail about the artistic direction of the NY Phil and the chemistry between a conductor and the orchestra, which much of this early early speculation doesn't even get into. So stay tuned.