Philadelphia Daily News

October 14, 2003

Orchestra's new music director gets settled -
discusses first days on the job

By Tom Di Nardo

During his first four weeks as the Philadelphia Orchestra's new music director, Christoph Eschenbach was in motion nonstop, with whirlwind tours around the city, speaking engagements, meetings with board members and musicians' groups, planning sessions and interviews.

These activities were packed around his primary job: rehearsing and conducting four challenging, imaginative and brilliant weekend programs. As an encore before leaving town, he even played a fiendish Messaien two-piano piece at Sunday's chamber music concert. Like most conductors, his energy level is remarkable - possibly the mental and physical result of loving what you do, and doing it well.

On Nov. 16, he'll play and conduct a chamber concert with Orchestra musicians and members of the Orchestra de Paris, with whom he'll be touring. And he'll return to the Philadelphia Orchestra in mid-February for a four-week Mahler festival, then again in late April for four weeks to wrap the season.

The stress of an emotional afternoon concert, plus engagements and meetings before and after, made Eschenbach appear seem understandably drained by evening. Yet he took a few minutes Friday, in his conductor's office filled with CDs and scores, to speak about his first weeks as music director.

Q: Do you feel any differently after these first four wild weeks?
A: Well, these first weeks were crazy, with every second filled. But these are all very interesting things for me, and I liked every minute. I feel wonderful, especially because I just came from a meeting with the musicians' committee, and we're on the same road, one track musically with our common visions.

Q: How does it feel to see your face on posters all over the city?
A: Well, it's amusing, but it will be over soon [Laughs.] Then I hope people will come to see my face in the hall.

Q: Do you mind doing speaking engagements and visiting places in Philadelphia, instead of just music?
A: No, I don't mind at all. My visit to the Paul Robeson house [in West Philadelphia], for instance, was a very moving experience.

Q: What's your secret to being on the go every moment?
A: The music drives me always. If you speak of other things like reaching out into the community and speeches, it's all about our musical life here with the Orchestra in this [city] and abroad. Music has to involve great love, time and energy.

Q: What plans do you have to involve yourself with the city's other institutions?
A: I'm involved with a concert with the Curtis Orchestra in the spring. Also, I want to see the other youth organizations, and music schools like Settlement School, and involve myself a bit with the other universities like Temple and Penn, and see how we can communicate with them.

Q: Do you intend to continue to spotlight a specific composer in future seasons, like you're doing this year with Messaien?
A: Yes, certainly. We're still in the planning stages for next year.

Q: Might you do any concert operas?
A: Not for next season, but it could very well be.

Q: Is it likely you'll play any American music not by live composers?
A: Sure, we'll play Bernstein, Barber, Copland, but perhaps not much past them.

Q: Do you think it helps a conductor when he's also a performing musician?
A: Certainly, I believe it's an advantage, and I want very much to continue playing chamber music with them. It's very good to communicate in that way. And for the Messaien on [last] Sunday, I have much practicing to do before then!

Q: How do you feel about using soloists from the orchestra?
A: That's a wonderful thing. They are on the same level as the invited soloists, but it's a special feeling to have your own musician playing a concerto and play it at your side. It's like family. We have that in mind for next year.

Q: Do you feel as though the audiences have responded positively to you?
A: Yes, very much. They have been enthusiastic and supportive. I have been warmly welcomed, and it has given me a very good feeling.

Copyright 2003 The Philadelphia Daily News