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The Lebrecht Weekly


Visit every week to read Norman Lebrecht's latest column. [Index]

ENO's new music director

By Norman Lebrecht / March 7, 2006

The installation of Edward Gardner as music director at English National Opera is a high-risk gambit in a company with few cards left to play. Gardner, 32, has been conducting Glyndebourne Touring Opera in places where cowpats are more numerous than musicians. He has yet to wield authority over a stable company, great or small, and his performances - while perfectly assured - have not elicited cries of Eureka from musicians, critics or audience members.

But Gardner is British and he's the best that ENO could get in the circumstances. The company has settled down a little since the traumatic pre-Christmas departures of its miguided artistic directror Sean Doran and its abrasive chairman, the financier Martin Smith. But the makeshift joint management of Loretta Tomasi and John Berry is still feeling its way and the pair will not be much use to a young conductor if he cannot gain the confidence of a febrile, murmurous orchestra.

Comparisons will be drawn to Mark Elder who took on the same job at a similarly tender age. Elder, however, was symbiotically supported by his managerial and production partners Peter Jonas and David Pountney, and his chairman was the Earl of Harewood who had, until latterly, been hands-on executive director. Elder was able to benefit from their experience, settling his nerves and making his mistakes behind a curtain of their confidence. Gardner will not enjoy that luxury.

The selection process, though swift, was admirably consultativen and transparent. The American Andrew Litton, much liked by the orchestra, was vetoed by the singing staff who felt he gave them insufficient support. Yakov Kreizberg, the Russian-born American, was top of the search list but he could not find room in a busy international schedule for the seven months a year that ENO required. Mark Wigglesworth, a British conductor who had commendably refused to work with Doran, was forced to make a choice between troubled ENO and the comfortable Monnaie in Brussels, where his appointment is expected shortly. For Wigglesworth, it proved a no-brainer.

That left the selectors with Gardner and a lesser-known Brit, Jonathan Darlington, who is number two at the opera house in Dusseldorf. Gardner, who shaded it, will start work immediately though his title does not take effect for a year - by which time ENO will have a new chairman and a fresh set of objectives.

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Visit every week to read Norman Lebrecht's latest column. [Index]



(c) La Scena Musicale 2001