The presidential race is finally over, but we still have undecideds among us.
I spoke with one a few days ago. Before he attended the Nov. 1 Charlotte Symphony concert, he said, he already had a favorite choice for the orchestra's next music director. But after hearing the group play under Swiss conductor Thierry Fischer, he thought he might have to change his mind.
Yes, Fischer's concerts stood out. To create the serenity of Gabriel Faure's “Requiem,” he melded the orchestra and Oratorio Singers of Charlotte into a mellow, smooth whole. In the “Fantastic Symphony,” Hector Berlioz's drug-trip tone poem, Fischer spurred the orchestra to play with drive and a manic edge. Fischer went beyond those generalities with the richness he gave both works: occasional surges of intensity in the prayers of the “Requiem,” and tinges of lyricism and elegance when Berlioz took the spotlight off his tortured protagonist.
The Oct. 31 concert brought a display I think was a first in my experience. When Fischer reached the podium to start the second half, several players applauded him – rather than wait until the end, as musicians usually do. On the way out of Fischer's meet-and-greet with the audience after Saturday's concert, the last person I quizzed was another undecided: the conductor himself. Fischer, who had said during an interview before his visit that he wasn't certain he was a candidate for the orchestra's job, said he remained unsure.
“Stay tuned,” said the orchestra's executive director, Jonathan Martin.
I don't think it's a case of playing hard to get.
Let's take a look at him from Charlotte's perspective – and also try looking at the Charlotte Symphony from his.
Fischer gets results on the podium. But that's only part of what the Charlotte Symphony wants. After years of battling deficits, the orchestra is looking for a leader to engage in the schmoozing and fundraising that Fischer hasn't been prepared for in Europe.
Fischer may have untapped potential there. In a preconcert talk from the Belk Theater stage, he chatted personably about his strategies in working with orchestras, his ideas about the music in store that night, and his busy schedule.
Discussing the large amount of air travel in his life – he leads orchestras in Wales and Japan – he got a laugh when he tugged at the skin below his eyes and asked: “Do I look tired?”
How much time and energy would that leave for the Charlotte Symphony? And, to look at this the other way around: What would leading the Charlotte Symphony do for Fischer?
His BBC orchestra in Wales offers him a much wider musical range than Charlotte's orchestra, with its crimped finances. The BBC group's touring includes annual trips to London for the venerable Proms concerts. The BBC foots the bill for all of this.
Charlotte would give Fischer a foothold in the United States. But he may soon have other options for that. Later this season, he guest-conducts the Utah and New Jersey symphonies, both of which are looking for music directors. Each is a bigger operation that offers its director more musical opportunities and career-building visibility.
New Jersey will also host two of Charlotte's other prospects: Andrew Grams, who visited last month, and James Gaffigan, who came through last spring. Grams will appear in Utah, as Gaffigan did last year.
There's one consolation, though. Even if Utah and New Jersey hired one each, one would still be left.