Last week, the Seattle Symphony announced that music director Ludovic Morlot wouldn't be renewing his contract in two years.
But why? He was doing so good, and winning so many Grammys, and creating stimulating evenings of symphonic music.
In the press materials, he says he wants to leave in order to “explore new musical opportunities." Could it be that what's true of Seattle's underground artists is also true of its hyper-visible artists? That is, does every artist get big in Seattle, get restless, and then move on to a bigger place? I called up Ludo to ask.
What do you mean when you say you’re leaving Seattle to “explore new musical opportunities?” Are you going solo?
No no, I mean I want to develop new partnerships, new collaborations, new relationships. The difficulty in our business is that we have to plan way ahead of time. It sounds little strange to say I’m going to move on in 2019 or 2020, but as a leader one has to appreciate what is left of the journey, and to make an exit that is as strong as one could possibly hope for. This is part of good leadership: Knowing how to start it, how to sustain it, but also knowing when to release it. As artists we need to be seeking the partnerships that help us grow as quickly and as far as possible.
The challenge for me is to find the instrument—by that I mean the orchestra—that will help me develop even further.
What kind of orchestra are you looking for?
Quite honestly, that kind of information is very private at this stage. But it could be heading to one of the top orchestras in the nation or around the world. It could also be going to an orchestra I want to build. Seattle was my first appointment as a music director. I’ll be 45 when I leave, and so my next move will be a 10-to-15 year investment.
Indeed, I’ll be looking at an orchestra that will be taking me to the next level, maybe also one that gives me more time for the music itself. Running an organization is extremely time consuming, and it involves participating in a number of activities that have very little to do with the music itself. As much as I love being a part of the community, I think capturing a little more time for myself is part of my decision.
Which concert was your favorite to conduct so far?
So hard to say. Last week was very special, the Bruckner. It was music we were doing together for the first time. It was a new soundscape for me. And I guess that [my exit] was announced in-between the two performances created something different between me and the orchestra. I think the next two years will be good because of that because of the respect we’ve acquired. But I’ve had such a blast so many times on that stage. You have moments like your first concert, even moments that completely transcend description, like the Music Beyond Borders concert, which was put together in 24 hours. I think the next one is the one I always try to create to be the special one. When I come back in June to conduct the Ravel opera, though, I have hopes for this to be a novel evening.
What special program are you most proud of creating / participating in?
I would say everything that has to do with inviting the audience to learn something. The educational projects such as Link Up, but also for me the late night [untitled] series in the lobby was very special. It drew a completely different focus to what we were doing onstage, and really opened the doors to the concert hall in a new way. People could sit on the floor and be close to the musicians and really experience the music.
Did you develop any special relationships with the musicians in the orchestra?
It was easier for me when I was an assistant director at the Boston Orchestra to engage in friendships. I still have a few players from that time who I trust to ask for honest feedback. But when you’re the boss, it’s not something you want to do. It’s fair to say that the 20 people I've been able to hire over the last six years are musicians I have a special relationship with. I went through the selection process, and I brought them in with the understanding that I was connected with their musicianship. Maybe when I leave, some of those relationships will flourish more easily.
If you had to do one concert over again, which one would you do?
I’d like to revisit Mahler’s 3rd symphony. It’s one of those pieces where you wish you could have five or six performances as opposed to three. It’s not that it wasn’t what I wanted it to be when we did it, I would just like to revisit it and have a little more time to experiment with it in more depth.
What piece of music are you most excited to work on in your last couple years?
I will continue—and it goes with our recording strategy—to bring that French flavor to the repertoire, maybe a little bit more of that Slavic flavor, too. Now that we’ve released all the Dutilleux recordings, I’m moving on to Messiaen, and also to the music of a younger French composer, Marc André Dalbavie. We have a project of recording some of his music. And then keep commissioning, keep premiering, keep finding places for American music as well. As you know next year we’ll continue our collaboration with John Luther Adams. I really fell in love with the music of Aaron Kernis, too, when we worked with him.
How do you feel about moving on?
Moving on is not a bad thing. Every artist in the world needs that challenge. It’s best to plan ahead so you don’t waste anyone’s time. I think of it as relay race. I took the baton from someone, and I want to make sure that I deliver it in the best possible, most graceful manner so that the next person can take it and run as quickly as possible.