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Countdown to Symphony 2010: Perry Picks a New CSO Maestro

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Christof Perick is nearly done for 2009. Though he is listed as Charlotte Symphony's Orchestra's musical director on the 2009-10 brochure, he won't be returning to the Q.C. until the halfway mark of the Classics season, late in November. After that, Perick passes the baton to his successor, bowing out with three final concerts over a seven-week period, beginning on March 5 and ending -- with Beethoven's Ninth, of course -- on April 24.

So the question remains: who will replace Perick at the official "New Music Director Preview" on Feb. 12, 2010? Symphony patrons have filled out reaction forms after each of the eight candidates' appearances. The Charlotte Observer has weighed in with its preferences. What in hell is CSO waiting for?

Must be my rankings.

It may be heretical, but I judged the desirability of the candidates strictly by the quality of the concert experience they delivered, not by reputation/resume, not by how split they would be between Charlotte and other musical directorships, and not by their commitment to fundraising. A really, really good orchestra headed by a really, really good conductor tends to draw big audiences and big bucks -- not to mention a prestigious recording or two along the way.

Sound unfathomable? North Carolina Symphony signed a record deal with BIS last year and just brought out a new CD with guest artist Branford Marsalis -- and three world premieres -- that has received favorable notices in both ClassicsToday.com and Gramophone. That wouldn't be happening if maestro Grant Llewellyn were spending all his time in Raleigh fundraising. But he does engage his audiences at Meymandi Concert Hall and speak to them more than once a year.

I've heard that CSO musicians don't like conductors who extend concerts by communicating. Apparently, those musicians don't realize it's not about them. Getting the cold shoulder from your city orchestra's maestro is one more reason for subscribers not to care, not to contribute, and not to attend. Survey that.

Perhaps if all the candidates had spoken about the music they were conducting, we'd have a sharper perception of what each one wants to bring to our musical scene in the coming decade -- and yes, who he is, because that's a legitimate part of the concert experience. If we had been granted more face time with the candidates, between those long stretches when we saw the backs of their heads, people in the hall would have a clearer idea about which one is the best fit for their city's orchestra.

To fill in that gap, I circle back to my concert experiences. At least they show me how well each candidate communicated with our orchestra -- how well they grasped the light of his insight and how fervidly they caught the fire of his musical passion.

My rankings count down how the eight hopefuls placed, from the worst all the way up to first choice. Any of my top four choices would likely drive the orchestra forward and bring new vitality to the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra concert experience, if their efforts aren't scuttled by finances. None of the top six would be a catastrophe. Beware the bottom two, who would surely drag us down into a slough of insularity and mediocrity.

• #8: Edwin Outwater

Half of the candidates were tested on Mozart, and our cellar-dweller tied with our #6 candidate for worst Wolfie. More disastrous still was Outwater's surprisingly inert and passionless rendezvous with the "Love Scene from Romeo and Juliet" by Hector Berlioz, the sweetmeat that Peter McCoppin wielded to rock the house at CSO's 75th Anniversary Gala. Berlioz' "Rakoczy March" belatedly sparked to life, but Outwater and the CSO were at their best as subservient accompanists to hulking guest pianist William Wolfram. The concert finale, Stravinsky's Firebird Suite, helped to burn away some of the dross that had preceded.

• #7: Christopher Warren-Green

Great hair, great pedigreed Brit name, and some exquisite work with the delicate passages in Rimsky-Korsakov's most familiar orchestrations. But the calms in Night on Bald Mountain and Scheherezade should only make us experience the storms all the more powerfully. "As with the flaccid Bald Mountain," I observed, "the majestic peaks of 'The Sea' didn't lap up to the throne of God. They barely surged above sea-level." Gulp. When he radically reduced the orchestra -- cello section of one! -- for a Haydn cello concerto, guest soloist Julie Albers seemed unnerved in her debut. Bring a good soft pillow with you to the Belk if W-G should ascend the throne.

• #6: William Eddins

After the moribund Outwater, the youthful and energetic Eddins sounded like Paradise -- until he sat down at the piano and violated the garden of Mozart. You have to bring it when you show off, but Eddins flopped as he conducted Piano Concerto #25 from the keyboard. Around that disaster, the audition began well enough, with Charles Griffes' The White Peacock, and ended with a rousing Tchaikovsky Fifth. An orgy of flailing, pumping and stomping broke out on the podium as he rallied the orchestra, so we had another performance where I had to wonder: were they about the music or about Eddins? Call again when you're over yourself.

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