When Osmo Vänskä relinquishes his post as Minnesota Orchestra music director next spring, he will have tied two predecessors for the longest tenure in that job at 19 years. So it's been quite some time since the orchestra auditioned conductors to be the new boss. But that appears to be what they're doing in the season that begins Sept. 23.
The prime candidates appear to be four guest conductors who have been asked to lead at least two different programs between the springs of 2021 and 2022. It's not a big leap to imagine these as tryouts to see if the conductor's style and communication skills jibe well with the orchestra's musicians.
One came in spring and returns in December. Two visited in August. Another arrives in November. Then comes a virtual Conductorpalooza in early 2022, when each of the four will lead a program at Orchestra Hall over the course of five weeks.
Again, this is speculation, but the schedule seems to say that these are the final four:
Hometown: Suresnes, France.
Currently: Chief conductor of Norway's Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra. Principal guest conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra.
When Marin Alsop was named the Baltimore Symphony's music director in 2007, she became the first woman to hold that post for a major American orchestra. Since then, there has not been another. So it would be big news in the classical music industry if the Minnesota Orchestra chooses a woman to succeed Vänskä.
Stutzmann is a celebrated contralto singer who took up conducting back in the '00s, and went a route not that unusual for women conductors trying to get a foothold in a business unfriendly to them: She started her own chamber orchestra (Orfeo 55). Her reputation has taken off in the past five years as she won jobs in Ireland, Norway and Philadelphia.
It sure looks like Minnesota Orchestra management likes her, as she's twice conducted the annual Guarantors' Concerts for major donors (in 2017 and '19). And her August visit included a very well executed interpretation of Antonin Dvorak's "New World" Symphony.
Hometown: New York City.
Currently: Chief conductor of the Netherlands-based Radio Filharmonisch Orkest. Principal guest conductor, Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra and London Philharmonic Orchestra.
Stutzmann isn't the only talented, confident and charismatic woman conductor among the finalists. The daughter of a conductor and a pianist, Canellakis graduated as a violinist from America's most elite classical music conservatory, the Curtis Institute, got into a Berlin Philharmonic program for young musicians, and was encouraged by its leader, Simon Rattle, to pursue conducting.
Her ascent has been swift. In 2019, she became the first woman to conduct London's First Night of the Proms at the world's biggest classical music festival. For the Minnesota Orchestra's final concerts of the summer, she proved energetic and sensitive on Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony.
Hometown: Moscow, but has lived in Finland since 1992.
Currently: Principal conductor of Spain's Orquesta Sinfonica de Galicia. Artistic director of Finland's Sibelius Festival.
Finland has emerged as a hotbed of talented conductors, with Vänskä just one of several Finns leading major orchestras. He established his reputation by turning the Lahti Symphony into a much-buzzed-about band, and Slobodeniouk just completed a five-year stint as chief conductor there.
While his candidacy may appear at first blush a hope by orchestra management that Finnish lightning strikes twice, he's received positive reviews everywhere he's conducted. He was slated to lead the orchestra in July, but his visit fell through because of pandemic travel restrictions (Vänskä stepped in).
Currently: Music director of the French Youth Orchestra.
Gabel was an outstanding young trumpet player who started to pursue conducting in his mid-20s. He clearly had a knack for it, as he won a major conducting competition two years later — the Donatella Flick — and was named assistant conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra.
He recently finished an eight-year tenure as music director of the Quebec Symphony Orchestra, and is filling the 2021-22 season with guest appearances in North America and Europe.
If all goes to plan, he's the only one of the four who will lead the Minnesota Orchestra in three different programs over the course of 2021 and '22. He made his local debut at an empty Orchestra Hall in a broadcast-only concert April 30, leading buoyant performances of Mozart and Stravinsky.
Rob Hubbard is a freelance classical music critic. • email@example.com