Battle of the Batons

Who’s who in the search for a new lead conductor of the PSO?

When longtime Portland Symphony Orchestra conductor Robert Moody announced that he would step down this spring, after the company’s 2017–18 season, 240 bandleaders applied to fill his podium. Now, the PSO has narrowed its search for a new music director to three finalists. Each will come to town to conduct one classical and one pops show, plus give talks and mingle with concertgoers and supporters. PSO executive director Carolyn Nishon wants someone who excels in front of the orchestra but just as enthusiastically advocates for music in the community. Every aspect of the finalists’ visits, on stage and off, is part of an intensive tryout. “It’s kind of like dating,” Nishon says. “You want to make sure the chemistry is right. You can look at someone on paper, but if I were to decide to marry someone from what’s on a piece of paper, it’s probably not the best idea.”


Eckart Preu

Courtesy of the Portland Symphony Orchestra

Maestro

Eckart Preu

Current Gigs

Music director of the Spokane Symphony, Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra, and Long Beach Symphony

Nishon’s Notes

Our musicians still talk about an amazing concert he conducted for the PSO back in 2011, a Bruckner symphony. I can remember exactly where I was sitting because it was such an amazing experience. . . . He has these very sweeping motions and just has a presence on the podium.

Critic’s Take

Preu is simply an irresistible visual presence. He is tall and has a wide wingspan, both of which he used with such grace, lyricism, and conducting effectiveness that he brought the music to life right before one’s eyes.

— Knoxville News Sentinel

Accent Mark

During a rehearsal for Preu’s 2011 Portland show, a PSO staffer became alarmed when the podium started shifting precariously under the demonstrative conductor, who nonetheless managed to stay upright.

Program

Pops: ’S Wonderful: A Gershwin Celebration (past show)

Classical: Johann Strauss II’s The Blue Danube (March 4)


Maestro

Daniel Meyer

Daniel Meyer

Photograph by Kristi Hedberg

Current Gigs

Music director of the Asheville Symphony and Erie Philharmonic

Nishon’s Notes

When I went to see him conduct in Asheville, the city felt like the Portland of the South. And what I saw was that the audience there just adored him. He not only has an incredible understanding of how an orchestra our size operates but also speaks so eloquently to the power of music.

Critic’s Take

With dynamic gestures and a stylish demeanor, [Meyer] exacted a balanced, rhythmically vibrant, and richly blended sound from the orchestra. . . . Visually, his conducting is an exact replica of the music, so the orchestra’s scrupulous response was no surprise.

— The Birmingham News

Accent Mark

When Nishon went out to dinner with Meyer after a show in Asheville, she was struck by what a community fixture he’d become. The conductor was frequently interrupted between bites by approaches from excited locals.

Program

Pops: Rodgers and Hammerstein on Broadway (April 21­–­22)

Classical: Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake (May 13)


Ken-David Masur

Photograph by Beth Ross Buckley

Maestro

Ken-David Masur

Current Gigs

Associate conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and co-artistic director of the Chelsea Music Festival

Nishon’s Notes

Ken-David’s programming creativity is perfect for Portland — at his music festival in New York, they were combining sound and food and art. And in watching him conduct, I’ve seen a wide array of ways to communicate. He can mix precision and great expressiveness.

Critic’s Take

Masur is not someone to stand passively on the podium and watch as the music takes shape around him. He has ideas and he’s not afraid to use them. Some involve extremes in tempo (very slow or very fast) and dynamics (very soft or very loud), others deal with extremes in interpretation (the more conventional way and his way).

— San Diego Union-Tribune

Accent Mark

Masur studied under his father, Kurt, who served as music director of the New York Philharmonic and the Orchestre National de France and as principal conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

Program

Pops: Oscars’ Biggest Hits (Jan. 13–14)

Classical: Brahms’ First Symphony (past show); Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 (March 20)


Will Grunewald

Will Grunewald is Down East's associate editor.