Without keeping statistics, I can't say if this season has had more conductor cancellations than usual or not. After the most famous one back in the fall, we've had two in a row the past couple weeks, so at the moment it feels as if nobody wants to come here and conduct. Perhaps the fact that the high temperature one day last week was 10 degrees (Fahrenheit) had something to do with it.
News of a conductor cancellation is not always met with disappointment among musicians. In fact, sometimes it is cause for a minor celebration. This old joke (which I actually heard for the first time told from the podium by a last minute replacement for an ailing conductor) could refer to any number of maestros although it deals with something a bit more permanent than a cancellation.
The day after a great maestro died, his widow widow took a phone call from a violinist in the orchestra asking to speak with him. The widow informed the musician the great conductor had recently passed away and hung up the phone. The following day, the same musician called again asking to speak to the maestro, to which the widow repeated that the great conductor had expired. Over the next several days the violinist continued to call, each time asking for the maestro. At last, exasperated by the continuing calls, the widow reminded the violinist she had repeated the same news to him every day for a week. “I'm sorry,” he replied, “I just can't hear it enough times.”
Although Jaunjo Mena did a fine job in replacement of Yannick Nézet-Séguin, we missed out on the opportunity to evaluate the relatively unknown music director-designate of another orchestra. In America, music directors do not guest conduct each-others orchestras very often, limiting the opportunities to see the latest in the new crop of dashing young maestros. Seeing someone else's music director as a guest conductor is sort of like meeting the significant other of a rival. Along with natural curiosity, there is a certain amount of schadenfreude when he or she turns out to be frumpy, or vapid in some way.
Sir John Eliot Gardiner has been our guest here before and does not fall into the categories of young, or rival music director. Nevertheless, I was still keenly disappointed at the news of his cancellation – not to take anything away from his capable and ever-ready replacement Leonard Slatkin. The oil-and-water interaction of our ensemble with any of the 'early music' types is always entertaining and a shame to miss out on. Gardiner's program of three 20th century works, a potential gold-mine of blog posts which will, alas, for now go unexplored, looked intriguing on paper – a kind of daring-do parachute drop behind enemy lines in the war between 'period' and 'modern' performance. I can only wonder how we might have received him – snap a hood over his head and off to Guantanamo, a truly modern and up to date reaction, replete in its paranoia and intolerance, or, as in the more genteel days of the early flying Aces, a cigarette, perhaps some champagne, and with a good-natured pat on the back, send him packing across no-man's land, the trenches, back to the 18th century.