Top ten orchestras
You'd never guess how busy the classical music beat is here in Cincy. I've been working on a special assignment for Sunday and covering news like the Azmari Quartet getting invited back to their jobs at Northern Kentucky University...
So, last night I spoke to a great group of Kiwanis in Greenhills/Forest Park, and the question came up: Where does the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra fall among the top 25 big-budget professional orchestras in our country? In the Big Five? Heavenly Seven? Top Ten?
That's a tough call, because the landscape seems to be changing all the time. Cleveland, for instance, was considered No. 1 for a time during the tenure of Dohnanyi, but now there's a new maestro, Franz-Welser Most, on the podium. Chicago is searching for someone to replace Barenboim... New York recently hired Lorin Maazel. And out West (my home turf), the San Francisco Symphony and LA Philharmonic are flourishing under, respectively Michael Tilson Thomas and Esa-Pekka Salonen. Plus, LA now has Disney Hall -- which is creating tons of buzz.
Let's see, we've got New York, Philly, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, the Met Orchestra under James Levine, LA and SF. I'd put Cincinnati next in that group. After that, we have Pittsburgh, Baltimore (that just hired Marin Alsop for 2007), St. Louis (what's happening there??), Minnesota, Atlanta (doing great things with Robert Spano, et al), Detroit (seeking a music director) -- who have I left out?
So, where does our orchestra fall? I'd say lately, under Paavo Jarvi, definitely within the Top 10 -- and that is because the artistic quality (playing, programming and sheer excitement level) of concerts is something the likes of which this city hasn't seen since the Schippers era. In fact, it may be better now than any time in our orchestra's 111-year-old history.