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Solzhenitzyn leaves Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia


Pianist/conductor Ignat Solzhenitsyn is moving on after 16 years conducting the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia – though not entirely: With yesterday’sIgnat Solzhenitsyn announcement that Dirk Brossé will succeed him as music director came the news that Solzhenitsyn, as conductor laureate, will lead one program a season. Both appointments are for four years, beginning with the 2010-11 season.

The announcement came after months of speculation about the 37-year-old Solzhenitsyn: A Philadelphia presence for 18 years starting with his time at the Curtis Institute of Music (from which he graduated in 1995), he and his family moved to New York City earlier this year. His departure from the music director post comes a year before the end of his current contract – usually evidence of a professional falling-out. Not so, said executive director Peter H. Gistelinck.

“He is getting more and more work,” Gistelinck said of Solzhenitsyn. “He’s principal guest conductor of the Moscow Symphony Orchestra. He has a solo career. I think he wanted a change. Frankly, when there’s a problem, you don’t make a . . . conductor laureate alliance for four seasons.”

Solzhenitsyn wasn’t present at yesterday’s news conference and reportedly is touring in Germany. “I consider my years with the Chamber Orchestra to have been highly fruitful and satisfying, a time of mutual growth,” read his prepared statement.

Brossé – born and based in Ghent, Belgium – was in Philadelphia last weekend with the touring Star Wars: A Musical Journey, in which he conducts the John Williams score, reflecting his work in the international film world both as conductor and composer. In concert music, his composition catalog numbers some 200 works including concertos and symphonies. He has guest-conducted orchestras all over the world, including the London Symphony Orchestra.

He said his Philadelphia programming will not veer toward pops or film music. “The main repertoire will be classical music. It’s also important to play more modern music. I want to keep my eye on that,” he said. “Another idea is touring. I don’t have any concrete plans, but . . . one of my dreams is to bring the orchestra to Europe.”

The square-jawed, dark-haired conductor also expressed great interest in outreach activities in Philadelphia – one of his quirks is that he calls listeners “clients” – and foresees having a permanent residence in Philadelphia. “I want to talk to your people, and see how you think,” he said.

Brossé, 49, has made annual visits to the Chamber Orchestra since 2007, first with recording sessions for the Tchaikovsky-based score for the animated video Tom and Jerry: Nutcracker Tale, then in a well-received 2008 chamber version of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde and a Scandinavian program last month that got a mixed response.

These changes come at crucial junctures in the lives of both conductors, as well as for the 45-year-old orchestra. Though Brossé’s schedule would suggest that he’s one of the busiest musicians in the world, his resume lacks a central orchestral appointment.

The Moscow-born, Vermont-raised Solzhenitsyn – son of the late Russian writer and dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn – has had fewer recent high-profile U.S. engagements than in the 1990s. Recent appearances include a chamber music concert at New York’s Mannes School of Music and guest conducting with the Toledo Symphony Orchestra.

His legacy with the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia is unquestionably brilliant: Though he was music director only for the last six years, his strong presence before that raised the orchestra’s standards with fresh readings of oft-played standard works by Beethoven and others. He also championed harder-to-sell pieces, including early symphonies of Mendelssohn and Haydn, and he commissioned Variations on a Theme by Hugo Wolf from Philadelphia’s Michael Hersch at a time when few conductors had the courage to tackle Hersch’s often-difficult music.

The orchestra performed for years in various venues under founder Marc Mostovoy until finding a permanent home as a resident company in the Kimmel Center’s Perelman Theater. Earlier this year, the financial downturn forced Gistelinck to cut the orchestra’s 10-program season to the current four, as part of a three-year austerity plan to allow financial regrouping.

David Patrick Stearns
Philadelphia Inquirer

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