- The Washington Times - Friday, September 26, 2008

The Kennedy Center today named Christoph Eschenbach as the National Symphony Orchestra’s sixth music director.

The appointment of Mr. Eschenbach, the retiring Philadelphia Orchestra conductor, was the unanimous choice of the search committee following a lengthy search.

Mr. Eschenbach, 68, also will serve as music director of the Kennedy Center.

The internationally respected maestro — who’s also winding down a conducting post at the Orchestre de Paris — has inked a four-year agreement with the KenCen. He’ll serve as the NSO’s music director-designate next season, followed by three seasons as the ensemble’s music director, beginning with the 2010-11 season when principal guest conductor Ivan Fischer steps down.

Mr. Eschenbach thus becomes the long sought-after permanent replacement for former music director Leonard Slatkin whose controversial tenure with the NSO ended this summer. In his prepared acceptance statement, Mr. Eschenbach stated “It will be my mission to bring this great orchestra, in a great city, in a great country, to greater prominence around the world.”

A German native — whose hometown of Breslau became part of Poland after World War II — Mr. Eschenbach, like Mr. Slatkin, is no stranger to controversy. His just-concluded tenure with the Philadelphia ensemble was marked by serious differences of opinion, with what some musicians reportedly regarded as his “informal” approach to each musical performance. Yet in his previous 11-year gig at the helm of the Houston Symphony, he had been warmly received.

In his new NSO post, Mr. Eschenbach will lead 10 regular season programs per year. He also has ambitious plans to conduct concert tours and bring the NSO back to the recording studio due to his connection with Ondine Records, a European recording firm with whom he has had a long professional relationship.

These were some of the many things that attracted NSO musicians to support Mr. Eschenbach’s appointment, according to principal second violinist Marissa Regni. She chaired the five-member orchestra contingent chosen by the musicians to represent them on the full search committee.

Many orchestra members feel that Mr. Eschenbach will bring the ensemble to “the next level of excellence,” Miss Regni says. Musicians also found themselves attracted to Mr. Eschenbach’s thoughts on anchoring the ensemble’s repertoire more firmly to classic European musical tradition.

Miss Regni also pointed out that Mr. Eschenbach is no stranger to this orchestra, “having a long history as a guest conductor” over the past two decades or so. His most recent appearance with the ensemble last spring was judged a great success. Intriguingly, one of the new maestro’s first chores will be auditioning new musicians to fill vacancies in the ensemble, thus helping put his own stamp on the orchestra.

In addition to his NSO chores, Kennedy Center officials are excited about Mr. Eschenbach’s involvement with other Center programming. “With his incredible artistry and his immense knowledge of the music world, he will be an enormous asset in future festivals and international projects,” said Kennedy Center Chairman Stephen A. Schwarzman.

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