Conductors under 40: Wave of the Future or Passing Fad?

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Last month we celebrated Gustavo Dudamel's 30th birthday here on WQXR with a broadcast of a concert by the Los Angeles Philharmonic led by the Venezuelan conductor from the Barbican in London.

When the maestro was named Music Director of the orchestra, he was only 28 years old. Naturally, there was a lot of buzz that went along with the appointment of this talented young man. His immediate predecessor -- the gifted Finnish conductor and composer Esa Pekka Salonen -- was 26 when he made his debut with the orchestra. But, Salonen was actually 34 before he was appointed Music Director. Andre Previn was 56 when he was tapped for the position and Carlo Maria Giulini was 64.

So you might think that Dudamel is the youngest conductor to have been appointed Music Director of the LA Philharmonic. But I recently discovered that Zubin Mehta was only 26 when he was given the position in 1962. And Mehta stayed with the orchestra for sixteen years.

Mehta’s appointment aside, it does seem as though more and more under-40 types are making it to the podium these days. Last October, another 28-year-old whiz kid was tapped in Indianapolis to lead its orchestra. His name is Kryztof Urbanski. French Canadian conductor Yannick Nezet-Seguin became Principal Conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra when he was 33. Next year – at the age of 37 – he becomes the eighth music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Seattle has a new 36-year-old named Ludovic Morlot who replaces Gerard Schwarz in the fall.

So, what do you think? Is youth is the magic bullet for what ails orchestras right now? Do these young conductors have what it takes to live up to the hype? Do they have the fundraising skills...the programming chops...the respect of their fellow musicians? Will more young people be drawn to the concert hall if they see one of their own on stage?

Or, will we eventually find that the more seasoned conductors do a better job of standing the test of time?

Lest you think I’ve left New York’s own Alan Gilbert out of the mix, as far as this conversation is concerned, he’s one of the older generation of conductors on the podium today. He became music director of the New York Philharmonic in 2009. He will be 44 this month. And Jacques Lacombe of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra? He’s 48 this year!

So, chime in when you have a minute. And, if you have time, have a look at three different performances of the first movement of Beethoven’s 5th – by Gustavo Dudamel and the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, Claudio Abbado and the Berlin Philharmonic and Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony Orchestra: