The National Symphony Orchestra has named Ivan Fischer as its principal guest conductor, starting with the 2006-07 season, the orchestra announced yesterday. The initial contract will be for three years, meaning that Fischer may be the senior artistic figure within the orchestra when the present music director, Leonard Slatkin, steps down at the end of the 2007-08 season.
The orchestra also acknowledged for the first time yesterday that a search committee, made up of NSO board members, musicians and management, has been formed to find a replacement for Slatkin. While the players are said to be enthusiastic about Fischer -- who has appeared with the orchestra twice, to glowing reviews -- they were not an official part of the decision-making process this time around. "NSO management made the recommendation to the executive committee of the board, who made the appointment," according to an orchestra spokeswoman, Patricia O'Kelly. Slatkin, too, is said to have been consulted and to have approved.
Fischer will lead two weeks in 2006-07, and a minimum of three weeks in each of the two subsequent seasons. Principal guest conductors are routinely considered for music directorships, although they don't necessarily end up in that position. Still, at the very least, this is a sign that the NSO is taking a serious look at Fischer.
Slatkin will reduce his time with the orchestra to 12 subscription weeks next year, with three additional weeks devoted to festivals, family concerts, residencies and the National Conducting Institute. A spokeswoman for the NSO said that Slatkin's contract specified a minimum of 16 weeks a year, but that he has often given the orchestra additional time -- 20 weeks or more.
In a statement, Slatkin said that he was "delighted to welcome Ivan Fischer to the NSO family. He is one of the most respected conductors in the field today and his presence will add greatly to our roster."
Fischer, a 54-year-old native of Budapest, first came to world attention in 1976, when he won the Rupert Foundation conducting competition in London. In 1983 he founded the Budapest Festival Orchestra, with which he has appeared around the world. He has appeared with many great orchestras, including the leading ensembles in Berlin, Amsterdam, Cleveland, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. For seven years he was the principal guest conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. He made his debut with the NSO in 1997 and returned to conduct here again in 2002.
The position of principal guest conductor of the NSO was most recently held by Rafael Fruehbeck de Burgos, who served in that capacity from 1980 through 1986 (and is now thought by some to be a contender for Slatkin's position). Antal Dorati, the NSO's third music director, who led the orchestra from 1970 through 1977, continued his tenure as the principal guest conductor in the first three years of Mstislav Rostropovich's term. James De Preist served as principal guest conductor for two years under Dorati.
In a statement announcing Fischer's appointment, Ann Jordan, chairman of the board of the National Symphony Orchestra Association, explained, "The members of the National Symphony Orchestra have thoroughly enjoyed Maestro Fischer's previous appearances, and expressed eagerness in having him return. When National Symphony representatives spoke with Maestro Fischer, we were pleased to learn that we had a mutual interest in a principal guest conductorship. All of us at the National Symphony Orchestra and the Kennedy Center are pleased at the prospect of working with him."
The statement quoted Fischer as saying, "I am very happy about this agreement because I remember the National Symphony as a very inspired and inspiring orchestra."