NSO might take note of the Berlin Philharmonic’s miscue in pursuit of new music director. (Elvis Swift for The Washington Post)

For one moment this week, classical music had Twitter on the edge of its seat — due to an orchestra’s music director search.

This is unusual. Music director searches are always a source of intense speculation among aficionados. But none offers the suspense, general interest, and instant gratification of the Berlin Philharmonic. On one assigned day, the orchestra’s 123 players retreat to an undisclosed location, give up their cellphones and tablets, and vote for a roster of candidates that can include any living conductor, until, through negotiations and repeated votes, they arrive at a clear majority. This week, the process dragged on for an unprecedented length. As the hours ticked on, public interest, and Twitter, almost boiled over. At one point, a fake tweet in the name of a popular Berlin musician started the rumor that the post was going to Andris Nelsons, the new young music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. False alarm. Finally, after more than 11 hours, came the announcement: The orchestra had been unable to come to an agreement. The players would have go back and do it all over again — sometime within the next year.

The National Symphony Orchestra’s current music director search won’t be conducted quite so theatrically. But the Berlin case offers pertinent information for the NSO — and all the other orchestras, including the Philharmonic, hoping to welcome a new music director in 2017.

For one thing, the drama in Berlin demonstrates that in today’s conducting world, rife with talent, there aren’t clear front-runners. It is widely supposed that Nelsons and Christian Thielemann, the polarizing 56-year-old conductor of the Dresden Staatskapelle whose music-making is as authoritative as his politics are conservative, were the two favored candidates behind Berlin’s closed doors, but other possibilities abound. Could some Berlin musicians have opted for Riccardo Chailly, the highly regarded 62-year-old conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig; or Kirill Petrenko, 43, the music director of the Bavarian State Opera; or Daniel Barenboim, 72, the veteran star who was under serious consideration last time round but lost out to Simon Rattle?

For another, it shows that some of the most exciting candidates are young and still unproven: such as the 36-year-old Nelsons; or Yannick Nézet-Séguin, 40, already beloved but still developing as music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra; or the 34-year-old wunderkind Gustavo Dudamel, subject of worldwide hype for years already and ensconced at the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s Marin Alsop was rumored to have been called the model of today’s music director by a prominent New York Philharmonic leader. (Astrid Riecken/For The Washington Post)

And it shows that even one of the world’s top orchestras isn’t sure exactly what it wants.

Is anybody? In today’s world, the role of a music director has become ever more elusive and ever more important. Is a great music director the person who can make the orchestra play the best or the person who has the most charisma and the innovative ideas the field so desperately needs? The answer is different for every ensemble: A conductor who flourishes with the Houston Symphony may bomb with the Philadelphia Orchestra, as Christoph Eschenbach, the NSO’s current music director, demonstrates. But it seems more and more that the music director everyone wants is energetic, exciting, preferably young, and brings a new perspective to his or her work: from Dudamel and Nézet-Séguin and Nelsons to the 58-year-old Marin Alsop of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, who, according to the rumor mill, was cited by a prominent New York Philharmonic leader as the model of today’s music director.

Making great music is no longer the sole point of the exercise. Yuri Temirkanov, Alsop’s predecessor at the BSO, is one of the greatest conductors alive, but his tenure in Baltimore is widely seen as disappointing. But youth and ideas on their own aren’t enough. The New York Philharmonic’s Alan Gilbert, now 48, had plenty of both, but despite his new-music festivals and unusual presentations, he lacked the charisma to illuminate the standard repertoire and get audiences excited about him — though some people are hoping that, now that he’s free, Washington will take a look at him.

But the National Symphony Orchestra remains a special case. The American orchestral world follows the dealings of the so-called Big Five (Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Chicago), keeps tabs on Los Angeles and San Francisco, and takes occasional note of Pittsburgh, Seattle, Dallas or the Minnesota Orchestra (which made a historic tour to Cuba this week). But the NSO isn’t part of the conversation — despite the fact that its players and music director are among the highest paid in the country. When Eschenbach led his inaugural concert as the music director of the NSO, hardly a media outlet outside of Washington took notice.

Why not? The Kennedy Center offers a prominent podium and a safe haven — perhaps too safe. Without the center’s sheltering arms and deep pockets, the NSO would be in the red every year. The idea that one is protected even when one underperforms may have seeped into the orchestra’s psychology; and protection may even, in some cases, cramp a music director’s style. Mstislav Rostropovich, the orchestra’s most iconic and beloved music director, was a force of nature unto himself; but it’s hard to explain why Leonard Slatkin, who has performed creditably with other organizations and who arrived in Washington in 1996 full of energy and a concrete vision for bringing more new American music and outreach to America’s national orchestra, effectively crashed and burned in Washington over the course of 12 not-very-happy seasons. And Eschenbach, although he brought a pop of motivation and energy at the beginning of what will ultimately be a seven-year term, hasn’t exactly changed the landscape.

The head of the Kennedy Center will almost certainly play a considerable role in the NSO search; it’s only in Berlin that the decision is entirely up to the musicians. And because the Kennedy Center’s president, Deborah Rutter, is so newly arrived, and has such deep experience in the orchestra business, the NSO’s field of potential candidates may be wider than one might glean from scanning the orchestra’s past and current guest conductor rosters. Rutter’s biggest claim to fame, in a career filled with them, was the successful wooing of Riccardo Muti, 73, to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Initially disinclined to take any music director post, and having twice almost jilted the New York Philharmonic, Muti proved an inspired choice in one of the happiest orchestral marriages in the country today: thriving on community outreach, performing in schools and prisons, championing young American composers — and offering memorable music-making.

There are a few conductors who are likely to be mentioned in connection with both the NSO and the New York Philharmonic. Gianandrea Noseda, 51, who has conducted both orchestras with flair, though he can be a little cool in his approach, just made his debut this month with the Berlin Philharmonic. Another possible candidate is Osmo Vänskä, 62, who brought the Minnesota Orchestra to new heights, weathered a crippling lockout and got an extra turn in the spotlight this week when the Minnesota Orchestra performed in Cuba, though the fact that he was romantically linked with at least two women in his orchestra has not escaped observers’ notice. Ludovic Morlot, 41, has been doing strong work with the Seattle Symphony, which he has been fortunate enough to document on recordings for the orchestra’s label; and Jaap van Zweden, the 54-year-old music director in Dallas, is also noteworthy, though he’s said to have an acerbic personality.

There’s also mention of Semyon Bychkov, 62, who is mostly European-based these days but who was once music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic and who conducted Renée Fleming in a fine “Daphne” at the Kennedy Center in 2005. He has no particular relationship to the NSO, but that doesn’t have to be an obstacle; Eschenbach hadn’t led the NSO since the 1990s when he popped into town in 2008 for the one-night benefit concert that led to his current music directorship.

Or might the NSO turn to one of the younger conductors who has led them in recent seasons, such as Juraj Valcuha, 39, chief conductor of the RAI orchestra in Turin, who has been here three times since 2010? If NSO wants a young American, they could try James Gaffigan, 36, oft cited as a rising American talent, who heads the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra. Krzysztof Urbanski, 32, is the music director of the Indianapolis Symphony and was entrusted with a prominent program this season. Meanwhile Cristian Macelaru, 34, is getting attention as associate conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra — and happens to have developed an active relationship with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, while Rutter was still there.

Conspicuously absent from many of these discussions are the names of women. Although the field is increasingly sensitive about the under-representation of women on the podium, Alsop remains the only woman leading a major American orchestra. (JoAnn Falletta, 61, does lead two smaller ones: the Virginia and Buffalo Symphony Orchestras.) There are certainly viable candidates. The Australian Simone Young, 54, is nearing the end of her tenure in Hamburg, where she has led both the opera and the orchestra and amassed a host of significant recordings of Wagner, Bruckner and Mahler. Susanna Mälkki, 46, is the designated chief conductor of the Helsinki Philharmonic in her native Finland. If we want to bring orchestras into the modern world, breaking down perceived gender barriers might be a nice step along the way. But don’t hold your breath.