Classical Music

Survey Results: Our Maestro

Last month I conducted an informal survey that concentrated on classical music events just so I could start learning some general info about what the public thinks of the arts scene here in Columbus. In an effort to learn how much people knew about the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, I asked what I thought was a pretty basic question: Who’s our current music director (a.k.a. the conductor)? Think about it – who’s the most visible person in an orchestra? The music director.

Recordings and concerts are always introduced on the radio as “XYZ Orchestra under the direction of So and So” i.e. someone with a  cool-sounding name like Sir Neville Marriner or Serge Koussevitzky or Herbert von Karajan or even Alessandro Siciliani. (Of course, I just like to say ‘Alessandro Siciliani’ since I’ve pretty much forgotten all the rest of my Italian.)


OK – Here’s the question:

“Who is the Columbus Symphony Orchestra’s current music director (conductor)?” For this post, I’ve gone ahead and added their titles so we can all be better acquainted, but I did have fun coming up with possible answers! 🙂

  • Alessandro Siciliani – Former Music Director of the CSO (1992-2004)
  • Sir George Solti (1912-1997) – Conducted the Chicago Symphony among other ensembles around the world.
  • Wesley Keith Schultz – Lead singer of The Lumineers (I like Ho Hey)
  • Jean-Marie Zeitouni – Current Music Director of the CSO and I Musici de Montreal
  • Raymond Leppard – Conductor Laureate and Former Music Director (1987-2001) of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. (Kind of  like the Jack Hanna of the ISO.)
  • Jean-Paul Sartre – (1905-1980) Existentialist French author of Huis Clos / No Exit, among others.
  • I have no earthly idea – Pretty self-explanatory.  And honest.

Here’s what people think.

Question 5: Who is the Columbus Symphony Orchestra’s current music director (conductor)?
Jean-Marie Zeitouni 87 49%
I have no earthly idea 29 16%
Jean-Paul Sartre 17 10%
Alessandro Siciliani 17 10%
Wesley Keith Schultz 12 7%
Raymond Leppard 9 5%
Sir George Solti 6 3%

Would the real Maestro please stand up?

“I have no earthly idea” – though honest, doesn’t sound very cool like the other names. It just doesn’t. And I love that one of my favorite French authors fared so well, though maybe I shouldn’t, really. Variety is the spice of life, but our current music director is indeed Maestro Jean-Marie Zeitouni. See? Complete with a cool-sounding name!

Unfortunately, it was announced last month that he would not be renewing his contract as music director of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra. His contract is set to expire next summer as is the answer to this question. Bummer.

I don’t think we in Columbus ever had a chance to know our music director. But then again, I don’t think he ever got to know us either. He’s music director here in Columbus. He’s music director and lives up in Montreal and he guest conducts all over the world. Plus he’s a new father, so when was he ever here? Heck – he doesn’t even speak at concerts. (Well – rarely speaks) It’s too bad, I think, because we’ve got a pretty great city!

Good, bad or indifferent, our local maestro missed out on becoming well-known or influential in the community. He could have become a leader who helped spread the importance of music education and about the arts scene in Columbus. Do I begrudge him this decision to not renew his contract here? Heavens no! He’s an up and coming conductor with a new family and a bright future ahead of him. Besides, he’s still scheduled for seven more concerts, so we’ll still get to see him conduct this next season.

Here’s what I think

Arguably our most well-known local celebrities (outside of players) are OSU coaches Thad Matta and Urban Meyer. We love our basketball and football. Who can be number three? Our music director. A music director just coaches really talented musicians! Not quite as tall as student athletes…

A selection committee has already been formed and is working on choosing a new music director to take over the helm this time next year. So who will we get? No idea, but it will be fun to find out, don’t you think?! We have a very good, long-standing, professional symphony here in Columbus. Ticket sales are up this past year and hopefully, that trend will continue.

We went two messy years without a music director before Maestro Zeitouni’s arrival and have gone close to that long without a concertmaster since his arrival. I think it’s time to move up, don’t you?

I think whoever takes over needs to take an interest in and be far more visible in and around the city. I hope they actually live here, too. Better to be a part of our community, that way. Finally, I think this person will also have to work hard to steer the CSO in a direction that takes it to a whole new level. Right now our symphony is rebounding from hard times. Hopefully our next music director can continue the upward transition to a place of prominence within the classical music and arts community.

Think about it

The CSO is filled with very talented musicians, but even musicians of that caliber still require quality leadership on stage.  We’re all working hard to get the public back on board. A concertmaster from among some great candidates just needs to be chosen. All we need now is a music director willing to be the anchor that brings it all together and that provides the consistency we need in Columbus to boast of a world-renown symphony orchestra.

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