It's not news that Edward Gardner would eventually be stepping down as Music Director at the ENO. He's taking over as Chief Conductor at the Bergen Philharmonic in October 2015. While it was assumed he'd be able to balance that with London, he needs to expand his portfolio beyond opera if he is to lay the foundations for a much bigger career. Plus CBSO hasn't said who's replacing Andris Nelsons. (Read what I wrote about that here.)
What is news is his successor: Mark Wigglesworth. I did a double take when I saw the news, reading Ryan Wigglesworth by mistake - another drop dead handsome, stylish personality, Sexy Ed Mark II, perhaps, the sort of charismatic figure any orchestra needs. Mark Wigglesworth is much more of a wild card. What might this mean for him and for the ENO ?
Mark Wigglesworth is charismatic too, and has personality, to put it delicately. And as a musician, gosh, he's good, when he's focused. He was only 27 when the BBC hired him as one of their stable of conductors, which normally is a springboard for a solid career. When his recording of the performance edition of Mahler's Symphony No 10 was issued with a copy of the BBC Music magazine it became a cult hit. People were buying back issues of the magazine to get the free CD. He conducted it at the Barbican when Daniel Harding's wife went unexpectedly into labour. Harding's kids are teenagers now.Harding Mahler 10 leaves everything else for dead but the point is, Wigglesworth has enough going for him that makes him interesting.
Wigglesworth gets very good jobs but doesn't necessarily conform. Being emmollient is part of a conductor's job description. In fact here are several conductors who are better at pleasing benefactors and corporate interests than at making music. It hardly matters: audiences are swayed by status, not necessarily by art. Maybe Mark Wigglesworth is exactly what the ENO needs: someone who will speak his mind at a time when the ENO is being bullied into becoming bland to please a section of the public who don't really like opera, music, stagecraft or indeed anything that challenges them. One thing we still have in Europe is a body of well-informed people who go out because they care about art, not simply to be seen spending money.
>Artists take risks. Philistines panic. In the wild game of conductor chess, who knows who will be moving where and when? Whatever happens, the next few years at the ENO are not going to be boring.
photo : Sim Canetty-Clarke