Honk If You Love Vonk

The maestro's tumultuous tenure with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra comes to a close

"His understanding of Bruckner and Mahler was phenomenal," says Gippo. "Our performance of Bruckner's Eighth is one of the best recordings there is. But Hans did not have the flair to draw the community together and raise the big bucks. We know this is what we need. In all aspects, it was a tragedy."

Vonk had the opportunity to evolve, to adapt, to expand his repertoire and enlarge his reputation in America. As a musician, he had the skills to explore the New World, but he remained where he was comfortable.

Last fall, the SLSO presented "Night of the Stars," a gala performance with artists from around the world coming to Powell Hall to make music for free. Frederica von Stade, Gil Shaham, Evelyn Glennie and others came to raise public awareness of how great SLSO is and how great a loss it would be if it could not be saved from disaster. Slatkin worked tirelessly to make that concert happen, sending hundreds of e-mails around the world.

Violist Morris Jacob refers to Vonk's "incredible clarity. It's almost as if he had coffee with these composers. That's what made him so special as a conductor."
Bill Greenblatt/UPI
Violist Morris Jacob refers to Vonk's "incredible clarity. It's almost as if he had coffee with these composers. That's what made him so special as a conductor."

In the midst of crisis, however, Vonk did not participate in the planning of the event. Says one musician, "Hans doesn't e-mail."

"The next music director has to reach the community in a musically visceral way," says Halen, "and in a personal way. He or she has to motivate the institution and give a vision of that institution to the people of St. Louis. A political component must be exercised in the next director without sacrificing expertise on the podium. However, the most dangerous thing for the orchestra is a second-class musician and a complete politician."

"What we need now is a combination of everything we had before," says Gippo, "someone who can talk and speak to young people, get them excited and interested -- a regular kind of guy yet at the same time an impeccable musician. New young conductors understand the landscape has changed. You do not take your cape off and conduct."

Gippo sees the search for Vonk's successor as more than finding a versatile, consumer-friendly leader. The next SLSO music director must be open to the New World: "We need to find our own culture. We need to find our own symphony culture, not the European.

"We're trying to find our own. We're going to find our own."

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