Jean-Marie Zeitouni Leaving Columbus Symphony – Here We Go Again

Jean Marie Zeitouni(Photo: cso)
Jean Marie Zeitouni(Photo: cso)

I can’t say I was surprised to hear of the departure of Columbus Symphony Music Director Jean-Marie Zeitouni. He is not renewing his present four-year contract, nor as I understand it has a renewal been offered by the CSO Board. Zeitouni himself has called his departure amicable, though it will be a disappointment to his many admirers in our city.

Zeitouni has an infant daughter in his native Montreal, and another orchestra, I Musici di Montreal. He is invited to conduct all over the world. I’d expect him to be turning his sights to the wider world. He’s a marvelous musician and a great personality. He deserves all the success he’s had here and that which will come his way. I will miss him.

The CSO will have one more season with Zeitouni at the helm before his contract expires in August 2014.

The problem is the orchestra is now faced with another round of music director search. It’s a time-consuming, costly process and potentially divisive. Some will love one and some will love the other. The Columbus Symphony had been used to continuity.

People still speak admiringly of the 20 plus year tenure of Evan Whallon. His successor stayed nine not very happy years. Alessandro Siciliani stayed 12 years and he remains an audience favorite though his tenure could not be called easy. Then short timers: Junichi Hirokami was waylaid by a work stoppage and his own poor sense of public relations. Zeitouni came, did well and is leaving as his career is hotting up.

What kind of person should take this job? Superb musicianship is a given. Flexibility and affability will go along way. Charisma absolutely. That you got or you ain’t got.

The bigger question is do they select someone on their way up, who then leaves to go further, or someone long established who is looking to wind down, or a good solid community based person who stops just short of excitement? I don’t know. I don’t envy the search committee.

They’ll have to consider carefully these questions. Another short timer is fine if you hit all the right charisma, charm, musicianship and fundraising buttons. After the past rocky years, now is not the time to stop the positive momentum.

  • Karen Olstad

    Reading this, I was struck by the similarities between picking a music director and what many colleges face when hiring a football or basketball coach. A lot of the same trade-offs and skill sets. It will be interesting to see who CSO hires.

  • Ivan Mueller

    Considering the funding of the orchestra, the next music director will have to be active in fundraising by becoming part of the community. Obviously, super musicianship is also desired together with personal skills. Is there such a person?