Christoph Eschenbach, the cosmopolitan maestro
The German-born conductor Christoph Eschenbach is currently in the middle of a two-week residency at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Last week, I went over to meet this cosmopolitan maestro who left his last main gig, the storied Philadelphia Orchestra, after a difficult (and brief) five-year run.
I found the nearly 70-year-old Eschenbach to be as Mark Swed describes him: “Thin and erect, with shaved head and large cranium, dressed in avant-garde sleek black shirt and slacks, he looked like some inscrutable creature of advanced intelligence out of the future. …”
In other words, a bit imposing. He warmed up when we somehow got on the subject of German poetry, and he discussed his love of Goethe, Heine and especially Rilke, adding, “The language only sounds harsh and dry if it is spoken badly.”
He’s an all-around arts enthusiast: He’s always interested in how music relates to a novel or work of architecture, and he tries to view works in their historical contexts, the way, for instance, “Mahler’s symphonies were written next door to Sigmund Freud.”
Tonight he plays Schubert’s final piano sonata, the 960, at Disney Hall: He told me that when his sometimes collaborator, baritone Matthias Goerne, suggested he perform the piece, Eschenbach at first considered it too long and subtle and said no.
In 2010, Eschenbach takes over as conductor at the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C., and we discussed his abitions there. “The National Symphony can be an American signature for the world.” A productive and peaceful run at the NSO would provide the conductor with something he hasn’t had in a long time: a real musical home.
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— Scott Timberg
Photo: Eshenbach in 2004. Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times