PHILADELPHIA, February 26, 2008—Saying that "nobody conducts the music of dead white males like a dead white male," Philadelphia Orchestra Association President James Undercofler today announced that the late Fritz Reiner has been appointed as Music Director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, starting this fall. Reiner replaces Chief Conductor Charles Dutoit, who abruptly resigned last November after accusing orchestra members of trying to kill him with a poison-laced soft pretzel.
The move ends months of speculation over the post, during which several other candidates, including Riccardo Muti, Simon Rattle, and Terry Bradshaw, were rumored to be finalists. "Muti was a strong candidate," Undercofler admitted, "but, seeing as how he was still walking and talking, we simply couldn't absolutely assure our subscribers that he wouldn't start programming a lot of contemporary music or unfamiliar repertoire. The corpse of Fritz Reiner brings an unbeatable combination of experience and predictability."
Some in the orchestra were upset by the announcement, which was made after only limited consultation with the Players' Committee. In addition, the musicians were skeptical of Mr. Reiner's ability to establish a "rapport" with the orchestra, having not conducted professionally since 1963. Reiner's sole audition was in December, when he was propped up in front of the ensemble for a rehearsal of Strauss's "Death and Transfiguration." Several players, who wished to remain anonymous, characterized his podium technique as "stiff" and "lacking vitality," although one member saw occasional flashes of the Reiner of old. "If anything, his beat's gotten bigger," he said.
The announcement is seen as a blow to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, who were said to be themselves courting Reiner for another term as their director. CSO president Deborah Card played down the rumors, saying, "We've long seen the need for our new director to be not just a superb musician, but an exceptional advocate for music in the community. Mr. Reiner's remains aren't going to be doing a whole lot of outreach." Card, however, had no comment when asked about local news reports that the orchestra had been in talks, through a medium, with the disembodied spirit of Leonard Bernstein.