Sunday, May 06, 2001

Lopez-Cobos can look back on 15 eventful years

Maestro to conduct final concerts as orchestra's director

By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        When Spanish conductor Jesus Lopez-Cobos was named the 11th music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in 1985, Cincinnati knew little about the man who would lead the city's largest arts organization.

        Next weekend, 15 years later, Mr. Lopez-Cobos will lead his final concerts as music director for the orchestra.

        In 1985, Mr. Lopez-Cobos, 45, was principal conductor of the Spanish National Orchestra and general music director of the Deutsche Oper Berlin, with a doctorate in philosophy from Madrid University.

        He had guest-conducted the CSO only once, in 1981, leaving a favorable impression on musicians and critics.

        There was a flurry of parties as the Midwesterners of this Germanic city got to know their Spanish maestro and were instructed to pronounce his name “Haysoos Lopez-Cobosh.” His tenure proved to be a rocky one. Mr. Lopez-Cobos struggled to find the right programming for his new audience, while the audience dwindled. He weathered a severe financial crisis, a threatened strike and questions about his musicianship. He never became an active member of the Cincinnati community.

        But he can point to many accomplishments. He achieved the second-longest tenure of any music director in CSO history — the third longest of all music directors now at major U.S. orchestras. He led the orchestra on European and Far East tours, conducted the CSO's first nationally televised concerts in the United States and Japan, took the CSO to Carnegie Hall 14 times and made 26 records, more than any music director.


        June 1985: Mr. Lopez-Cobos is named 11th CSO music director, succeeding Michael Gielen.

    Name: Jesus Lopez-Cobos
    Occupation: Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra music director; music director emeritus from the 2001-02 season. Also, conductor of the Orchestre Francais des Jeunes in Paris.
    Born: Feb. 25, 1940, in Toro, Spain
    Family: Married Brigitte, Aug. 13, 1998. Children: Jesus Jr., 31, by his first wife; Manuel, 21, by his second wife; and Antoine-Francois, 10, by his third wife; Jan Philip, 13 (Brigitte's son).
    Lives: Lausanne, Switzerland
    Future plans: Free-lance conducting. He is slated to conduct at Paris' Bastille Opera once a year through 2004. In January, he'll be at London's Royal Opera House for Puccini's Tosca. In 2004, he is on the schedule for Chicago's Lyric Opera (Lucia di Lammermoor).
    Orchestra guest conducting will take him all over the map next season, including Japan, Spain, Slovakia, Poland, France, Portugal, Germany and Australia. In the United States, he'll come four times to the CSO, as well as to Dallas and Montreal.
    What: Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Jesus Lopez-Cobos, conductor; Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, violinist
    When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday (6:15 p.m. complimentary buffet); 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. In honor of Maestro Lopez-Cobos, there will be gourmet desserts following each concert.
    Where: Music Hall
    Tickets: $13-$52; $10 students. 381-3300 or
    The program: Tchaikovsky, Violin Concerto in D Major; Mahler, Symphony No. 5
    Read the review: Friday on Cincinnati.Com, keyword: symphony and Saturday in Tempo.
        July 1985: The honeymoon begins. First appearance as music director-designate in a Riverbend concert, where he wows 5,075 concertgoers with Ravel's Bolero. The Enquirer pitches Mr. Lopez-Cobos as “classical music's answer to Julio Iglesias.”

        October 1986: Programs Mozart and Mahler for his first concert as music director for 2,533 listeners. Saturday's concert is sold out.

        1987: Eight months after the death of his second wife from cancer, CSO officials learn the maestro has remarried when a photo spread of his wedding appears in Hola! magazine. His recording of music by Falla (The Three Cornered Hat, Spanish Dance from La Vida Breve) is Stereo Review's record of the year.

        1988-89: Appointed music director of the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra, a post he holds until 2000. Shakes up Spain's musical scene when he abruptly resigns as conductor of the Spanish National Orchestra. Founds the CSO Chamber Players Series and the CSO Young Composers' Competition.

        1989-90: Adds acoustical “clouds” (reflectors) to Music Hall to improve the sound.

        October-November 1990: Leads tour to Taiwan and Japan, the CSO's first Far East tour since 1967. It includes the first CSO telecast in Japan, recorded in Osaka's Symphony Hall.

        March 1992: Leads the CSO on its first West Coast tour.

        May 1992: Signs a three-year contract extension that includes a pay cut because the CSO is facing a deficit of $8.4 million.

        1992-93: Inaugurates the Thursday night series.

        1994-95: Oversees the CSO's 100th anniversary year, which includes a centennial fanfare project, a gala concert with Itzhak Perlman, Richard Stoltzman and Mstislav Rostropovich, and the first European tour in 25 years. The momentous season begins with a threatened musicians strike and a search for a new concertmaster. Renews his contract through the 1999-2000 season.

        1996: Marks his 10th anniversary in October with a repeat of his first program, to a smaller audience this time, of 1,941. Receives honorary doctorate from the University of Cincinnati.

        March 1997: Leads CSO on its second Western tour, including Las Vegas and Albuquerque, N.M.

        August 1997: The CSO's PBS-TV broadcast debut, a concert of Ravel and Dvorak with pianist Alicia de Larrocha.

        1997-98: Debuts a new, $1.5 million acoustical shell surrounding the orchestra in Music Hall to improve the sound.

        June 1998: Leads the CSO at the Casals Festival in Puerto Rico.

        December 1998: After 13 years, three international tours, 20 recordings and a centennial celebration, he announces he is leaving after the 2000-01 season. “I believe now it is time for me and for the orchestra to prepare for change,” he says.

        January 2000: Marks his 500th CSO concert with Wagner's Lohengrin.

        July 2001: Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 highlights his final Riverbend concert as music director for 1,545 listeners.

        January-February 2001: Final concert in Carnegie Hall, followed by a European tour, including the CSO's first concerts in Poland and Spain.

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