The Conductor Reflects: David Robertson at St. Louis will he stay?

By DAVID MERMELSTEIN

Mr. Robertson, age 51, was widely reported to have been a leading candidate for the music directorships of the New York Philharmonic and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra recently, and many have wondered how long he will remain in St. Louis. His annually renewed contract, currently valid through the 2011-12 season, is more typical of music directors nearing the end of their tenures. But he maintains that such details lend no insights into his commitment.

“I’ve never looked at anything I do as a stepping stone to someplace else,” Mr. Robertson said while comfortably settled on a sofa in his bright, homey office at Powell Hall, a converted movie palace that has been the orchestra’s home since 1968. “When you commit to a relationship, it’s because the relationship makes both of you better.”

Though the SLSO is the second-oldest such ensemble in America (the New York Philharmonic is the oldest), it has had more than its share of troubles recently—including a near bankruptcy in 2001, the sudden incapacitation of its previous music director in 2002, a strike by musicians in 2005 and, most recently, a sharp decline in the value of an endowment established to help stabilize the orchestra.

Mr. Robertson, though, decided that other things mattered more, noting that he found the organization unusually committed to civic concerns—a spirit that echoed the priorities of the European groups with which he had forged his reputation. “They give close to 300 community concerts versus 75 in Powell Hall,” he said of his players. “And they didn’t cut those when they had problems, which said to me this orchestra has its heart in the right place.”

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