[Conductor] Pinchas Zukerman has announced he is stepping down from his position as music director of the National Arts Centre Orchestra [Ottawa, Canada] in 2015, ending what by then will be a 16-year run in the job.
Mr. Zukerman is one of a few career-soloists to have made a somewhat successful transition to the podium - whilst not relinquishing his role as violin (and sometimes viola) soloit worldwode. I can only think of Ashkenazy (though he has been solely conducting in recent years) as someone who's been as successful. I will try and forget that Maxim Vengerov and Itzhak Perlman have also tried their hand at conducting...
If I appear timid in my assessment of MM. Zukerman and Ashkenazy as conductors, it is becoause I still view them as "better soloists than conductors". The article goes on to point out Mr. Zukerman increased the size of the NAC Orchestra, which for years was a plus-sized chamber orchestra, to that of a modest-sized Romantic orchestra - though ironically, Mr. Zukerman has done better conducting repertoire for the former than the latter.
One thing is undeniable: Mr. Zukerman's charm and appeal has done well for the growth of the orchestra (which is about 45 years old, same as the NAC itself), though he has not necessarily been a champion of Canadian music or Canadian players - with the possible exceprion of Amanda Forsyth, who was principal cellist with the orchestra prior to his arrival and has since become Mrs. Zukerman... There was quite a controversy, as I recall, about the position of concertmaster, and Mr. Zukerman turning down French-Canadian violinist Olivier Thouin (who is now one of the Montreal Symphony's associate concertmnasters) for the job on the grounds he didn't like where his thuimb lied on the violin... And there have been a couple of "resignation threats" along the way, but that's par for the course in that business, me thinks...
Will be interesting to see where the NAC goes for a successor. Will it look for one of the young lions of Canadian conducting (Yannick Nezet-Seguin, Jacques Lacombe, Jean-Philippe Tremblay - who apprenticed under Zukerman, Jean-Marie Zeitouni...) or will there be pressure to get somebody from the outside (past NAC Music DIrectors have included Franco Mannino and Trevor Pinnock...). In fact, the only Canadian conductor to have held the post was the founder of the orchestra, Mario Bernardi...
I like Pinky. I saw him a couple of times as soloist prior to his NAC appointment.
As mentioned, he never shied from controversy. Such as his squabble with Jeanne Lamon (Tafelmusik) over period music. To start this pot boiling, Zukerman had said, "Asinine stuff...a complete and absolute farce...Awful. Nobody wants to hear that stuff. I don't."
At only 63, may he have many good performing years left.
In my record collection, I own a few Pinky titles myself - most of my faves are of him as a soloist, though I own a couple of his late 90's recordings with the NAC Orcchestra (one on Beethoven one on Schubert and a 2 CD set on Mozart including 1 CD of "chamber" music with NAC players).
Of these three of him as a conductor, I would say "not bad, but not great". I like his Beethoven's 1st, though I don't think it's as good as - say - Haitink's.
To the risk of sounding harsh, I think of him as a "Sunday Conductor", same as the names I mentined in my OP. You could add to that list (though you'd have to dig them out of their graves) Isaac Stern and Jean-Pierre Rampal... I've not heard Joshua Bell conduct (RE: KV466's comment), so I can't hazard an opinion. Murray Perahia, however, is definitely a Sunday Conductor.
Not that there's anything wrong with that...
But that hving been said, why would you make a Sunday Conductor the Music or Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of a major orchestra (which, in Canadian standards, the NAC Orchestra is...)
Of current soloists/conductors, I think of Barenboim first, then Ashkenazy and Eschenbach. Some others I could name, can step into a soloist role quite impressively when needed, but are predominantly conductors.
Zukerman had more than adequate credentials as music director of chamber orchestras in St. Paul and Los Angeles, as well as guest-conducting many symphonic orchestras elsewhere. I wouldn't diss him. Why did they hire him? Primarily, I'd say because he has a name and can fill seats.
As for NAC's future, I would imagine they'll choose a guest conductor whom the players and subscribers respond well to. It could be a name from a similar background Zukerman came from. It could be an up 'n comer. The ability to fill seats is mandatory (talent and charisma). It's a business.