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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sinaisky Named Conductor

The State Symphony Orchestra of Russia, once numbered among the Soviet Union's cultural crown jewels but lately fallen upon hard times, has just been presented with a new chief conductor. He is Vasily Sinaisky, 53, who, from 1991 to 1996, held a similar post with the State Philharmonic Orchestra.

Sinaisky, who these days spends most of his time abroad, happened to be in Moscow last Saturday for a long-planned guest appearance with the State Symphony. Just prior to the concert in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi stepped on stage to announce Sinaisky's appointment, expressing his "conviction that [Sinaisky] will raise the orchestra to its proper level."

Sinaisky's appointment marks the end of a yearlong struggle over the orchestra's leadership.

From 1965 until April of this year, the State Symphony served as the private preserve of Yevgeny Svetlanov, arguably today's preeminent Russian orchestral conductor. But, in recent years, Svetlanov has mainly been found abroad, with chief conducting posts in Sweden and the Netherlands and a full schedule of guest appearances in other places. During the 1998-99 concert season, he spent a mere 12 days with the State Symphony, and, since then, has been absent altogether.

Svetlanov's neglect of the orchestra inevitably bred discontent among its players.

A particular source of aggravation was the loss of much-needed extra income due to the cancellation of foreign tours and recording contracts. One result of these cancellations was the departure of many key players to more rewarding work elsewhere.

Early last summer, the orchestra proposed elevating Svetlanov to the post of conductor laureate and appointing someone else to lead it on a regular basis. Svetlanov refused the change in status and instead put forward an elaborate scheme that involved appointing a so-called "creative director" to act in his absence and both Sinaisky and Alexander Lazarev, former chief conductor of the Bolshoi Theater, appearing as regular guest conductors.

Apart from welcoming the possible presence of Sinaisky and Lazarev, the players responded with overwhelming hostility.

The dispute simmered and then boiled in the following months. Svetlanov stuck to his proposal and refused to negotiate. The orchestra responded by calling a brief strike. By April, the situation had become so dire that Shvydkoi apparently found himself with no choice but to fire Svetlanov.

Described as a "representative of the emotional school of Russian conducting," Sinaisky seems as good a choice as any to take the helm of the State Orchestra. A native of St. Petersburg and a pupil of that city's Conservatory's legendary teacher of conducting, Ilya Musin, Sinaisky was generally well regarded here during his tenure with the State Philharmonic.

He has since gone on to considerable success abroad, particularly through his work in England as principal guest conductor of the Manchester-based BBC Philharmonic. While his reputation abroad rests largely in the field of Russian music, his program of Beethoven and Richard Strauss last Saturday indicated a firm grasp as well of the mainstream Austrian-German repertoire.

Sinaisky faces a Herculean task in returning the State Symphony to its former exalted level of performance and restoring its morale and its reputation both here and abroad. As a first step, he needs to fill the chairs of at least 20 departed musicians.

The conductor's contract runs a mere two years, with the annual obligation of leading 12 programs. Meeting the obligation next season, however, may prove impossible, in view of commitments already made to other conductors long before Sinaisky's appointment. If so, he faces the additional burden of having but the single season of 2001-02 in which to give real proof that he is worthy of a long-term post.