Call it a long goodbye (or at least an extended final movement). On Friday it was announced Seattle Symphony artistic director Ludovic Morlot will be leaving the organization when his contract expires in the summer of 2019. While he will still "regularly" (per press release) conduct the orchestra after his tenure ends, he'll no longer be the man shaping the Symphony's overall sound and direction.
Morlot revitalized Seattle Symphony when he took over the artistic director post in 2011 after things had grown stale (and internally tense) during the 26-year tenure of Gerard Schwarz. New series like the casual and outside the box late night fare of [untitled] and Sonic Evolution's genre fusion (which brought local rock, hip-hop, and soul to the symphonic scene) injected a sense of modernity to the sometimes stuffy-feeling classical world. Morlot also managed to greatly boost Seattle Symphony's national and international reputation with home run projects like commissioning, premiering, and recording John Luther Adams's Grammy and Pulitzer Prize winning Become Ocean (the highly anticipated sequel—Become Desert—premieres at Benaroya Hall under Morlot's baton in March 2018). Heck, his time even saw a big donation from Taylor Swift.
The native of Lyon stayed true to his roots with a lot of French works (the most recent Henri Dutilleux album earned the Symphony another Grammy earlier this year), but his programming never felt lazy. Recent programs have ranged from a two-year complete Beethoven symphony and piano concerto cycle to Music Beyond Borders: Voices From the Seven, which featured music from composers on Trump's failed travel ban list. Morlot's time at the top saw increased youth outreach with programs like Family Connections (which offers free companion tickets to children with a paying adult) and the Side-by-Side Concerts where young orchestral players get to share the Benaroya stage with their professional counterparts. On top of all that, he brought a zeal to any proceeding he personal conducted.
As part of the announcement of his eventual leave, Morlot summed up his time with Seattle Symphony and his decision to depart:
I will be forever grateful and proud to have been given the opportunity to help write a chapter in the history of the Seattle Symphony. And what a beautiful chapter it is; thrilling performances played to full houses, the appointment of so many outstanding musicians, three Grammys, a strong list of commissions and premieres, a memorable concert at Carnegie Hall, an upcoming residency at Berkeley, and so much more. I am also extremely appreciative of the commitment that the community as a whole has offered to me at the artistic helm of this extraordinary organization. The decision to step down as Music Director when my contract comes to an end in 2019 is not one I have taken lightly. We are in the midst of a wonderful, stimulating and exciting artistic journey and I look forward to continuing this in the next two seasons. However, I feel that by 2019 the time will be right for me to explore new musical opportunities and for the Symphony to have the inspiration of new artistic leadership.
A committee that includes the Symphony's board, musicians, and staff will soon begin a search for the next Seattle Symphony musical director. We'll be sure to let you know when there's news on that front.