Final Encore

Seattle Symphony Conductor Ludovic Morlot Goes Out with a Bang

The music director closes his eighth and final season at the front of Seattle Symphony this week.

By Stefan Milne June 18, 2019

Ludovic Morlot finishes his time as Seattle Symphony conductor this week with three nights of concerts. 

Krishna Thiagarajan, the president and CEO of Seattle Symphony, took the stage Thursday night and said that Ludovic Morlot had only two weeks left as music director.

“No!” a man in the audience shouted. The resulting laugh was warm and commiserating.

Morlot, in his eight years as conductor, has become about as beloved a leader as a major arts organization could hope for, leading the way through 19 recordings; a Pulitzer (the symphony commissioned and premiered Become Ocean by John Luther Adams); Grammy awards; and last year’s win for Gramophone magazine’s Symphony of the Year (beating out such backwater cities as London and Vienna). Most importantly for Seattleites, though, Morlot has conducted our symphony through years of impassioned and creative live performances. “Their brass section was god awful,” a woman behind me said. “Now it’s wonderful.”

Thursday was no exception. Morlot’s mere appearance on stage—before a note had been played—had some audience members in standing ovation. As if in response, he launched the musicians into a joyous three-minute thunderclap: Wagner’s "Prelude to Act III" of Lohengrin. The three following pieces showed the symphony in full flex of its virtuosity, subtlety, and intelligence. Principal oboist Mary Lynch led the way through the winding intricacies of Richard Strauss’s Oboe Concerto in D Major. They finished with Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, op. 28, which was, like its German folklore subject, full of brilliant fun. 

In between came Claude Debussy’s Jeux (Poéme dansé), L. 126—a piece of dazzling textures and contradictory energies, like sunlight moving across slate. It was, if not the most forceful of the night, the most moving. Morlot has focused on Debussy throughout the season, and if these performances were any indication of Morlot’s final concerts this week—which feature a pair of Debussy pieces sandwiched between Wagner and Leoš Janáček—you’d do well to scoop up some of the few remaining tickets.

Luckily, Morlot will not be fully gone. Thomas Dausgaard will still take over next season, but last week, the symphony named Morlot the Judith Fong Conductor Emeritus—a lifetime title that came with a $1 million gift. It also means Morlot will be regularly guest conducting.

As that same man in the audience shouted Thursday: “Yes!”

Ludovic Morlot Conducts Debussy
June 20–23, Benaroya Hall, $37–$122

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