After eight seasons with Seattle Symphony Orchestra, music director and conductor Ludovic Morlot announces he will step down in 2019.
Seattle Symphony Orchestra has announced that music director Ludovic Morlot will step down in 2019.
Morlot said the departure was his decision, although he doesn’t have immediate plans for a new job.
The French conductor said he was “contemplating new horizons — nothing I’m ready to share with you today. But those don’t exclude the Seattle Symphony.”
During his eight seasons at SSO, Morlot has helped lead new initiatives at the symphony, including [untitled], a series of late-night performances of contemporary works in the lobby of Benaroya Hall; Sonic Evolution, which brought rock ’n’ roll and hip-hop artists to the SSO stage (including local artists THEESatisfaction and Mike McCready of Pearl Jam); and “Music Beyond Borders,” a free (and swiftly organized) concert of music by artists from Syria, Iran, Sudan and other “Muslim-majority” countries targeted during the early days of President Trump’s administration for travel restrictions and bans in the U.S.
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“We were very aggressive about being relevant for the community we were in,” Morlot said. “We want people to feel that this symphony is their community orchestra.” But that part of his job, he said, “is crucial but sometimes exhausting” — the fundraising, the meetings, the oversight for educational programs and civic engagement.
The hardest challenge of the job, Morlot said, “was how I had to fight to keep a few hours on the calendar for the music. I knew that was coming my way, but I didn’t know to what degree … The greatest challenge, for me, always remains the next performance.”
Trained as a violinist, Morlot has conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Boston Symphony Orchestra (where he worked with legendary conductor James Levine) and several other orchestras around the world.
After a 2014 performance of John Luther Adams’ “Become Ocean” at Carnegie Hall, The New York Times wrote: “The performance Mr. Morlot coaxed from his players was rich with shimmering colors and tremulous energy.”
A recording of SSO performing “Become Ocean” later won a Grammy Award. This year, the symphony won another Grammy for its third volume of orchestral works by Henri Dutilleux on its in-house Seattle Symphony Media label, launched in 2014.
In a prepared statement, SSO president and CEO Simon Woods wrote: “From the first moment I met Ludo, just before I was appointed to my current position, I knew that here was a fine musician of immense intellectual caliber who was also looking for new ideas and new ways of thinking about an orchestra.”
SSO has seemed to flourish during Morlot’s tenure. Symphony spokesperson Shiva Shafii said the audience at the symphony’s “Masterworks” classical concerts filled 76 percent of Benaroya Hall’s seats in 2017 (so far), compared with 66 percent in 2013. Full subscriptions have decreased in line with national trends, she added, but SSO’s “create-your-own,” flexible subscriptions increased from around 11,000 in 2013 to 36,000 this season and last season’s annual fundraising drive reached record-breaking $10 million.
“The orchestra has grown tremendously,” Morlot said, “the repertoire, the taste for adventure — not only in new music, but from maybe more international coloring in the programming … We all need comfort and entertainment, but we also need adventure, adrenaline, curiosity.”
Morlot said he and SSO have announced their split so early so “the symphony can imagine what the next vision will be.”
And for his next steps with new symphonies?
“I would let that happen organically,” Morlot said. “Like with any relationship, I would let it be — and maybe have more trust in my feelings about things.”