It comes as a sad surprise to find ourselves speculating as to the identity of the CBSO’s next principal conductor when it’s little over a handful of years since we were doing it last time.

Simon Rattle stayed at the helm for 18 years (and brought about the building of Symphony Hall into the bargain), famously declaring his was a monogamous marriage with the CBSO.

Sakari Oramo made the odd excursion elsewhere, but concentrated on consolidating the orchestra here, revealing the true potential of its wonderful string section, and exploring neglected British repertoire.

They were both comparatively unknown young conductors when they came to the Birmingham podium, as was Andris Nelsons.

But such is the allure of this genial Latvian that he is sought after the world over, apparently unable to say “no”, and his current workload is jaw-dropping, and almost certainly detrimental to his health – as occasional cancellations (including a concert last week with the Philharmonia and an interview with me for this feature) are testifying.

It has also just been announced that he will not be conducting the remainder of what is proving a very successful run of Richard Strauss’ Elektra at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden.

Endlessly shifting time-zones, irregular meal patterns, constant pressures and an antipathy towards flying are scarcely elements to improve anyone’s well-being.

Andris has reluctantly come to the decision that the constant criss-crossing of the Atlantic between Birmingham and his new base in Boston, following his recent appointment as music director of the city’s symphony orchestra, is something that he cannot face.

It also appears that his family (wife, the soprano Kristine Opolais and their little daughter Adriana) will relocate to the north-east corner of the United States. He leaves Birmingham on the expiry of his contract in 2015.

Jac van Steen
Jac van Steen

So all of this makes sense, but hugely to the disappointment of the Birmingham audience and orchestra who have supported Nelsons so lovingly and enthusiastically.

In two years’ time, his successor will be in place, so we play the game again, going through a few possible candidates. Perhaps those rejected last time round will still be feeling a little sore, and might not want to enter these lists.

One of those was Robin Ticciati, somewhat anodyne then, but now achieving great things with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, and shortly to begin as music director of Glyndebourne Festival Opera, having already achieved huge success with their touring arm.

Historically many conductors have worked comfortably within the opera-house and on the orchestral platform, Gustav Mahler the greatest example of them all – but he composed masterpieces as well! No wonder he died so young (and transatlantic sea-voyages between Vienna and New York can’t have helped the state of his health).

But we can also trawl through conductors who have worked with great success with the CBSO: Martyn Brabbins, Daniel Harding (who was raised at Simon Rattle’s knee as an apprentice with the CBSO, now an eminent presence on the world stage), and Jac van Steen, until recently principal guest conductor of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and due to conduct the CBSO Youth Orchestra next spring.

These would be experienced incumbents. No fresh-off-the-blocks and wet-behind-the-ears whizz-kids this time round, but someone who can allow the orchestra to settle, regroup, confirm its identity in a wide range of repertoire.

Others with a well-established pedigree include Andrew Litton, the experienced American conductor who has worked with such success in Bournemouth, Dallas and Bergen.

The names of Tugan Sokhiev (appointed far too young and inexperienced as music director of Welsh National Opera many years ago, but now a hugely successful orchestral conductor) and Roberto Spano, who has done great things with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in the United States also come to mind.


Composer Martyn Brabbins (credit: Sasha Gusov)
Composer Martyn Brabbins (credit: Sasha Gusov)

 

And another ex-Bournemouth principal conductor, Marin Alsop, currently music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, principal conductor of the Sao Paulo State Symphony Orchestra, and who famously last month became the first woman to conduct the Last Night of the Proms, surely comes into the frame. As do other women conductors, such as Simone Young and Susanna Malkki.

I have a little imp in my head giving me a mischievous idea. Jamie Phillips, prize-winner in prestigious conducting competitions (including Salzburg), is achieving great things as assistant conductor to Sir Mark Elder at the Halle Orchestra in Manchester. But he is still only in his early 20s, and, more seriously (Rattle was only 25 when he was appointed), his father is a senior member of the CBSO, and many of the players will have known him since he was in nappies.

But two names are prominent on my personal shortlist, and they are both conductors that I have seen in action during the last week.

Nikolaj Znaider, a world-class violinist who is turning increasingly towards baton-wielding, presided over a wonderful CBSO concert last Thursday, elegant, discreet, and always supremely musicianly in his conducting, to which the players responded with warmth and enthusiasm.

And in Cardiff I witnessed the huge impact made by Daniele Rustioni in two of Welsh National Opera’s Donizetti Tudor trilogy. OK, this young Italian conductor has an histrionic podium presence, but the results he obtained from the already excellent WNO Orchestra were amazing, drawing immense applause from a knowledgeable, experienced audience.

But what do I know? For its last three principal conductor appointments the CBSO has come up with a wild card, and I wouldn’t expect anything else this time round. So Ladbrokes won’t be getting any bets from me.