The most important changes of all, however, involve personnel. As often happens when a new music director comes in, a number of senior players have opted to retire — creating room for some long-needed upgrades in the winds and brass. The principal trumpet, horn and flute positions are all currently open, while the principal trombone and percussion chairs will be occupied by newly hired players in the fall — and at a time when many orchestra musicians are faced with salary cuts, the NSO is safely enfolded in the Kennedy Center’s sheltering arms, making it an attractive berth.
“In two years,” Shapiro says, “he has hired seven players and tenured one, and there are three principal openings. He’s really overseeing and selecting and building that way, making enormous change in the sound of the orchestra.”
“Orchestras adapt to the personality of the conductor,” Eschenbach said, speaking by phone the week before the orchestra left for South America. “[The] Berlin [Philharmonic] played very, very differently with [Herbert von] Karajan than with [Claudio] Abbado or [Simon] Rattle. So this orchestra is tending now towards my way. ‘My way,’ ” he added, breaking into a few bars of the Paul Anka song, chuckling, before adding quickly, “But it is also their way.”