Guest conductors come in all weights. Some do little more than float through a week in an orchestra's life, while others mount the podium as important interpreters, technicians and specialists come to provide a significant balancing viewpoint to that of the music director. A few even generate speculation about some future role with the orchestra.
Philadelphia Orchestra audiences have come to see Charles Dutoit as more than a casual guest. Since his debut here at the Mann Music Center in 1980, the Swiss-born musician has become both a summer and winter conductor with the orchestra; he winds up his current two-week stint with concerts tomorrow in Harrisburg and Tuesday at the Academy of Music.
He also will lead the orchestra in March on a week's tour of Florida. According to Joseph H. Kluger, the orchestra's manager, music director Riccardo Muti feels that the process of having the orchestra work with guest conductors is important both at home and on tour.
"Dutoit is one of a group of guest conductors that has been unusually successful, both in gaining the respect of the players but also the admiration of our audiences," Kluger said last week. "We're happy to have him leading the orchestra on tour.
"Besides," he added, "he's such a nice guy."
Having already led the Philadelphians on tour from Delaware to North Carolina in the fall of 1986, Dutoit stands with Stanislaw Skrowaczewski as the only guest conductor to have toured with this orchestra in modern times.
All this may mean only that Dutoit has been quickly recognized as a conductor with a wide range of interests and a gift for creating significant concerts with maximum efficiency. It also reflects his high visibility in the music world, where his list of recordings as music director of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra places him among the international leaders - and this in a business dominated by a few hallowed seniors who conduct the half-dozen orchestras that have big recording contracts.
Is he a candidate for the New York Philharmonic?
In Montreal, the director general of the Montreal Symphony, Zarin Mehta (coincidentally, Zubin's brother), said in a phone interview that "we want him to stay - even if I have to tie him down. But practically, he and I have been talking repertoire and planning seasons well past 1991, when his contract ostensibly ends."
Dutoit smiled at the sudden speculation. "I don't know" about the New York Philharmonic, he said a few days ago. "I do know that I am a North American now; I don't want to go back to Europe. What would I do if the Berlin Philharmonic called? The Berlin Philharmonic will not call, so that's not a question.
"I am happy in Canada, but maybe I would try crossing the border," he mused, gesturing with a conductorial flicking motion. In Canada, he is at home. His wife, Marie-Josee Drouin, is a director of the Hudson Institute, the think-tank headquartered in Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y., and their busy schedules intersect most often in Montreal.
He has been crossing the Canadian-U.S. border regularly, however, as his own orchestra has risen into international prominence. Together, he and the orchestra traveled in 1987 to Los Angeles, performing at the Hollywood Bowl, while the Los Angeles Philharmonic was on tour. Dutoit began taking the symphony on tour in this country in 1981, and has since led trips to Japan, Europe and Hong Kong. In 1986, he led the musicians on an extended American tour.
Alone, he spent three seasons as principal guest conductor with the Minnesota Orchestra and has been a guest with all the major orchestras in the United States. He bowed at the Metropolitan Opera last spring and will return for two more seasons to lead French repertoire.
His place in Philadelphia has been intriguing. At one time, the Mann Center president, Helen Martin, saw him as a candidate to serve as artistic director or adviser in the Philadelphia Orchestra's 18-concert Mann series, which has traditionally operated without an artistic director.
But the suggestion of awarding a title at the Mann Center precipitated intense reaction from the orchestra's management, and Martin eventually bowed to their pressure not to install a conductor with a title to challenge Muti's. Dutoit, unflappable through it all, told her he would be glad to help, even without a title. His influence on those summer seasons probably has been considerable, but it has always been managed behind the scenes and without straining his ties with the orchestra.
Dutoit has been fashioning his impact here by working from a list of works the orchestra has not played but should have. "Can you imagine that La Damnation de Faust had not been done here?" he asked, with eyes open wide. (He performed the Berlioz work with the orchestra in five concerts Nov. 10 to 15.) "Anyway, I'm glad to have been able to do it, even if the schedule was very tight. Three rehearsals is not so very much for a work that big. Since it is unlikely that I will live in an opera house, I like doing these works with chorus and soloists, except that singers are so problematical."
At the time, between the first and second performances, he was waiting to hear who would sing the crucial bass role of Mephistopheles; Franz Grundheber, who sang at the first performance, was suffering from flu and had to cancel the second. In the week's five performances, Dutoit had two different basses and two different tenors in the main roles.
With the orchestra, Dutoit has conducted first performances of music by Schubert, Barber, Carter and Honegger, as well as reviving Bartok's two- character opera, Bluebeard's Castle. "I was surprised to see that the orchestra has never done Mahler's Das Klagende Lied or Des Knaben Wunderhorn," he said. "I want to do both of those."
Dutoit does not act like a man eager to change his duties. The Montreal Symphony stands as a monument to his industry and success.
"When he came in 1978, the MSO was playing 20 nights in the Place des Arts," Zarin Mehta said. "Now we are playing 140 concerts a year. I'll tell you what he has brought to Montreal: musical stability and artistic direction. In his very methodical way, he has shown the orchestra the path it must follow, building its skills and expanding its repertoire enormously. With him, this orchestra has become ingrained in the life of the city - and that's unusual in Canada."
Dutoit established a baroque series in Montreal's Notre Dame Cathedral, as well as a summer series called "Mozart, Plus." Mehta said that "since 'Plus' can mean Shostakovich, this series has been enormously popular. The orchestra gains from playing Mozart and baroque music, but also learns repertoire from all over the world."
The symphony had never made a commercial recording before Dutoit arrived, but has since become one of the top sellers on the London label. Twenty-eight records are on the market, Mehta noted, with five more in progress, and the contract with London remains open-ended to allow regular recording sessions.
"We became the biggest seller in Japan last year," said Mehta.
Although Dutoit and Montreal have become symbiotically important, not everything works between them. The symphony had to abruptly cancel a European tour a year ago when the Quebec government, bogged down in debate over support of the orchestra versus other institutions, declined to subsidize the trip. The cancellation stung Dutoit, who called the action shortsighted.
Nevertheless, Dutoit remains committed to his orchestra's growth. He will not appear in the Mann Center concerts this summer because of commitments to the "Mozart, Plus" program he founded in Montreal. "I'll be back the year after," he said.
By then, the picture may have cleared. He could be entering the last season of his contract in Montreal, or he could already have announced plans for his next destination on the North American musical scene.