Auditions & Appointments / Los Angeles Philharmonic / Music News & Info: Classical

LA Phil comings and goings (part 1 of 3): As the Principal Cello chair turns . . .

Peter Stumpf (photo courtesy of Indiana University)

News came today of Peter Stumpf, currently Principal Cello of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and a member of the Johannes String Quartet, accepting a full-time position at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music after having served as adjunct faculty for the past two years, flying back and forth between Los Angeles and Bloomington to fulfill his commitments.  Word on the street is that Stumpf will take a one-year leave from the orchestra for the 2011-2012 season to teach in Indiana (and likely also to spend more time with the Johannes).  It remains unclear what Stumpf will do after this coming season is done.

Stumpf took over the Principal Cello chair from Andrew Shulman.  When Ronald Leonard retired in 1999 after 24 years as Principal Cello with the orchestra, the initial round of auditions to find his successor resulted in no winner, leaving the position vacant for a year.  Shulman, who came to Los Angeles after being Principal with both the Philharmonia and the Academy of St.-Martin-in-the-Fields in London, was then invited by Esa-Pekka Salonen to try out for the LA Phil position.  Shulman’s tenure began with much fanfare, and based on the first few months of concerts, the hoopla seemed justified.  The cellos always played elegantly under Leonard, but under Shulman they seemed to have more presence in the concerts I attended.  Mark Swed said, in his review of a performance of the Brahms Symphony No. 2 conducted by Christoph Eschenbach:

“The Philharmonic cello section, starting to find a new voice under the new principal, Andrew Shulman, was particularly impressive in this regard, especially in its rapt yet lucent playing at the opening of the Adagio that practically seemed to stop time.”  (Los Angeles Times, December 9, 2000)

Despite the accolades, Shulman resigned after just one season, agreeing to stay on for an additional year while the Philharmonic began a new search for his replacement (eventually hiring Stumpf).  It is unclear why Shulman’s tenure was so short.  He certainly played beautifully and received positive reviews; while officially he had resigned, there were rumblings about some in the orchestra unwilling to grant him tenure which probably means there was “not a good fit” between him and the section; Shulman was also pursuing a budding conducting career, and perhaps the orchestra was unwilling to allow him as much time is he wanted for this other activity.  Swed described it this way:

“The often-euphemistic reason given for his resignation, which came at the end of his probationary period, is the desire to explore career options. . . . Orchestras are large families all unhappy in their own ways, their inner dynamics a mystery to outsiders. From a listener’s point of view, however, the cello section under Shulman has been robust; his solos with the orchestra never let you down.”   (Los Angeles Times, March 2, 2002)

After what turned out to be one of his last performances with the Philharmonic, I remember seeing Shulman, Salonen, and Daniel Rothmuller (Associate Principal Cello) sharing a beer or two at the old Otto Rothschild’s restaurant (what is now known as “Kendall’s Brasserie)” beneath the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion.   They seemed to be getting along. . . .

And now, after a still-relatively-brief nine-year tenure by Peter Stumpf, the orchestra faces the strong possibility that it will have to look for another Principal Cello.  We won’t know for sure for another year, but in the meantime, it will be interesting to see what effect, if any, Stumpf’s absence will have on the section.  He is certainly a respected and capable player;  I found his solo performances in the Prokofiev Sinfonia-Concertante and the Brahms Double Concerto to be fine, if not particularly distinctive or noteworthy.  In contrast to the notable change in character of the sections sound during Shulman’s tenure, and despite having to deal with the less-than-perfect acoustics in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the evolution of the cello section’s sound seemed more to do with where they were placed within the string section at Walt Disney Concert Hall than to any influence Stumpf may have brought.  Perhaps Stumpf has better people/political skills than Shulman did; clearly, being the principal in any orchestra requires more than just being able to play well.

For now, we’ll just have to wait and see.

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7 thoughts on “LA Phil comings and goings (part 1 of 3): As the Principal Cello chair turns . . .

  1. It is nice to see another new blog that is interested in classical music. But this post worries me a bit for two reasons.
    1. There is way too much of speculative guessing here about certain decade-old events that reveals that the blogger does not have the true full knowledge of all the related facts, yet is willing to elaborate and insinuate based on nothing but faulty premises, producing plenty of unwarranted innuendo.
    2. There is also an odd reliance on published statements by just one critic only, who is for some reason cited here not once but twice, as if he is the supreme justice of all musical matters.
    Shouldn’t the blog be a place where blogger expresses his (or her) own opinion that is, one hopes, based on real facts?

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    • Hello, MarK! You are very welcome here, and your thoughts, insights and opinions are very much appreciated. I hope you stop by often!

      Your comments are well taken. Let me address your two points:
      1. I will fully admit that I do not have the “true full knowledge of all the related facts” related to the events surrounding Andrew Shulman’s tenure, and I hope that my post did not imply that I did.

      • I will add that, at the time, I had a handful of conversations/communications with members of the orchestra — including Mr. Shulman — plus other professional cellists in the community, and the only thing they would say on record was that, in general, things didn’t work out and it wasn’t a good fit, and that his ultimate departure from the orchestra was amicable.  (I’ve been In the various organizations — musical and non-musical — in which I’ve been a part, I’ve seen very talented people leave because they too were not a good fit with the organization’s culture or practices, and the subsequent parting of ways was almost always amicable, too.)
      • Mr. Shulman also mentioned to me a few other thing which, while not off the record, I chose not to mention because they did not relate directly to the issue of his departure from the orchestra.  The one thing I will say now — and this should come as no surprise nor does it betray any confidence given to me — is that he said at the time that he was looking forward to conducting more; since he left the LA Phil, he certainly has done that.
      • My biggest speculation, then and now, was the exact reasons for him to not be “a good fit” with the orchestra.  I admit that I am guessing that the reasons are non-musical, based on the information above; however, I could be completely wrong.

      2.  My use of quotes by only one music critic is definitely not to imply that he is the “supreme justice of all musical matters.”

      • In addition to or instead of the first quote, I could have — and perhaps should have — used quotes from the various other music critics who praised Mr. Shulman’s playing.  These included Alan Rich (LA Weekly), Valerie Scher (The San Diego Union Tribune), Daniel Cariaga (Los Angeles Times), and John Henken (Los Angeles Times).
      • As for the second, I should mention that I had developed my own ideas and conclusions about the events before Mr. Swed published his statements on the matter.  While I certainly do not always agree with his opinions, I found it interesting that he drew the same conclusions that I had drawn in this particular case.
      As I mentioned at the beginning of this note,  I am very appreciative of your comments, critical as they may be.  Writers with much more experience than I have been rightly taken to task by you, so I whole-heartedly welcome your willingness to do the same for me in this instance.  I sincerely hope you make “All is Yar” a regular stop on your online journeys.

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      • Thank you for replying. My feeling is that the content of postings should be such that the blogger would not need to say things like “I admit that I am guessing” and “I could be completely wrong” later. But thanks for being honest. It seems unnecessary to me right now to go into details in order to explain exactly how wrong you were. The only comment i would like to make at this point is: in my opinion, Peter Stumpf’s playing in Walt Disney Concert Hall has been outstanding.

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        • It looks like Mr. Stumpf’s recent recital in Bloomington was very well received; I am not surprised by this at all as he is certainly a very fine cellist. I have the review form the local paper, but the only public link I can find so far requires a subscription. If/when I find a link to the full article, I will post.

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