Steven Sloane took up the position of Music Director of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra at the beginning of the 2020/21 season. From October 2019 he was Music Director Designate, leading the orchestra in three symphony concerts and begin with artistic planning. Karsten Witt took this appointment in early 2019 as an opportunity to take a look into the future – as well as the past.
“It feels like coming nach Hause.” After over 30 years in Germany, Steven Sloane still switches seamlessly between German and English, often in a single sentence. The conductor’s American accent – he grew up in Los Angeles – is still unmistakable. Recently he often starts conversations in Hebrew, before I remind him that, even after 15 years of working together, I still don’t understand this language.
When he says nach Hause, he now is not referring to his home state of California, but rather the country to which he emigrated after his graduation at 21, and where he lived for 10 years: Israel. Here he threw himself whole-heartedly into the country’s musical life and helped by its development, establishing the Choir of the Conservatory in Tel Aviv. He then conducted all the Israeli orchestras, with the single exception of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, who first invited him later. The Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra invited him particularly often as a guest conductor – at this time Gary Bertini was the Chief Conductor. In 1985 he was about to take the position of Resident Conductor of the newly founded Israeli Opera, but instead moved together with Gary Bertini to the Frankfurt Opera, and took his first fixed position as 1. Kapellmeister.
However, Bochum is still where Steven Sloane calls home; this is the city where he has held the title of General Music Director since 1994. His service to the musical life of this theatre city and the wider Ruhr-region are unrivalled. He has been recognised for this with several honours and distinctions, and he continues to win new audiences with his visionary and open-minded programming. The celebrated production of Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s Die Soldaten at the RuhrTriennale, which the Bochum Symphony Orchestra also brought to the Armory Hall in New York, is as unforgettable as the Day of Song project as part of his programme for Ruhr2010, which brought singing to public spaces across the whole city, and saw him conduct 60,000 singers in FC Schalke’s stadium.
In 2016 he celebrated his greatest success in Bochum with the opening of the new Anneliese Brost Musikforum, built around the St. Marien Kirche near the city’s so-called “Bermuda triangle” entertainment district. This is a new home for the Bochum Symphony and the city’s music schools as well as its music lovers. With skill, tenacity, persuasiveness, assertiveness and powers of persuasion, Steven Sloane patiently led this project to great success, after it had often been written-off as unfeasible in a bankrupt city, and the concert hall’s opening was also celebrated outside the region, both nationally and internationally.
In 2018, two years after the opening of the concert hall and his nomination as Intendant, Steven Sloane declared his intention to step down in three years’ time, and to hand the position to a successor. In 2019 the orchestra will celebrate its 100th anniversary as well as the 25th year of the conductor’s position as General Music Director. “It will then be time for a change – for the orchestra as well as for me.” He has also long had a second home in Berlin, where he established the International Conducting Academy at the Berlin University of Arts, which intensively trains selected young conductors. Since the current season he has also held the position of Principal Guest Conductor and Artistic Advisor at the Malmö Opera.
In a profession that is marked by jet-setting from one orchestra to another, Steven Sloane is an exception. He loves the continuity of working with friends, but never lets this become simply routine. His motto could be “let’s look for something new” – both because of his work championing lesser-known composers as well as engagement with young artists; for his work with new productions and concert formats as well as for his efforts to develop the institution of the orchestra and the space it occupies. After naming him as its new Music Director from 2020, the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra can look forward to change, hinted at in Steven Sloane’s first public statement about the position: “I will work for the orchestra to create new collaborations with other institutions in order to appear in new venues and find opportunities to create new audiences including young and older people, who have never attended orchestral concerts before.” For him, this is a project for the whole city and all its peoples, “Our future is open!”
Karsten Witt, translated Samuel Johnstone