PERSPECTIVE: Who Will Pick Up Oramo's Baton? Terry Grimley Assesses the Strength of the CBSO as It Re-Enters the Market to Find a New Conductor

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Byline: Terry Grimley

Compared to many orchestras, the CBSO has had remarkably little practice in hunting for new conductors in recent decades.

By the time that Sakari Oramo steps down as music director in 2008, it will have had just three principal conductors/music directors spanning virtually 40 years.

True, when Louis Fremaux unexpectedly walked out on his contract in 1978, after falling out with the players in one of the most unseemly moments in the orchestra's history, there was a two-year hiatus before Simon Rattle was appointed as his permanent successor. But Fremaux had himself almost completed a decade in charge by that time.

Long-running regimes are often equated with complacency, and there may have been an element of that in Fremaux's time, which contributed to the players' discontent.

But taken overall the period from his appointment in 1969 to the present has been one of remarkable progress and stability.

Since Fremaux the CBSO has made two brave appointments which have paid off handsomely. Rattle was just 24 when he conducted the CBSO for the only time in Birmingham before his appointment, and the transformation of the orchestra during his 18 years in charge became both an international legend and, more locally, a powerful symbol and inspiration for Birmingham's post-industrial regeneration.

Arguably there was more at stake when a successor for Rattle had to be found. The CBSO's achievement was so closely bound up with Rattle's personality that to step into his shoes was inevitably a daunting task.

Despite initial incomprehension in the media at the appointment of a young Finn they had never heard of, Sakari Oramo has proved an inspired choice, building on Rattle's achievements and sustaining the CBSO's international standing on tour and on CD.

CBSO chief executive Stephen Maddock believes that this has eased the orchestra's task in finding a principal conductor to take over in 2008.

"I think we are in a very different place to where we were ten years ago," he said. "I think there was certainly a feeling in the wider musical world that what goes up must come down. But not only have we managed to maintain touring and recording in a difficult climate but the fact that Sakari has brought so many things to the orchestra means that it's a nice job.

"My feeling is that whoever we eventually appoint will inherit something really exciting. The range of possibilities that exists, with the choruses, the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, the chamber music and one of the best concert halls in the world, it's about as broad as you will find anywhere.

"We all know there are better funded orchestras, orchestras who pay bigger fees, but there are not many which offer better musical opportunities."

But what kind of shape is the CBSO currently in? Regular con-certgoers may have become concerned over the last year or two at the number of vacant chairs in an orchestra which for a long time was notable for the stability of its personnel. …