I had to rub my eyes twice and pinch myself in the fleshy parts before I could give credence to this news report, but corroboration across the German press suggests that it must be true.
The winner of the 2011 Hebert von Karajan Prize, with a fifty-thousand Euro stash and a widow-signed certificate is…. Helmut Rilling.
Rilling, right? You know who I mean. Chap from Stuttgart, has been conducting Bach all his life. Never frightened the horses, never got charged with war crimes. Quiet chap, does his job nicely and goes home to his slippers.
Rilling is the new Karajan? Not quite. The citation says ‘he’s one of the most outstanding personalities on the international music scene’. Maybe that’s how they see it in the quieter parts of Germany. The award is made in Baden-Baden.
Previous recipients include the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra (natch), Daniel Barenboim and Anne-Sophie Mutter. I guess they won’t be sending their cash back.
Still, Rilling? The only times I have seen him, twice, it was standing in for one of the big beasts who called in sick (or bored). Rilling came on stage inconspicuously. He did not look like Karajan, strut like him or bear any perceptible charisma, good or bad. He looked, to me, like a Dickensian watchmaker and the longer he conducted the more little wheels he set spinning in my head, tick-tock, tick-tock. He did not need rewinding.
The idea that Rilling, 77, should be honoured with a Karajan prize is priceless. Beyond irony.
Mine’s a Rolex, thanks.