Guess who's moving in on the Rattle vacancy in Salzburg

Guess who's moving in on the Rattle vacancy in Salzburg


norman lebrecht

May 25, 2011

When the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra cancelled its deal with the Salzburg Easter Festival 10 days ago, many saw the withdrawal as a crippling blow for the Karajan-founded event. The Berliners said they had been offered more money by Baden-Baden. After 45 years, they were happy to trade down high prestige for a mess of pottage. Their conductor, Simon Rattle, stayed conspicuously shtum.

I wrote at the time that Berlin stood to lose more than it gains from the Baden-Baden betrayal. Within hours of that prediction, Salzburg was in close and fruitful negotiations with Christian Thielemann and the Dresden Staatskapelle to replace Berlin from 2013. Thielemann is Germany’s most popular conductor. At Christmas, he and Dresden knocked Rattle and Berlin out of their regular television slot on ZDF and wiped the floor with them in the ratings.

If, as reliably reported in Vienna, Dresden are about to move in to the Salzburg Easter vacancy, Berlin will have given up valuable territory for marginal Baden-Baden, allowing their rising rivals a serious foothold in the major marketplace.

Thielemann is not Peter Alward’s only powerful ally in his drive to stabilise the festival, but Berlin will sleep less easy now that Thiely’s on its Salzburg tail. Frankly, the Berliners deserve every setback that ensues from their act of bad faith.


  • Even though I’m probably being overly sensitive, and even though everything will be kept appropriately discrete, I fear this might also be a victory for a troubling kind of cultural nationalism that haunts Salzburg’s part of the world, and that will only be compounded by Thielemann’s presence. The attitudes found there sometimes amount to a bit more than questions of taste.