Esteemed conductor retires. Then wants his job back. And resigns.

You may have heard this one before, with different names and places.

Helmut Rilling, 78, after a lifetime at the head of the Bachakademie in Stuttgart, finally announced a retirement date. He then retracted it because he doesn’t like the nominated successor. And threatened to resign immediately. Whatever. As OscarWilde so tellingly put it, ‘For each an kills the thing he loves, by each let this be heard…’

Unlike judges and heart surgeons, there is no mandatory retirement age for conductors. Perhaps there should be. Read on here.

Rilling threatens to resign - the Bach Academy in dispute threatens to escalate.  Photo: Bach Academy

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  • Mandatory retirement age for music directors, maybe. For conductors, please no. The indian summers of Kurt Sanderling, Günter Wand, Charles Mackerras, and so many other great conductors were unforgettable. Claudio Abbado has been doing some of his best work in the last ten years.

      • On the other hand, James Levine’s handling of his health issues is a disgrace. If only he had had the dignity to step down gracefully from his music directorships, instead of seriously disrupting with his frequent cancellations over the last five years the BSO (until he finally resigned last spring) and the MET Opera…

        But at 67, Levine is simply in poor health. He is not old, by conductor standards. He is one year younger than Barenboim, same age as John Eliot Gardiner and one year older than Michael Tilson Thomas. Would anyone want the latter three guys to retire for age reasons?

  • Term limits, at least we should institute term limits for conductors. That way it’s not personal when they have to leave and they can be invited back if indeed everybody wants them back.

  • In 2010, I think, Mr. Rilling announced that he will be leaving as music director of the Oregon Bach Festival at the end of the 2013 summer season. They’ve already chosen his successor, Matthew Halls, who will be taking over the 2014 fest.

    What other business would tolerate such an absurd scenario? Poor Mr. Halls gets the job, but then has to busy himself elsewhere for three years before it starts!

    • It’s common among orchestras; orchestral seasons are planned far in advance (5 years). Matthew Halls’ schedule for 2010-2013 is probably well filled anyway.

      For instance, Yannick Nézet-Séguin was named in 2010 Musical Director in Philadelphia starting 2012; since his presence was needed before for marketing purposes, he had to cancel concerts with other orchestras (Cleveland, etc.). During that time, he still has an extremely busy schedule with his other orchestras and guest conducting.

      Mr Rilling probably did a favour to the management by announcing his retirement 4 years in advance. However, once he’s stepped down, he should keep that date; at worst, ask for a Laureate position and come back for guest conducting.

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