Barenboim to quit La Scala two years early

Barenboim to quit La Scala two years early


norman lebrecht

October 28, 2013

Amid mounting rumours about his successor, and a change of general management at the opera house, Daniel Barenboim has let it be known he’s leaving Milan at the end of 2014, two years ahead of schedule. Here’s the AP report:

The famed La Scala opera house says Daniel Barenboim will leave the post of musical director at the end of 2014, two years before his contract expires.

Barenboim first joined La Scala with the unofficial title of principal guest conductor in 2006 before becoming musical director in December 2011.

General manager Stephane Lissner informed unions of the musical director’s departure plans Monday, noting Barenboim’s many other projects, including one to establish an academy for Israeli and Palestinian musicians.

Lissner himself is leaving for the Paris Opera next September, turning over the reins to Alexander Pereira, an Austrian who has indicated he would like an Italian to be the next musical director.





  • Michael Schaffer says:

    After David Wetherill revealed on this very forum here that Barenboim does not actually know how to conduct an orchestra, Barenboim simply had no choice but to make this decision.

    You read it here first!

  • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

    Max Rudolf once said that a conductor is a musician who through the power of his personality and artistic ideas can inspire or incite a group of musicians to deliver a great recreation of musical works. Technique is only a means to that end not an absolute requirement.

    Somehow, I think Daniel Barenboim will continue to find his way with or without La Scala. Mazel Tov, Maestro.

    • David Wetherill says:

      So technique is not required for conductors, just for everyone else? I get it. I don’t get it. There may be many kinds of technical approaches, but no technique is not an approach.

      Virtuosity is necessary for expression, for conductors as well instrumentalists.

      • Michael Schaffer says:

        True – but conducting technique is not what you think it is. And Barenboim is technically a very solid conductor. In fact, there are many who think that he is merely a very solid conductor who gets less and less convincing the more he tries to reach for musical “greatness” – whatever that may mean – beyond that. But that is a very complex, fairly subjective and ultimately probably pointless discussion. As I said earlier, he is not a favorite conductor of mine by far, but your assertions that he needed conducting lessons and all that are just totally silly.

        • David Wetherill says:

          Please enlighten us all as to what conducting technique is. I would like to know so I can be smart like you.

          If he were not a famous musician, he would never have had the opportunities to conduct the best orchestras.

          Norman’s book should include this guy; a myth as a conductor.

          • sdReader says:

            You have of course watched Riccardo Muti’s little Herkulessaal class in conducting technique. That’s the best of all:

            “I can’t do anything. I can try to make a beautiful face … that is impossible for me! (Laughs.) More and more I less believe in what the conductor can do.”


            As for Barenboim, well, you know, he can stand in front of an orchestra and lead Bruckner’s Seventh with great balance, natural pacing, ideal proportion, using about as much effort as you or I would need to stroll around a park.

            You could call it efficient and the results samey-samey, but to suggest the man lacks technique is absurd.

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            David, I am afraid you know so little about orchestral playing and conducting, and you aren’t open to being educated at all as your reactions to a number of posts from a number of posters in this and the previous discussion show, there is probably very little that we can do to help you understand that subject a little better.

            sdReader’s post points to a very important element though: good rehearsing.

            Take that as your first lesson!

            Good rehearsing on the basis of really knowing the score well is probably the most important aspect of the conductor’s art. It’s much less about “how you would show dynamics, note lengths, accents, line and emotional content”, as you put it in the previous discussion about Barenboim’s potential successors, although it is common for people who know very little about how it works to believe that, or how – again in your words – “orchestras interpret a conductor’s gestures”. That’s not really how that works. Those things do play a role, but that is kind of advanced stuff, you aren’t ready for that yet.

            There is a much more extensive clip from the same program which contrasts rehearsal and performance here:


            But there must be more because the moment in sdReader’s link is before this clip begins (it occurs fairly early in the first movement).

            Also highly recommended are the classic videos of Carlos Kleiber rehearsing the “Freischütz” and “Fledermaus” ouvertures.

            Of course, both conductors are aware of the cameras here and a little bit of what they do is also for the audience, but there is a lot of good stuff in those videos.

            More important though is that most of the time, there are no cameras, it’s just he conductor with the orchestra, no audience. And those are the critical times in an orchestra-conductor relationship because there is no one there to impress with dramatic gestures and elegant poses. Just the orchestra expecting the conductor to lead a good rehearsal. Orchestras like the Berliner Philharmoniker who Barenboim has conducted for almost 45 years now aren’t easily fooled by imposters, you know, especially not for 45 years.

          • David Wetherill says:

            You don’t know who I am or what I know. I played for Kleiber, Bohm, Karajan, Abbado. Pretre, and many others before you in diapers.

          • David Wetherill says:

            Before you were in diapers. And Boulez, Ormandy, Muti, Sawallisch. and Baremboim, too. And many more “legends.”

            And I have studied conducting with many fine teachers.

            Maybe for you, actual conducting of the music is too advanced, but time-beating patterns are a cheap substitute for competence,

  • Malcolm James says:

    So after 15 years with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and years guesting with the Berlin Phil, who clearly know nothing about conducting, he’s finally been rumbled!

  • Robert says:

    Everyone, but please not Pereira !!!

  • Una says:

    In Britain we have a very different view of Danny, particularly those of us here who actually have worked with and for him, hence admire and respect him, even if he can be a bit perhaps took forthright in his approach to individual members of the orchestra, but he was great to work for if you knew your music, was professional and willing to learn something new about the music. He is an individual and not everyone may like his style. Does not mean he is a useless conductor.

    • PB says:

      Absolutely spot on!

    • I don’t think anybody was suggesting he was a useless conductor, I certainly wasn’t anyway. But I don’t think he likes or cares much about the Italian operatic repertoire, and while that may be a legitimate opinion with which i personally don’t agree, I do think it means that La Scala was never the right place for him. And I know for a fact that he was invited as a guest conductor many times before 2006 and never accepted, so I rather suspect that deep down he thinks the same. And his decision to leave earlier than necessary would seem to confirm it.

      Rather like running Bayreuth if you don’t like Wagner, perhaps.

  • Paul Bubendey says:

    Not a moment too soon!

  • Michael Schaffer says:

    David Wetherill says:

    November 1, 2013 at 10:13 pm

    “You don’t know who I am or what I know. I played for Kleiber, Bohm, Karajan, Abbado. Pretre, and many others before you in diapers.”

    You played for all these people *in diapers*? You mean, like adult diapers? That’s a personal detail we really didn’t need to know about you, David.

    But you are right. We don’t know who you are. All we know is that you have “studied conducting with many fine teachers” but nobody has ever heard of you as a conductor.

    But it is obvious from your comments here that you don’t know much abut this subject. You haven’t contributed anything of even a little substance or interest about it.

    So tell us, where did you play under Karajan and Kleiber (which one, the older or the younger?)? And all these other conductors…

    • David H. says:

      Technically he didn’t say he played “under” them. He wouldn’t submit himself to play “under” these low life underachieving creatures he named. He played “for” them. Maybe David Wetherill was a football player?

    • Drew Lewis says:

      A search on Google for ‘david wetherill conductor’ will yield some information.

    • Anonymous says:

      David Wetherill played first horn in La Scala and Philadelphia Orchestra, if I’m correct….the Philly job might have been Co-Principal.

  • Mark Mortimer says:

    I think we can all reveal that David Weatherill has been the principal horn of The Philadelphia Orchestra- a simple google search reveals this quite quickly.

    He is obviously a brilliant musician to hold such a post with one of the world’s great orchestras, so his opinions are more expert than most of us on this forum.

    However, whilst I respect his remarks, I do not quite share his views on Danny Boy who is supremely gifted both as conductor and pianist

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      A simple google search quickly reveals that I am a well known journalist. Except I am not.

      A simple google search quickly reveals that I am a professional horse trainer. Except I don’t know the first thing about horses.

      A simple google search quickly reveals that I am an abstract painter. Really? I had no idea!

      A simple google search quickly reveals that there are plenty of Mark Mortimers, too. According to one of the first results I got, you have been dead since 2009.

      Besides, people on the internet aren’t always who they say they are. Sorry you had to hear it from me!

      Of course, you could be right but then wouldn’t you expect that gentleman would have a whole lot more interesting things to say about the subject rather than this blatant nonsense?

      • Mark Mortimer says:

        Yes Michael- we have all known on Slipped Disc for sometime now that you have a formidable intellect and widespread authority on all musical matters, which none of us dare disagree with.

        What we didn’t realise is that you have a sense of humour as well!

  • Appreciation of conductors is often quite subjective; there are a few famous maestri about who make me want to assume the foetal position so I’d be very interested to know why David Wetherill does not rate Barenboim.

  • David Wetherill says:

    Daniel Barenboim is justifiably famous and successful as a piano soloist. He is without peer. His technical ability with the keyboard is truly amazing.

    When I see him on the podium, none of that is true. I don’t see how he can stand himself after some of the things I have seen; most recently Verdi’s Requiem from La Scala. I found it appalling, and some players were laughing at him.

    Conducting is a science and an art. Knowing the music and waving your arms, beating time and patterns is not enough.

    Does anyone really believe that orchestra musicians need the conductor to count for them? They need the music, the actual music. Pizzicato should be together, even in Berlin. If there is a delay, you are not conducting, you are hoping they will play.

    Just my opinion after a career as an orchestral musician. A simple search on “the google” reveals some of my credentials.

    I welcome others to respond with theirs.

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      Your “credentials”, whoever you may really be and whatever they really are, won’t get you anywhere. Because they are easily trumped – no, not just trumped, but completely annihilated – by Barenboim’s credentials.

      On the other hand, nobody here is saying that Barenboim can not be criticized because he is famous both as a pianist and a conductor. Nobody is saying his credentials should be blindly accepted without any room for dissension about his qualities as a conductor and as a musician in general.

      Nor do anybody’s alleged credentials contribute anything to the discussion – only arguments do.

      You say you played under, among others, Karajan and Böhm (or “Bohm”). You must have noticed then that both of them – as well as many other conductors – usually conducted ahead of the orchestra and that German orchestras generally have a tendency to play after the beat. Because if you play on the beat, it’s just metronomic, it doesn’t leave the orchestra time to react to whatever the conductor does (if he does something that merits reacting to…).

      It’s not the only type of approach but to those who practice it, that’s where “the music, the actual music is”, in that delay and in those moments when the musicians react flexibly to the conductor and to each other.

      Yes, pizzicato should be together, even in Berlin, but some people, and not only in Berlin, think there are more important aspects than merely being safely together on the beat.

      But that kind of stuff is not the basics, it’s, as you say yourself, the essence of real music making, where it gets to be a “science and an art”. And one can certainly argue about how good Barenboim is at that level, if he is a truly “great” conductor (whatever that may mean).

      But – that’s not what you said. You said he was a complete incompetent, he needed basic conducting lessons. You also said you had a lot of conducting lessons with great teachers. But where did that get you? Where did that get you in comparison to Barenboim?

      What “credentials” did those conducting lessons get you in comparisons to the credentials Barenboim got by working in the field for decades?

    • Thanks, David. There was no agenda in my request; I’ve heard all sorts of things about DB as a conductor, some fabulously enthusiastic but also some along the lines you mention and was intrigued as to why you felt this way.

      I’ve worked with conductors and as a conductor for over 25 years and am constantly baffled as to why so few of those who have exemplary knowledge of a score and are often celebrated musicians in other disciplines fail to master even the most rudimentary stick technique. I can’t imagine I’m the only one who has felt this. Beyond that, it’s a question of chemistry between conductor and players and there’s no hard and fast rule to dictate how that shapes up.

      Could you expand on ‘If there’s a delay, you’re not conducting; you are hoping they will play’. The interminable gaps between beat and sound drive me insane, particularly in opera. I’d like to hear your views on this.

    • Mark Mortimer says:

      David’s comment re Pizzicato is an interesting one. I recall a story recounted to me some years ago by a conducting teacher of mine who had been Barenboim’s assistant in Chicago during the early 90’s. On tour with the CSO in Brahms Symphony no. 1- DB would frequently stop conducting in the short pizzicato passage of the finale before the chorale theme. This apparently infuriated members of the orchestra at the one point in the Symphony where they need decisive leadership from the conductor. Who knows- maybe DB was having a joke, but my colleague commented that had this been a young conductor debuting, it would have marked the end of within minutes of the performance.

      I think that the rare musician bestowed with the protean gifts of DB is capable of sloppy work once in a while.

      Your views on the apparent limitations of DB’s conducting, David, may have been dispelled by his recent Wagner Ring Cycle with the Statskapelle Berlin at the Proms. He coaxed beautiful, transparent sounds from the orchestra, was in total control of the ensemble and never once drowned out the singers- something which most conductors in Wagner manage to do spectacularly.

  • David Wetherill says:

    Mr. Schaffer, what is your problem? Do you want my mother’s maiden name?

    The Proms may have been wonderful, but the Berlin Statskapelle orchestra knows every detail of Wagner. They have been saving conductors from themselves and protecting the music forever. It’s what we orchestral players do.

    Real conductors control the music in real time, without a delay. Pattern beaters have no music in their batons; therefore the music is left up to the orchestra. You get music by consensus, resulting in a kind of default “interpretation.” This is pretty much the industry standard.

    Famous conductors I preferred include Colin Davis, Boulez, Muti, Pretre, Kertezj, Sawallisch, Patane, Neeme Jarvi, Bernstein, Rodzhevshenski, They had different technical approaches, but they got what they wanted, with not delay.

    Beating time with the right hand and doing the “music” with the left is practically impossible. Does anyone believe that professionals need you to count for them? Maybe in the first readings of the newest, most deconstructed repertoire, but not in anything else.

    Connecting the baton with the bows, giving the accents and sforzandi, sustaining and carrying the sound, controlling the crecendi and diminuendi; in other words, conduct the music! It can be done. But it is much more difficult than what you see from most conductors.

    I study conducting to become a better musician, not to get on the podium and fool the public. But when I do, the pizzicato is together.

    In addition to Philly and La Scala, I played with the Ensemble Intercontemporain at its beginnings. Pierre Boulez hired me. We recorded the Berg Kammerkonzert with Barenboim and Zukerman in 1978.

    As I said before, Daniel Barenboim is a phenomenal pianist and musician. If he had put the same energy and dedication into becoming a skilled conductor, who knows how great he would have been?

    But conducting is really difficult, and most of the work is done in solitude, many hours of score study. Technique comes from the music. Every piece is a new challenge.

    • OK, you’ve both made your points. Leave it there. NL

    • @DW – I remember talking to a retired first violinist from the Berliner Staatskapelle back in 2001 or so. He told me about a concert they did with a certain conductor – big guy from Hamburg…Brahms was on the programme and there was a…er…problem concerning communication, beschreiben wir’s so. The Konzertmeister gave the wink, as if to say ‘Follow me’ and the orchestra did. Result: Great review for the conductor. Business as usual.

      There are fabulous conductors. There are also those who make fabulous careers on the back of the skill of first-rate orchestras. This latter I find reprehensible.

  • David H. says:

    Pizzicato and together – there are antagonistic aesthetic traditions between great American and Central European orchestras.

    American pizzicato has industrial aesthetics, is very percussive, it is precise and spartan.

    European pizzicato is much more sonically, less percussive, like a small defined sound cloud, preferably with the higher strings trailing the lower strings.

    Maybe DB stopped giving the beat to the CSO in those above mentioned pizzicato passages, because he wanted them to “soften up”.

  • David Wetherill says:

    I guess the composer’s wishes have no part of the discussion. I guess it’s possible that Mahler, Stravinsky, Brahms and other geniuses want everything to be together, but he pizzicato could be sprinkled around like so much fairy dust…. but I don’t think so.

    How loud or soft, more or less percussive, etc. should all come from the conductor’s gestures. There are some who do this and other things very well, but by and large they are not famous.