Inside tip: Gloom for DC as Eschy gets new contract

Inside tip: Gloom for DC as Eschy gets new contract


norman lebrecht

March 23, 2014

Orch insiders tell us that Christoph Eschenbach’s contract as music director of the National Symphony Orchestra is to be renewed tomorrow.

Eschy is the third highest paid maestro in the US, on $1.93 million a year. He has received some of the worst reviews of any top stick this past year. A sizeable part of the players are fed up, especially with his pals-for-soloists program. Local critics have lost faith.

But the outgoing Michael Kaiser, having hired Eschy in the first place, is not going to dump him now, we hear. Can the incoming Deborah Rutter unpick that contract? If not, Washington could face more washouts.

In the 2014-15 season, the so-called National Symphony is not playing a solitary note of American music.



  • Alice Beverly Roth says:

    If this is true, it is disappointing to hear this. I am a local D.C. music teacher and I have sadly lost interest in the NSO under Eschenbach. There have been a few interesting concert experiences, but most of the time my husband and I find Eschenbach to be a pretentious music maker, who exaggerates everything in the music, so that when its slow, it’s too slow, when it’s loud, it’s too loud and he pulls and twists and turns everything in a most, for us, unnatural and unmusical way. I know that many NSO subscribers, at least the two next to us in the hall, feel the same way and we will definitely not be renewing our subscription next season if Eschenbach is renewed as music director. This development is not good news for Washington, nor for the NSO going forward. We need new blood as music director of the NSO and less waste of valuable donor funds, paying Eschenbach an outrageous fee as if he were invaluable, which he isn’t. Does anybody at the NSO read this?

  • David Boxwell says:

    Ah well, I do look forward to the line-up of guest conductors next season.

  • INSIDER says:

    Thanks for bringing this sad news to the public’s attention. One thing, it’s Christoph, not Christopher and the new incoming Kennedy Center President is Deborah Rutter, not Card, which was her name prior to her recent marriage. Apart from that, your information encapsulates the sad reality that the NSO must now face, of having to put up with an ever more disinterested and detached Eschenbach and watch our valuable donor funds be siphoned off and squandered on his grossly inflated and unjustified salary. I’m an optimist and I believe that reason and common sense will eventually prevail, but sadly not right now. That said, going forward, Eschenbach had better become more involved in our community, in the day to day life of our orchestra, starting with being able to recognize and greet NSO players when he crosses their path in the building or in the elevator and not just use his position in Washington as a cash cow stopover, on the way to somewhere else, which has been the case up until now.

  • Erik O says:

    Hi Norman: As I was reading this, I was really dumbfounded by the number you wrote here in GBP: £$1.93 million a year. I went online to convert your figure into $USD and thought to myself, maybe this is a mistake. So,

    I logged into to determine what the number was and found that in fact, that figure is in USD.

    It would be £1.17 million GBP.

    Other interesting tidbit: The Kennedy Center lists their income as $194,964,767, but keep in mind that is for all of the companies it represents, produces, etc.

    Not a note of American music.

  • Erik O says:

    Apologies, I clicked too soon.

    I was saddened to see your news of “Not a note of American music.”

    I perused the press releases, too, and found only one: Steven Reineke: The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs!

    Surely, not a good sign for American composers.

    Perhaps the NSO feels that it’s the job of the National Pops to perform American music?

  • G Ell says:

    Longstanding notion is that CE is -still- apprenticing in conducting (-: Why is he hired?

  • Jill says:

    I find the salary issue to be the most disturbing. How can we use private and public funds, tax payer money, to pay this man far in excess of what we pay the President of the United States, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense and all of our top officials? Especially, when he is not even a “superstar” conductor and has not created miracles at the Kennedy Center and has indeed received very bad press internationally over and over throughout 2013, which casts a shadow over the NSO and does little to raise its profile internationally. How can the management of the Kennedy Center and the NSO sign off on such an extortion of public and private money? How can they look their donors in the eye and say that they are wisely and judiciously using their generous contributions? I love music and work closely with the music business and enjoy events at the Kennedy Center, but know very well that a music director at half the price would not only improve the financials, but would probably bring youthful exuberance back to a sclerotic NSO under Eschenbach. This is scandalous!

    • Anonymus says:

      On the other hand, we use private AND public (defense contracts!) funds of 21.1 Million US $ to pay the Boeing CEO yearly… So Eschenbach is a bargain actually. AND his products don’t kill thousands of brown women and children elsewhere in the worlds, like Boeing’s products do… Think about it.

      • Marvin M says:

        Your ‘New World’ logic doesn’t work on this side of the pond. The NSO is part of the Kennedy Center, which is a non-profit organisation. They receive some funding at the federal level and then various grants and major support from donors. Boeing is a private, for profit, company that happens to do business with officialdom, as well as with the private sector. There is absolutely nothing to compare here and no, Eschenbach is not a bargain in any way whatsoever. While his concerts don’t literally kill “thousands….in the world” as you highlighted, his music making is not to everybody’s liking and from regularly reading this blog, he comes across as a nasty piece of work, who has made a lot of enemies throughout his travels and who also happens to be overpaid in the most obscene and disturbing way.

  • bruce eisen says:

    Don’t really know what you mean. He has done some pretty good things with the orchestra (a terrific recent Richard Strauss mini-festival). Moreover, the DC critics seem to be fine with his leadership. Once in a while there is a negative comment about following his beat, but by in large I feel most concert-goers consider him an upgrade over Leonard Slatkin.

    • G Ell says:

      Except that Slatkin can conduct rings around Eschenbach. Not only that but Slatkin has an arsenal of American music in his rep ready for deployment.

    • Alice Beverly Roth says:

      You are not completely accurate in your accounts of press reaction in D.C. Just read these recent articles from the Washington Post, that clearly and quite correctly state that the relationship between the NSO and Eschenbach is not what it was hoped to be:

      And then there is this one, also from Washington:

      There are many others and even worse press from abroad, so your comments that, “critics are fine with his leadership” are inaccurate, I’m sorry to say.

      Yes, anybody can have a bad night, or even a bad couple of nights, but I have my doubts about Eschenbach, since the start of his tenure, something is not right about his music making and it always leaves me irritated and unsatisfied. Same for my husband and the couple who always sit next to us at the concerts.

      What really disturbs me also, is the outrageous salary that Eschenbach is being paid, $1.93 million dollars per year, just for the NSO and the Kennedy Center job! The President of the United States, Barack Obama was paid $400,000 for 2013 and offered to give back 5% of his salary in 2013. Eschenbach is being paid nearly five times the salary of the U.S. President. The NSO and the Kennedy Center are both Federal institutions. The NSO and the Kennedy Center receive federal funding and a larger contribution from donors. How can the NSO justify paying Eschenbach $1.93 million dollars a year for twelve weeks of substandard work, when the President of the U.S.A. is paid $400,000 and works more than twelve weeks in a job which is, I dare say, a bit more important and necessary? This is a disgrace!

      • Michael Schaffer says:

        The President of the United States, Barack Obama was paid $400,000 for 2013 and offered to give back 5% of his salary in 2013

        Does Eschenbach’s job also come with a Boeing 747 to fly around in?

        • M.A. Steinberger says:

          No, but his job carries a lot less responsibility. If he makes a mistake, it is hardly lethal, merely unmusical.

          • Anonymus says:

            The CEO of Goldman&Sachs makes about 50 million US $ a year.

            According to you, he must have much more responsibilities than the US President.

  • Katja says:

    This egghead man is a big tragedy for the future of classical music business. Eschy has been able to fool too many people for a long time however his doom day will eventually come even though his great pal Michael Kaiser chose to prolong his contract before leaving his CEO job at the Kennedy Center.

    Norman is right on the money to point out Eschy’s pals-for-soloists program. Not many people outside know how perverse Eschy’s mind work to get what he wants. A case as example, the young Spanish violinist Leticia Moreno is engaged to perform the Lalo Symphonie Espagnole with Eschy and NSO next season. On paper it seems the Maestro has discovered a young hot soloist to introduce to the US market. But unfortunately this is not the reason. The truth of the matter Leonidas Tzoras who is one of Eschy’s lover, including his personal masseur, is crazy about this girl. Yes this is another sick truth about Eschy, almost all of his men pals are actually not gay men, they just use Eschy to dig on his money (incl. Tzimon Barto, Leonidas Tzoras and many others). Leonidas, originally from Greece, is in love with Leticia Moreno. In order for Eschy to attract Leonidas to come around him often, he uses Leticia Moreno as his bait. Now this girl will perform with the NSO which means Leonidas will come around Eschy hanging around in Washington DC. Eschy’s mind is totally sick, he does this game hundreds of time with so many other people, hence mediocre soloists are hired to be parts of his fantasy.

    Many players in NSO are aware that Eschy personally paid to Ondine Records in Finland to release CD albums with the muscle man Tzimon Barto. Eschy made threats towards Reijo Kiilunen, the boss of Ondine, either he agrees to release CD albums of Barto or no deal with Eschy himself.

    My son who is a member of the NSO is living in this nightmare knowing his boss is an embarrassment to the music business. We hope Deborah Rutter would clean up Eschy from NSO when this “new” contract expires.

    • William Telison says:

      Here we go again! I too don’t like Eschenbach as a conductor and am also disappointed that he will stay around even longer in DC, but we should keep the discourse here focussed on the subject of his contract renewal and salary and not get into personal things concerning this man, who is obviously despised and detested by so many here. Thanks.

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      Katja says:

      This egghead man is a big tragedy for the future of classical music business

      No, he isn’t. Whatever his schemes and antics and questionable musical qualities are has no impact at all on “the future of the classical music business” as a whole.

  • Martin Baldwin says:

    For the NSO not to perform any American music in their recently announced 2014-15 season is a disappointment. I thought that it was part of their DNA to defend American composers as the only ‘National’ symphony orchestra in the country. I don’t know too much about this Eschenbach and never heard him conduct, but I always associate his name with something negative, recalling an enormous scandal with him in Bayreuth years ago, where he is never welcome again, then his well publicized separation from The Philadelphia Orchestra, where many wanted his head and then the same thing in Paris, where his contract wasn’t renewed and then recent articles about him bringing disgrace to the Vienna Philharmonic in Salzburg and in Vienna, being booed in both places for lousy Mozart conducting and an unprepared opera production. Now, I read here that his contract will be renewed in Washington and from this blog, it appears that, yet again, he is not in favor over there either. This guy has a serious problem, so I just wonder how is he able to keep his job and get paid $1.93 million dollars a year, when he seems to have a track record worthy of a total loser?

  • Andrew says:

    Deborah Rutter is the former Deborah Card.

  • Robert Levin says:

    I believe it is Deborah Rutter, not Deborah Card.

  • Milky Way says:

    This comes as a bit of a surprise to me, as I heard from some orchestra musicians outside of the NSO, but with very close contacts to NSO musicians, that many were under the impression and quite sure that Eschenbach would be out after his current contract expired. It just seems to many that the NSO and the Kennedy Center have not got their money’s worth from the lacklustre music directorship of Eschenbach, who has given many decent, rather routine, concerts, but far too many sloppy and ill prepared ones and the extremely negative controversy that surrounds this man on both sides of the Atlantic often reverberates on the NSO and that does them no good. I’m sure that the new president of the Kennedy Center will resolve this matter as soon as possible, as it is not in her interest to have anyone onboard who drains both the financial resources ($1.93 million dollars!!!) as well as the general image and motivation of the orchestra and its public.

  • Urs says:

    This Eschenbach story and all of his problems is a very old one. I worked in Zürich Tonhalle in the 80’s and Eschenbach was Music Director until 1986, when we had to put him out of the Tonhalle due to so many problems working with him and he not able to take the responsibility of being in charge of the orchestra and making artist decisions. He only wanted to bring the pianist Tzimon Barto, year after year! We had enough! Schluss! Es ist genug!

  • Brian from Washington says:

    From the DC concert-goers I know, the reaction to Eschenbach’s renewal will be opposite of Mr Lebrecht’s gloom. I’ve been a regular at NSO concerts for years and it seems to me that attendance and audience enthusiasm at Eschenbach’s concerts is very high. And except for one cranky local critic most of his NSO concerts get fine reviews. (So do most of his guest conducting stints: but you won’t hear about those on this blog.) Presumably Kennedy Center management considered audience reaction and consulted with the orchestra and Deborah Rutter. So why the fuss? For those who don’t like Eschenbach’s conducting style, the NSO has lots of fine guest conductors.

  • Anon says:

    After he pink-slipped a dozen or so of Phila. Orch’s most respected and senior members during his tenure there, I have no interest in seeing this man as Music Director anywhere. They didn’t like him in Phila either and he tried to gain control of the situation by firing a group of older players. It didn’t work. He’s the one who ended up having to leave, shortest tenure of any Music Director in Phila’s history. He shouldn’t be conducting anywhere after what he did to those musicians.

  • David Boxwell says:

    I would gladly have paid him an extra $1 million NOT to drown out Christine Goerke (valiantly singing Salome against Eschy’s “Wall of Sound”) last Thursday evening.

    • G Ell says:

      Fair enough. That or Goerke needs to work on enlarging her instrument. That for some she passes for Dramatic Soprano is a reflection of diluted (no, dissolved) artistic standards among audiences and music journalists alike.

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      David Boxwell says:

      I would gladly have paid him an extra $1 million NOT to drown out Christine Goerke (valiantly singing Salome against Eschy’s “Wall of Sound”) last Thursday evening.

      If you have that kind of money to throw around, you can easily hire your own cast and orchestra, rent a hall and put on a concert performance of Salome yourself, with a conductor of your choosing who you can tell exactly what to do. Or even better, you could conduct yourself, like Gilbert Kaplan, and show Eschenbach how it is done!

      Let us know when the concert is, I will probably swing by if I happen to be in the area!

    • Derek Castle says:

      David, be careful. MS doesn’t do irony/sarcasm.

      • Michael Schaffer says:

        Sometimes I do, but David’s comment is neither irony nor sarcasm. Two very misunderstood and often misapplied words.

  • DC Musician says:

    Fortunately, we in the DC area have the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra playing in the suburban Strathmore Music Center, just a few miles from DC. Marin Alsop is the conductor, the programs are more interesting than the NSO, and the acoustics are better. And parking is free vs. $20.00 at the Kennedy Center.

    • Don Ciccio says:

      Yes, and I only attend concerts by guest conductors since maestra Alsop managed to make two of my favorite pieces sound boring: Mahler’s 2nd and Act 1 of Die Walküre. If I still subscribe to the Baltimore Symphony is to support the musicians.

      BTW, you can park for $12 in garages close to the Kennedy Center; yes, I would prefer to be free, but $12 is not bad by Washington standards.

  • Laurids says:

    All this malicious gossip is simply low grade stuff that says rather more about those who peddle it than about

    Christoph Eschenbach.

    • Alice Beverly Roth says:

      While there may indeed be some “malicious gossip” found here, the majority of comments are not gossip at all, but rather outrage about the sum of money being paid to a music director who, in many people’s opinion, is neither worthy of the position, nor the salary.

    • ella says:

      Quite so. What can lie behind the hate campaign against Eschenbach? His being German?

      His sexuality? And didnt he recently collect a Grammy Award, though with a German orchestra?

      Surely the powers that be at the DC orchestra know both sides of the ledger, musical and monetary, and know better than most whether they are getting value for money, as the saying goes in the world of high-falutin artistic endeavor.

      I recall the filth thrown at Ozawa in his BSO years. New depths of invective and loathsome behavior were reached. Now, of course, many there regret their enthusiastic cruelty. Even deny it. Plus la change….

      • Having read all the recent posts and threads about Eschenbach I’ve not seen a single scrap of evidence to indicate that his either being German or gay have any bearing on the contributors’ opinions of his work, even if his choice of soloist appears sometimes motivated by factors other than musical.

        • Michael Schaffer says:

          Now you surprise me, Theodore. You normally don’t come across as naive. Of course, if that’s what’s behind some of the negative comments here, those people won’t openly *say* that.

  • NYMike says:

    As both a retired professional musician and a Philadelphia Orchestra/Carnegie subscriber, I was often dumbfounded at Eschenbach’s “interpretations.” Many a night, I walked out of Carnegie stupefied at his excessive rubati, stretching phrases past the breaking point. Along with my friends in the orchestra, I applauded heartily at his departure. I sympathize with the NSO musicians who must endure his added tenure.

  • Oliveiro Herreira says:

    Based simply on the fact that NATIONAL SO is not performing any American music he should be fired immediately.

  • Andrew says:

    I attended a recent Eschenbach concert at NSO that was no more than 40% full.

  • double reed says:

    It’s just a well, it would have been difficult to replace him, he’s tough to follow.

  • John Carter says:

    I am an American working in Germany (musician) and find this discussion very interesting, and as a matter of fact, quite relieving. I love music, as a form of expression, also as a tool to learn about God and how a secular society should function. Truth and value in respect to uncovering untruths and unvalues is how music should be addressed.