Exclusive: Berlin Philharmonic fixes date for music director vote

Exclusive: Berlin Philharmonic fixes date for music director vote


norman lebrecht

October 30, 2014

We hear from several trustworthy sources that the orchestra wants to get on with making an appointment.

Although Simon Rattle remains music director until the summer of 2018, the players want to end speculation and will announce a decision in the middle of May.

Given the paucity of available top flight candidates, that somewhat limits their options.

rattle Berlin Philharmonic Prom 64_CR_BBC Chris Christodoulou_3

They could go for a short-term appointment, such as Daniel Barenboim, who has indicated he would be available to hold the fort for 3-4 years. Or they could take the plunge and start negotiating to release their chosen one early from his present commitments.

On the basis of general soundings, the present favourites would be:

1 Andris Nelsons, newly signed with Boston.

2 Riccardo Chailly, who is committed to Leipzig and La Scala

3 Yannick Nezet-Seguin, under contract with Philadelphia, Rotterdam and Montreal.

4 Kirill Petrenko, Bavarian State Opera

5 Christian Thielemann, Dresden

6 Others including Semyon Bychkov, Ivan Fischer, Paavo Järvi, Gustavo Dudamel.


  • John Bacon says:

    And why don’t they select Valery Gergiev? Berlin Phil is obviously a better match for him than Munich Philharmonic.

  • Musician says:

    It quite possibly might be Barenboim to fill the gap for a short while.

    • sdReader says:

      Why would they need to “fill the gap for a short while”?

      They should be able to do it properly. They certainly have enough notice!

      • Anonymus says:

        Insiders whispered into my ear a joint committee of the orchestra and scientists secretly recovered DNA from Karajan’s grave and have successfully cloned him. The young boy is in his teens now and needs a few more years before he can be presented to the world as the reincarnation of the master. Until then they need someone filling the gap.

        • Dr. Frankenstein says:

          Actually they did that some 50+ years ago and I believe that the name is Thielemann!

          While it is true, as Rattle has said, that conductors are not noted for their democratic tendencies, it seems hard to believe that a self-governing orchestra such as the BPO would choose someone who seems to believe in the divine right of conductors.

          • Chris says:

            They are smart enough to understand, that their great reputation comes mostly from the alliance with two conductors who believed in the “divine right of conductors”, Furtwängler and Karajan. Times have changed, and the relation between orchestra and conductor today is more of the type “primus inter pares”, at least on the social level. But still to achieve excellent artistic results, an orchestra needs to submit to an artistic leader. It must be a very difficult decision for them.

          • sdReader says:

            Yes. I’m certain that Thielemann is who they want. He is the obvious choice in the way that Karajan was on December 13, 1954, and of course he wouldn’t be “democratic” like “Simon.”

            The question is, can they attract him? I bet they cannot. I bet they are starting this process early to have the best chance at Thielemann and to leave enough time to choose and secure a second-best when that becomes necessary.

  • Alexander Hall says:

    As in so many other successful musical partnetrships, it’s all a question of the personal chemistry between the players and the guy on the rostrum. If you talk to the players at the Berlin Phil they are more excited by the prospect of playing under Kirill Petrenko than under Nelsons or Thielemann or Dudamel.

  • Boring Fileclerk says:

    I say they give it to a 18 year old unknown and make music history.

    • janalia says:

      And are there no women conductors out there anywhere??

      • Chris says:

        Why a women? I would say Greenlanders have been terribly underrepresented so far. Are there no conductors from Greenland out there?

        • Flip the frog says:

          There are 57 000 Greenlanders in the world, including women and children

          There are 3,5 billion women in the world

          So yeah, given that this is classical music, AND the Berlin Philharmonic, I guess a Greenlander will get the gig first

      • Dr. Frankenstein says:

        I think that they should appoint Barbara Hannigan as their new music director! If you haven’t watched her conduct members of the BPO in Walton’s Facade with Sir Simon as narrator, then you should!

  • Doug says:

    In this day and age, that’s old history.

    My guess is Fischer. He’s seasoned, cosmopolitan, respect and carries enough ‘weight’ yet he represents ‘different’ but an unknown? not for a respected institution like Berlin…that’s only for orchestras on the ropes.

  • Richard says:

    I think it will be Chailly or Thielemann — dark horse is Paavo Jarvi

  • Tristan says:

    sorry this is all ridiculous, Barenboim has enough on his shoulders and he is not among the TOP conductors, sorry guys, totally overrated! However what a great personality hes is, admirable. The only real choice after another overrated one, current Chief Sir Simon, is Thielemann! He is the only outstanding conductor at the moment for the repertoire the Berlin Philharmonic were once so famous! Let’s hope to hear more with him and finally Brahms, Bruckner etc will shine again unlike when lightweights like Gatti etc.conduct this repertoire.
    Has anyone heard Dudamel and Beethoven 9th in Vienna? Awful and again highly overrated. That is our poor audience nowadays…
    The only other outstanding one is Kyril Petrenko but he would not leave Munich now where people get enthusiastic about him like they rightly did when Carlos Kleiber (by far the most exciting conductor of the last 50 years!!!) was conducting there.
    None of the others would be right choices and Chailly has enough in Leipzig and la Scala (poor him must deal with Pereira there….)
    Sorry, the rest are good ones but that is not enough for Berlin.
    Rattle was already a poor choice all in all.

    • ML says:

      Oh, how cruel you are to dash Barenboim’s hopes! DB has been waiting for this moment all his life (again)!

    • Theodore McGuiver says:

      @Tristan – Agree with most of your post but not the part concerning KP. He’s a good mechanic but his music-making feeds off nothing – he has no interests outside music and football. His great selling point is how well he knows his scores, but that’s not surprising since he knows nothing else. It’s working well for him at the moment, in an age where we’re tiring of floppy-haired, over-hyped frauds, but I doubt it’ll see him the distance with a group like the Berlin Phil where someone like Thielemann, who, despite certain questionable character traits, is a much better fit, not least because he also lives in the real world.

  • Boring Fileclerk says:

    Why is James Levine not being considered?

    • Max Grimm says:

      Mr. Levine will be 75 in 2018 and given his not so consistent health and the at times quite fiery Berlin Phil, I don’t think that anybody would benefit from that liaison.

  • Anonymus says:

    Other engagements elsewhere are irrelevant when it comes to appointing the chief conductor of the Berlin Phil. Anyone is available for that position… At least that has always been the case in the past. If I had to put everything in this roulette game on one number, it would be Thielemann.

    • peter jensen says:

      Thielemann has owned the German repertoire, but is that what the orchestra wants. Rattle was chosen becuase hte BPO needed a model for the 21st century and Theilemann seems to be ensconced in the 19th. Try Dudamel, he might evolve into something really special.

      • Anonymus says:

        Rattle was chosen, because at that time only Rattle and Barenboim were the top contenders and Rattle won, probably because he appeared to be the “fresher” approach with the better media appeal. In hindsight things might look different, as always…
        There is no ideal and obvious candidate for this position now. After counting all the pros and cons, Thielemann simply stands on the top of the list.
        Dudamel is a wonderful person, but the wrong guy for this orchestra, not a good match. This orchestra needs a reorientation towards the roots of their success and current prestige. Dudamel would create another reality, another XY faceless orchestra of the world, certainly at high level though.
        Berlin Phil should carefully evaluate, what their cultural roots are and strengthen their roots. As a tree they are very heavy at the top at the moment, while the roots are weakening. Such a tree will fall at some point.

  • Peter Phillips says:

    How’s this for a left field suggestion? Donald Runnicles. Have you seen/heard his Elgar 1 with the BPO. Heard his Das Lied? He has some of the repertoire and all the operatic experience of Furtwaengler and Karajan.

  • Frank says:

    The orchestra, I remind everyone, is self-governing. They decide who gets the job. It is not the commentators favorite conductor, it is not the management’s favorite, it is the BPO’s favorite conductor. For example, Thielemann’s difficulties with musicians over the years is common knowledge and unless they are machochist, he will never be the guy. When Simon’s unavailable, who gets the plum assignments, the high profile televised concerts, etc. The musicians choose Dudamel. Sorry Tristan.

    • Anonymus says:

      You have a point that media appeal has always been a major factor in their considerations, after they got used to it under Karajan. Rattle vs Barenboim was also decided by their respective media affiliations.
      That might be a bit different in today’s market, where they have taken things in their own hands with their digital concert hall. Dudamel has his fans in the orchestra and has worldwide star appeal. But I hope the majority will be a bit more music minded and try to go back to their roots…
      The only place where Thielemann might not be the mainstream favorite, is Britain and the US. But that’s hardly relevant in the music business of the future. What matters is the appeal in Central Europe and in Asia.
      Thielemann has also a huge support from the classical music media giant Unitel.

  • Anonymus says:

    Not when that institution is used to making music history by giving it to a 36 years old (Furtwängler) and a 46 year old (Karajan).
    If they are into playing number games, they must now appoint Thielemann who will be 56 in May of 2015 for writing the next chapter of music history, after the Italian and British intermezzi (who don’t count for the sake of magical numbers).
    36, 46, 56…

  • J. says:

    “EXCLUSIVE”? El País published this deadline in MARCH:

    “En mayo de 2015 está previsto que hasta 128 músicos, en una votación absolutamente democrática, elijan al sucesor de Simon Rattle. El hombre que deberá guiarles hasta la segunda y quizá tercera década del siglo XXI debe ser capaz de mantener las esencias de un sonido que ha conservado sus rasgos principales a través de contadas manos en 132 años.”


  • rambonito says:

    What’s about Heras Casado?

  • rambonito says:

    Seriously … I heard a lot wish to keep Sir Simon Rattle. Could be interesting

  • Mark Mortimer says:

    Barenboim is the only man worthy of this great ensemble.

    Failing that- Chailly would be a good choice

    • sdReader says:

      Familiarity breeds contempt.

    • SVM says:

      Chailly would be ideal for Berlin, but why would he want to leave Leipzig, when the latter has a greater orchestra?

      • sdReader says:

        Exactly, and ditto Thielemann in Dresden.

        We are no longer living in the 1970s, when the Berlin Phil stood out. Commenters outside Germany need to wake up to that.

        • Anonymus says:

          The reality is, that still a lot of players who could not win positions in Berlin Phil, win such positions in Dresden or Leipzig. You are distorting the reality. Leipzig and Dresden can be great orchestras, but not on such a consistent high level the Berlin Phil can be. Berlin Phil does have the best individual players. Of course that doesn’t make a great orchestra yet, which depends among other things on the “Übermensch” conductor to form such an ensemble of top soloists into an orchestra.
          Unfortunately we do not have orchestra competitions, where you and I could settle our disagreement by having these orchestras compete in two disciplines:
          1. quality of performance for the second reading of a piece never seen before (after playing through only once).
          2. quality of performance after two days of rehearsals.

        • Max Grimm says:

          Whatever ones personal opinion may be, the Berlin Phil still stands out, if anything, the commenters from outside of Germany reflect that (whether you or I feel that this is warranted is of no consequence).
          In regards to Thielemann, the Staatskapelle will never be able to make his nostalgia flare up, the way the Berlin Phil can.
          Personally, while I like the high level of virtuosity of the Berlin Phil, I’ve always loved the sound of the Staatskapelle Dresden and the Gewandhausorchester a little more.

  • Orchestral musician says:

    If only all orchestras (and not their managers or boards) could choose their chief conductors I have a hunch the world of the orchestral musician would be a happier place!

    • Anonymus says:

      Maybe they would be happier, but they certainly wouldn’t become better orchestras. Orchestras tend to choose the ones who are pleasant during the work week and who bring their big names which sells tickets, not the ones who are making them work harder to achieve better results.

      Orchestra musicians of mediocre orchestras choosing conductors will only result in ultimate mediocrity. There is a reason why only the very top of the orchestras – Vienna and Berlin Phil – enjoy the privilege to choose their conductors democratically.

      • Orchestral musician says:

        On the contrary, I would suggest that is a part of why VPO/BPO/Concertgebouw are so good – it takes more to make a great orchestra than just great players. Their musician bodies are empowered to think for themselves as adults, rather than take what seems to be the default role in most orchestras of being the children in an adult-child relationship between board/management and orchestra.

        As others have posted there are many, many excellent orchestras around the world these days, and I believe the orchestras I have performed with both full-time and casually would benefit from the self-determination available to the musicians in the Berlin Phil etc. The power of having some control over what their work looks like (eg conductor choice/musical input) can unlock a lot of hidden energy and dedication to the job in a musician usually used to feeling disempowered and downtrodden by board, management and conductor – I’ve seen it often on a small scale when seasoned musicians join musician committees and are empowered to make decisions they would not otherwise be able to make from their “school desks” at the back of a tutti string section….

  • New Yorker says:

    This succession highlights more than anything else how we are now at the end of an era. There is simply no-one really suitable for this job. It’s amazing, but true.

    • henrik says:

      It’s not necessarily an end of an era, but the sign of the beginning of the era of technically very accomplished orchestras.
      I believe the major share of today’s misbalance between great orchestras and great conductors is the remarkable technical improvement in orchestra playing over the last 50 years.
      Conductors do not enjoy such quality improvements on a comparable scale.
      Which is why today these very accomplished orchestras have a hard time finding a matching conductor with the required “Übermensch” qualifications.
      Maybe the wisest decision for Berlin Phil would be to leave the position of the artistic leader vacant and delegate his artistic programming decision to a panel of “high priests” chosen by the orchestra. Pretty much the model the Vienna Phil has for a long time for their concert activities.

  • 5566hh says:

    It seems to me that a sensible option would simply be to try and extend Rattle’s contract for a few years to gain time. Another good option would be a few years with Barenboim.

  • Prewartreasure says:

    It’s to be Nelsons.

    Remember, you read it here first.

  • Dave T says:

    Why should the orchestra want to pick someone in May? They should stretch it out, keep themselves in the chattersphere for at least another two years. It would be great for business. To say nothing of what it would do to websites like this one.
    Appointment speculation is the gift that keeps on giving… until such sad time as someone has to be picked and spoil all the fun.

  • Edoardo says:

    My feeling is the next will be Yannick Nezet-Seguin, outstanding young (relatively is 38) conductor, now in Rotterdams and Philhadelphia.

    • Mr NIce says:

      Just saw him tonight for the first time, doing Mahler 2 with Philly, and my feeling was that, this is the only guy on earth who could follow Rattle – the only peer, dealing in sheer talent and charisma.

  • Manu says:

    Jansons for a short term contract or Dudamel will be the choice.

  • Herrera says:

    Two things will be for sure:

    1. Whoever is chosen, it will not be a surprise.
    2. Whoever is chosen, it will disappoint half the people.

    That being said, here’s my two cents:

    1. While Berlin may still be one of the most prestigious brands in the world, the truth is, in Germany, it is losing audience share and the spot light to others (e.g., Berlin versus Dresden/Thielemann, or Baden Baden versus Salzburg/Thielemann). If Berlin can’t conquer at home, it will have a domino effect on its prestige in the world.

    2. Berlin, unlike Vienna, needs a bigger-than-life conductor. Berlin cannot not be Berlin without its übermensch conductor.

    • Chris says:

      1. … which is exactly why they must contract Thielemann. And he knows it and it will cost them. Thielemann has secured his base. He doesn’t need to do much, they must do most of the courting. Win-win for Thielemann, no matter with whom he stays in the end.

  • Boring Fileclerk says:

    And why is Zubin Mehta not on this list?

  • ruben greenberg says:

    I suggest Philippe Jordan of the Paris Bastille Opera. But then…the Berlin Philharmonic never listens to what I have to say.

  • Abendroth says:

    As everytime, they’ll probably hire a quite young conductor, preferably liked by the international media. I’m really not a fan, but Dudamel is I think a favourite.

  • Anonymus says:

    Looking forward to the two million posts about this subject until May 2015.

    • Dave T says:

      Las Vegas should get in on this.
      The over/under on SD posts is two million? I’d take the over.
      Meanwhile, lot of action on Nelsons, he’s at 3:1. The rest of the field and the lastest lines are Thielemann 7:2, Chailly 5:1, Nezet-Seguin 8:1, Petrenko closing at 12:1.
      A player could parlay Nelsons, with Barenboim getting the interim, and make a killing.

  • Robert Kenchington says:

    Look. I’ve said this before. The Berliner Philharmoniker remains both in terms of of style and sound the orchestra of Furtwangler and Karajan. It’s like the Vienna Philharmonic; a self-determining orchestra with its own way of doing things. Berlin’s best bet is to engage a regular stream of eminent guest conductors and carry on like their Viennese colleagues. If the orchestra starts to invite one of these guests more frequently, then hey, presto, pass; they’ve got themselves a maestro. However, I suspect they’ll go for the money and choose Dudamel.

    • Anonymus says:

      “…The Berliner Philharmoniker remains both in terms of of style and sound the orchestra of Furtwangler and Karajan…”

      Does it? The problem is, that that’s not the case anymore, and that the orchestra is divided about, what their identity is and what that means for their approach to the future.

      Is this sound and style a thing of the past, unrecoverable by todays uniform globalized standards of music education and music making, or is it something worth preserving and developing in the future?

      And then Furtwängler and Karajan were complete antipodes when it came to music making and sound ideals. How can they be summoned under one style and sound? That’s not a historically informed perspective…

  • Jean Valjean says:

    My choice would be Esa-Pekka Salonen.
    Andris Nelsons would be catastrophe. He even has very poor conducting tehnique, I don´t understrand why he is so overrated.