Maestro woes: Loser sues over music director ‘anomalies’

Maestro woes: Loser sues over music director ‘anomalies’


norman lebrecht

December 16, 2014

A month ago, power brokers in Seville, Spain, split the music directorship between the incumbent political pet Pedro Halffter, who had been rejected by the musicians, and the American John Axelrod.

Halffter will remain opera chief at the Teatro de la Maestranza, while Axelrod gets to lead symphony concerts.

The decision followed an international search for a successor to Halffter in which six maestros were shortlisted. One of them, Karel Mark Chichon, claims he scored top marks in the selection and should have got the job.

Chichon has started legal action against the Ministry of Culture, the Government of Andalusia and Seville City Council over alleged anomalies in the selection process.

garanca chichon

Chichon, 43, British born, is married to superstar mezzo-soprano Elina Garanca. Neither is shy of making a noise.

This sordid Seville fix will not die down any time soon.


UPDATE: Significant clarification:

Dear Mr Lebrecht

My name is Jose Maria Fernandez. I am the lawyer who was quoted in the article of El Mundo as confirming that Mr Chichon is considering legal action against the Sevilla authorities which you have included in one of your new items today.

I feel I should clarify to you that I spoke to El Mundo on behalf of the platform of musicians “Maestranza” which was formed by conductors, soloists and other musicians precisely so that the process of choosing a new conductor for Seville would be transparent.  I did not speak on behalf Mr Chichon.

It is this platform “Maestranza” that has alerted Mr Chichon about the anomalies of  the process but of course it is up to Mr Chichon to decide on legal action or not. We as a platform were not a candidate so we cannot consider any legal action against the authorities in question – only Mr Chichon can do that. All we can do is try to ask Mr Chichon to helps us expose the truth in this cloudy process, because we are all upset at the result of Halffter/Axelrod when the opportunity of having Chichon was in our opinion a one-in-a-lifetime chance for Seville to rise up to the top league of classical music.

I therefore ask you kindly to consider clarifying your statement or if you wish publishing me letter in full because we feel it’s not really fair on Mr Chichon when he is only trying to help us out of his own freewill when he has nothing more to gain in this situation.

Thanking you

Your sincerely

Jose Maria Fernandez



  • Gary Carpenter says:

    It doesn’t seem to me that suing a company because you didn’t get a job is a particularly smart career move.

  • Bill says:

    In this case, it may be justified to take legal action against those in charge, as putting the likes of John Axelrod into the position should evoke doubts and bewilderment, actually astonishment, especially for those in the know as to his past relationships to various ensembles: Orchestre National des Pays de la Loire in France and the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra in Switzerland. Without making any comment myself, I would only invite any interested parties to contact either of these ensembles and inquire amongst a varied group of musicians as to what they thought of this man, as a conductor and as a person. I think that once they have completed that exercise they will agree that Mr. Chichon has reason to take legal action, or at least draw attention to the criteria that were used in the nomination process. For this informed and knowledgeable, it doesn’t appear that a successful track record of inspiring and being appreciated by previous ensembles was on the list of prerequisites.

    • Darren says:

      Interesting comment. I don’t know the details about Axelrod’s previous circumstances, but musicians talk, that’s true. In any case, when a ‘maestro’ consistently works with an orchestra only a couple of seasons and never gets renewed ( as is the case with Axelrod) that certainly has its connotations. It will very likely be the same case with Sevilla. Orchestras are unfortunately a ‘mob’ and they often get easily seduced by characters of charm and doubtful qualities. As for Chichon, he will surely get another position. It would have been better if someone else advocated for him against the unjust treatment rather than starting the process himself. oh well…..

      • sdReader says:

        Isn’t he some rich guy? Is this how he gets these jobs, then, buying his way in? It seems hard to believe, or at least it is hard to believe that the pattern could continue and repeat in so many cities.

        • Harold Lewis says:

          Some of the comments here about Axelrod appear to verge on the defamatory – at any rate, they leave a nasty taste and only serve to reinforce an image of this blog as a breeding ground for tittle-tattle and innuendo. Those recordings of his that I have heard (particularly music by Schrecker and Rihm) have seemed to me rather good.

          • Edith Portman says:

            I don’t think that any of the comments here are defamatory in any way whatsoever. I think that they raise serious doubts as to how and by what criteria conductors are hired. It is well-known in the business that John Axelrod has had serious issues with the orchestras that he has been engaged by. This being substantiated by the fact that he has not been able to maintain a long-term relationship with neither the orchestra in Lucerne, Switzerland, nor the orchestra in the French provinces. He apparently has no control of his behaviour and can be caustic and confrontational to musicians and others. Fritz Reiner and George Szell were also confrontational, but they were great conductors, so they could survive. The problem comes when there is arrogance and a lack of talent. In this cases the conductors shelf life is limited and we can see with Axelrod that he hasn’t been able to hold down a job for beyond a few years and that should be a red flag for any orchestra looking to recruit a permanent conductor or music director. Let’s wait and see, but my bets are that this appointment won’t last long, based on what I have heard and know. Axelrod was also not helped by is association with the controversial and not very well liked conductor Christoph Eschenbach, who pushed and pushed so many orchestras to take Axelrod, hyping him to the point of overkill, only to be disappointed if they took the bait. The guy definitely needs to remake his image and break lose from the odd company that he thought would help him and tone down his inflated image of himself. Maybe then, people will take him a bit more seriously.

  • Manu says:

    What do you expect from politicians and public adminstrators in Andalucia?

  • GEll says:

    Funny that in some Spanish speaking countries chichon (or rather, chichón) literally translates to f*cker.

  • sdReader says:

    Dumb move by Chichon.

    • Anon says:

      Totally agree. Very dumb move. He should distance himself as much as possible from this rancid situation in Sevilla. It’s corrupt all the way to the top and a losing battle.

      There are a number of fine Spanish orchestras doing or on the verge of doing music director searches right now. I don’t think any one could consider him seriously as a candidate after this.

      He should walk away while he can. He’s never going to win over Spain’s Minister of Culture Wert who is trying to call the shots on this. Run, Karel Run.

      • sdReader says:

        Now the lawyer’s letter (above) changes everything!

        Seems Chichón is only suing to help the musicians, which of course throws a different light entirely.

        • MWnyc says:

          If I understand the attorney’s clarification that Norman printed above, Chichon himself is not suing anyone (or at least not yet).

        • Anon says:

          Hi, SD Reader. The group the lawyer mentions does not represent in any way the musicians of the orch. of Seville. The musicians have their own official commitee who voted in favor of Axelrod. Chichon has hired a lawyer to represent his OWN interests. Period.

          • sdReader says:

            Well, we’ll see how it plays out. I like Halffter, am neutral on Chichón, and know nothing of Axelrod’s actual work.

  • Darren says:

    The clarification above outs an entirely different light on Chichon’s personality. I certainly wish people did more research before publishing certain allusions. Therefore the clarification is even more welcome.
    As for Axelrod, only time can show. I do not believe any of our comments were defamatory. Edith Portman offered a very good clarification, nothing to add.

  • Anon says:

    No the lawyer’s statement does NOT change the story. Norman was spot on the 1st time. The lawyer is double talking here. What he said to El Mundo (the article Norman posted) and what he says in the statement above are 2 very different things. He is counting on the fact that no one reads Spanish and will not reference what’s said in the El Mundo article.

    The article states very clearly that he. the lawyer, represents Chichon who wishes to initiate a legal investigation, or study, of this hiring. It also says that one reason Chichon is doing this is because he would like to know what his “deficiencies” as a conductor are which prevented him from getting the job. El Mundo is crystal clear about the fact that Chichon is inititating this.

    At the bottom of the article there’s a paragraph which begins “Along the same lines” and then explains a letter written to govt. officials from this Maestranza group in favor of Chichon. According to the El Mundo article, the 2 acts – the investigation which Chichon wants and the letter written by the Maestranza group are 2 separate things.

    The lawyer realizes he made a bad call and is doing a clumsy backtrack by writing to Norman with a totally different story, hoping that no one will bother to read the original article in Spanish which Norman posted.

    Now on top of everything else here in this mess of story in Sevilla we have a crooked lawyer.

    Here’s the link to the article.

    • Mark Henriksen says:

      I would say it slightly differently. The attorney noticed that the idea of a conductor suing management because he didn’t get a job is rather poor PR and not likely to get him much sympathy from the “common man” who under similar circumstances “sucks it up” and “moves on”. So, he has begun to spin a different tale in which the conductor is merely considering taking action on behalf of the orchestra, not himself.

      • sdReader says:

        Okay, but Chichón has either filed or he hasn’t. [redacted: defamation]

        • Anon says:

          The El Mundo article says Chichon has asked his lawyers to do an investigation. It actually says nothing about a lawsuit.

          Clarification: the Maestranza group is just a random group of fans, maybe some musicians, not necessarily from the orch., some audience, concerned citizens. They are definitely NOT representing the Sevilla Orchestra, who like most pro orchestras have a offical orchestra committee.

          The Maestranza group is just a group of people who got together and wrote a letter saying they support Chichon. They are NOT the Sevilla orchestra.