Three key questions to the Berlin Philharmonic

Three key questions to the Berlin Philharmonic


norman lebrecht

March 03, 2015

Following my Standpoint essay on the Berlin Philharmonic elections, I put three questions to the orchestra’s co-chairmen,  Peter Riegelbauer and Ulrich Knörzer as they faced the press in Berlin. Slipped Disc’s questions:

1 Can you confirm no women are being considered? If not, why not?

2 A simple majority will be enough, right? If the orch splits 62-61, is there a plan for accommodating the ‘loser’?

3 All candidates will have given prior agreement to being considered. If the first-choice candidate declines the post (see my current Standpoint essay), will the players turn to the one with the next highest votes?

Berlin Phil replies below.


berlin philharmonie beethoven 9

1.       “The first round of the election is open to any living conductor (female or male). If the first round of election (on 11th May) will have no result, there will be a shortlist created for the second round on the basis of the results from the first round. We don’t know yet, how many people will be in this list (depends on the number of votes).”

2.       “There will be 124 musicians with tenure eligible to vote. The new Artistic Director must have a clear majority in order to be considered elected. We will not announce exact figures either prior to or following the election.”

3.       “The newly elected Artistic Director will be informed of her or his election immediately after the votes are counted and may then accept or decline the election. Should the person chosen decline the election, subsequent action (further voting or fixing a date for a new election) must be agreed upon in the orchestra assembly. No list of potential candidates for the position of Artistic Director (a so-called shortlist) will be drawn up before 11 May 2015, and no one will be called/asked whether she or he is available as a candidate prior to the election.”


  • DLowe says:

    “Any living conductor”? Isn’t that discriminatory?

  • SDReader says:

    Well done, Norman. It has never been clearer.

  • Andrew R. Barnard says:

    Is there an outstanding female conductor who Norman thinks deserves the job, or what’s the point?

      • Max Grimm says:

        The fact that conductors are required to have more than outstanding musicianship to make it onto the rostrum of top orchestras has been discussed ad infinitum here.
        Without commenting on Mrs. Larsen-Maguire musical merits, I can tell you that she most definitely isn’t up to the job.

        • RW2013 says:

          Do you think I was being serious Max?

          • Max Grimm says:

            With regard to said topic, I have somewhat lost the ability to distinguish between jest and candor (largely due to some people’s very serious views on what “just and optimal demographics” in the orchestral world should look like).

  • aimere46 says:

    Politically correct answers from BPO. Not sure how accurate they are though. The absence of a short-list prior to the election is an absurdity or worse a lie.

    • John Borstlap says:

      They are free to protect their privacy. The new conductor is their own chief, not a politician. It is them who have to work with him or her.

    • Anon says:

      Why absurd or a lie? The first round apparently is done by every member of the orchestra writing down the name of their favored candidate on a blank piece of paper. It’s appears to be similar to the procedure of the conclave. (pope election)

  • Marina Arshinova says:

    what would Karajan have been said to see a woman – conductor before this orchestra? better for him not to know

    • Max Grimm says:

      What would Karajan have said to see anyone but him in front of this orchestra…

      • Papageno says:

        Karajan wouldn’t have said anything.

        He would have glared at the transgressor with an icy stare, and the victim would have turned instantly into a pillar of salt. Karajan would then have pushed it over and stepped up to his rightful place on the podium as the orchestra looked on with a combination of wonder and horrified silence:

        “Good morning, my little ones,” he would intone. “Shall we start rehearsing Bruckner’s 9th? Or perhaps some Strauss?”

        • Max Grimm says:

          Indeed, as the first 45 seconds of this clip show quite well:

          • Papageno says:

            It’s definitely a look that says, “Screw up in this dress rehearsal, and you’ll be playing on a street corner in Baden-Baden.”

            Absolutely beautiful Dvorak, though.

          • Anon says:

            The things you guys project into this…funny 🙂
            A jetlagged tired conductor walks on stage for a camera rehearsal in concert attire for the local Japanese TV, looks impatiently to the busy stage hands when they have finally left so he can begin… No need to look positive or inspiring in this deeply routine and tiresome but necessary purely technical procedure. … You guys imagine too much.

  • Henry says:

    Where do I get an application form? 😉

    • Erich says:

      Everyone in the business knows Riegelbauer wants Thielemann – and to install himself as the next Intendant. Who is he kidding?

  • Ehud says:

    While I would enjoy the possibility of a female music director, I agree that I don’t see anyone on the current scene (for whatever reason) who warrants serious consideration. Of more concern to me is the lack of female musicians especially principals in this great orchestra, especially when we see that women winning competitions and graduating conservatories do so at vastly different ratios!

  • william osborne says:

    Woman conductor? Interesting question for the orchestra with the third lowest ratio of women in the world. Berlin has one third the number for the New York Phil, National Orchestra of France, Zurich State Opera, and London BBC. And exactly the response from Berlin one would expect…

    • Matt Denerov says:

      Not only does the Berlin Philharmonic have 1/3 the number of women as those other orchestras, those orchestras are 1/3 as good as the Berlin Philharmonic!

  • David J Gill says:

    Are there really any female conductors who are regulars on the podiums of the world’s top orchestras (not Baltimore) who have proven themselves, and who are comparable (as good or better,) in terms of experience and musicianship, to the more obvious leading contenders. I suspect the answer really is no, at this time. Is it really unacceptable to point that out? (Since the Berlin Phil. is not labeling anyone else as in or out of contention of course they avoid controversy by saying nothing more?)

    What is our goal ( among all who are liberal, unbiased and egalitarian) for a world free of discrimination? Do we want a world in which no person is judged by race, religion, gender etc, etc….or do we want a world in which all human endeavors include representation of a good cross section of the population by race, religion, gender, etc, etc.
    I always thought the former was the goal, but it oftens seems like many people beleive it must be the later.