10 reasons why Daniel Barenboim would be wrong for the Berlin Philharmonic

10 reasons why Daniel Barenboim would be wrong for the Berlin Philharmonic


norman lebrecht

April 21, 2015

Since the Barenboim bandwaggon is now up and rolling, here are a few counter-arguments for the players to consider on May 11.

1 He’s too busy

with East-West Diwan, Mideast politics, world events.

2 He’s too well-known in Berlin…

as music director of the Staatsoper since 1992, there would be no novelty value.

3 He’s been everywhere, done everything….

at Paris Opera, Chicago Symphony, La Scala. Does he really need Berlin Phil?

4 He’s 72.

5 He’s available.


6 The Berlin Phil needs to show fresh direction and new thinking.

7 It needs someone who gets new media.

8 Someone who can look beyond the history, beyond the image.

9 It needs a 21st century citizen.

10 In any business, music or motorcars, it’s always a mistake to hire someone you rejected last time round.



  • Robin Elliott says:

    Absolutely! Please. Not Barenboim.

  • ML says:

    None of these is related to the quality of music he made. I am not the biggest fan of some of his concerts here in Chicago, but I do love his Mozart and Bruckner among others. Those are truly profound performances.

    • Brian Hughes says:

      This is a most important point. As a former CSO subscriber, I heard too many a dull performance (even Le Sacre!) AND, it was obvious that the orchestra itself held its principal guest (Boulez) in much higher esteem.

  • Erich says:

    Norman is 100% correct. Nothing against Barenboim’s true genius, but he is simply too ubiquitous – particularly in Berlin – and can bring absolutely nothing new to the band.

  • Aimere46 says:

    Ok, not Baremboim. But who then? Someone young, with new ideas…of course it’s not Thielemann, nor Jansons…so who? Nelsons maybe?

  • John Borstlap says:

    I agree with Norman.

    One of the younger conductors well-suited to the job is Jaap van Zweden, who recently debuted successfully with the orchestra, who has the middle-European sound but is also influenced by the authentic performance movement, a superb musician with great interests in contemporary music, etc. etc. and especially: with a very wide-ranging repertoire, at home in the most diverse styles – a Karajan and Rattle in one, but without any of their mannerisms.

  • Patrick says:

    Agreed! Please, not Mr. Barenboim.

  • Olivier Keegel says:

    Point 8 – I would like to change “Someone who can look beyond the history” into “Someone with a deep understanding of the history”…

    • John Borstlap says:

      A very good point. In music life, history is not in a glass case – as in a museum – but alive and kicking – if well played.

  • Mathieu says:

    To be fair, Barenboim’s tenure at the Paris Opera was one of the shortest of its history, since it ended even before the new hall opened… Not to be counted among his (many other) accomplishments, then

  • Medi says:

    So right, could give 20 more reasons….
    Thielemann is THE choice – a real “Maestro” – THE Karajan successor! Or Andris Nelsons.

  • Lambert says:

    Everyone seems to overlook Christoph Eschenbach as the natural heir to the mantle of Berliner Philharmoniker, himself a prodigy of von Karajan, a great conductor with steep German tradition and unqualified successes in Hamburg, Paris, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Chicago, Salzburg Festival, Vienna State Opera and many other orchestras. He will be 78 in 2018 and available as a caretaker of the Berliner for at least 5 years if not more

  • Milka says:

    Does it make any difference who conducts Berlin in the same old same old ..this constant
    living in the past …a mausoleum for the walking dead .. a new work thrown
    in now and then pretending to be a living art form …. an audience with a strange mind set
    who arrive in 21st C autos falling into comatose state while listening to 19th.C works .
    All one needs is a person to start the orchestra off together and making sure they all
    end together . Everything else is window dressing . Most symphony goers have
    long stopped listening,what they do now is “hear ” and watch .

    • John Borstlap says:

      Complete nonsense. The REAL comatose situation will arise a soon the orchestra cancels all classical and 19C repertoire and restricts itself to late Schoenberg (Variations!), Xenakis, Boulez, Widmann, early Rihm, etc. etc. In the end, the orchestra will repeat Cage’s 4’33” (orchestral version) during whole evenings, because Hitler liked it so much:


      …. but there will no audience left.

  • Jon says:

    When I read the headline of this article I expected the Mideast to be one of the reasons, but I didn’t expect it to be #1. Holy obsession!

  • Selim says:

    Quite astonishing Norman… hope to read your thoughts about the other “potential” candidates…

  • DLowe says:

    Mark Elder.

  • herrera says:

    Why does Berlin have to have a music director?

    • Peter says:

      Because without one, they are only an ensemble of 120 individually greatest players. It’s the orchestra culture and sound part, they would like to see worked on with a MD. Unlike the Vienna Phil, the Berlin Phil does not have a unique sound culture (anymore) but a very versatile one, which needs guidance to make sense for each music that is on the stands.
      They can sound great, but hardly by themselves…

  • Stephen says:

    There’s one thing going for Barenboim: he’s better than any of the other candidates. Faint praise, maybe, but better than none at all.

    • RW2013 says:

      … and had a life full of practical music-making, as soloist, chamber musician, and Lied accompanist, unlike some other candidates who once played a bit of trumpet, or violin in a youth orchestra…

  • Philip Amos says:

    Heavens! 26 out of 28 think Norman’s right. And that includes me! This may be one of the great firsts in the history of classical music blogging.

  • DonCciccio says:

    Let’s stop speculating and let the musicians of the BPO select who they believe is the right MF for them. They have the work cut for them, as the possibilities are many. Consider:

    Simon Rattle, Mark Elder, Edward Gardner, Andrew Davis, Robin Ticciati, Rory Macdonald, Ivor Bolton, Matthew Halls, Neville Marriner, Paul Daniel, Roger Norrington, John Eliot Gardiner, Rumon Gamba, David Atherton, Douglas Boyd, Douglas Bostock, Rory Macdonald, Paul Goodwin, Roy Goodman, David Parry, Andrew Parrott, Philip Pickett, Trevor Pinnock, Raymond Leppard, Andrew Manze, David Lloyd-Jones, Rory Macdonald, Jonathan Nott, Donald Runnicles, Mark Wigglesworth, Ryan Wigglesworth, Adrian Leaper, Gavin Sutherland, Grant Llewellyn, Desmond Llewellyn, Rory Macdonald, Julia Jones, Jane Glover, Sian Edwards, Andrea Quinn, Debbie Wiseman, Rachel Podger, Monica Hugett, Rory Macdonald, Suzi Digby, Emily Blunt, Judy Davis, Helen Miren, Darcey Bussell, Lauren Cuthbertson, Rory Macdonald, Thomas Ades, James MacMillan, Mark-Anthony Turnage, Harrison Birtwistle, John Rutter, Peter Maxwell Davies, John Taverner, George Benjamin, Rory Macdonald, Michael Caine, Larry David, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jenny Agutter, Ian McKellen, Christian Bale, Alan Rickman, Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Gemma Aterton, Emma Watson, Emily Watson, Emma Thompson, Julie Christie, Julie Andrews, Charlotte Church, Katherine Jenkins, Rory Macdonald, Bobby Charlton, Kevin Keegan, Gary Lineker, David Beckham, Rory Macdonald, Paul McCartney, Paul Ince.

    Rory Macdonald, Rory Shrimp, Rory McCoy, Rory Macdonald.

    This is quite an impressive list. I wonder if anyone is missing. Ah, yes: Rory Macdonald.


    • Sasha says:

      How much money did you get from Rory McDonald for promoting him here? He maybe eligible for this job 3 century from now. For the moment I would vote for Alondra de la Parra or Santtu Rouvali as the next Chief of Berlin Phil

      • Don Ciccio says:

        Do I really have to point out that (almost) all of the above are Brits and that Rory Macdonald (not McDonald, btw) was nothing but my poster child for over promoted British mediocrity? And it seems that my timing was right in the light of the Telegraph article complaining that 88% of British artists at ENO is not enough.

        There is, of course, no doubt that many in my list are of real value (in their specialties!), and some are even greats. But i did that on purpose: mixing the great with the mediocre, to show my mixed feelings about Britain in general.

        For what is worth, I initially wanted to go with Daniel Harding. But Daniel Shrimp simply does not sound as good as Rory Shrimp; neither does repeating the name of Daniel Harding has the same effect as saying Rory Macdonald over and over…

        Yes, I know, Rory is a Scot. Yet Scotland has recently voted to stay in the Perfidious Albion, so he counts.

        The exception is Larry David. But I had to include him because this is really his joke. Here’s a quote from the Seinfeld episode “The Wink”, in which Larry David plays Steinbrenner:
        “You know as painful as it is I had to let a few people go over the years. Yogi Berra, Lou Pinella, Bucky Dent, Billy Martin, Dallas Green, Dick Houser, Bill Virdon, Billy Martin, Scott Marrow, Billy Martin, Bob Lemmon, Billy Martin, Gene Michael, Buck Showalter, … uh, tut!, . . .George, you didn’t hear that from me. [George exits] . . . George!”
        (Tom Gammill and Max Pross are credited with writing this episode, but it is know that Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld always review the scripts, add or remove jokes, and make the final decision; this paragraph is, I believe, by David.)

    • José Bergher says:

      The list sadly omitted Nora the Cat and Bugs Bunny.

  • Nicholas Oppenheim says:

    An outstanding contender would be Vladimir Jarowski who has a Russian/German//British pedigree and who has proved equally distinguished in the opera house and concert hall. I very much hope he gets it.

    • Anon says:

      I agree, in his generation he is unique. An intellectual heir to Furtwängler maybe, intellectually deep and inspired. Maybe too deep for the “commoner”, who liked the simplistic grandezza of a figure like Karajan…

  • Gregor Tassie says:

    Why doesn’t anyone mention Ivan Fischer???? He has done a superb job with the Budapest Festival Orchestra and has done splendid work with both the Concertgebouw and Berlin Philharmonic, he’s a great teacher and has plenty of fresh interesting ideas…..

    • Stefan says:

      Simply because Fischer is doing great a work with his Konzerthausorchester and we like to keep it that way!

  • Dave K says:

    Jeremy Clarkson’s not busy…

  • Daniel Farber says:

    The last two suggestions have real merit, but the trouble is Jurowsky and Fischer are much too likely to shake things up–big time. They actually DO have intellects, ideas. They probably read BOOKS! And they are vital & inspiring conductors. If either becomes MD in Berlin, it would be extremely surprising!

  • Po Sung says:

    I think Barenboim is fine. Yeah he got boring moments and some messy sounds, but Rattle got more these. And ‘opening a new era’?… mmm, BPO is still a German orchestra I think? Can we have someone conducts better Beethoven, Brahms, Wagner, R. Strauss, Brucker (OK he is Austrian)….? I think we had enough of ‘new era’, Rattle’s Beethoven symphonies were boring, his Fidelio was even more boring, his Wagner?… the only Walkure was bad casting and again, boring. If Rattle can be a comfortable director, I don’t see why Barenboim can not.
    And I agree with Stephen, all other suggested candidates are like… seriously?

  • ben smyth says:

    Jaap van zweden. He’d be perfect for them.

  • Yaniv Dinur says:

    These are all pretty convincing reasons. But – no other conductor will make them sound like he does.
    So what’s more important?

  • MacroV says:

    There is no question that Barenboim is a brilliant musician with an extraordinary list of achievements in his long career. Personally I find him a little dull and ponderous, just as I did Maazel, whose brilliance could also not be questioned.

    But what does Berlin gain when he is already a fixture in the city, willing brilliance out of the Staatskappelle?

    I can’t believe Esa-Pekka Salonen isn’t on the short-list of mentioned candidates. He’s no longer one of the young guns – he’s their more accomplished older brother, and seemingly with plenty of creativity left. But I have no idea about his Beethoven and Bruckner.

    I still think Alan Gilbert shouldn’t be ruled out; doesn’t anyone think his resignation from New York had some purposeful timing to it?

    • Stefan says:

      Please no more Gilbert! The concerts he did with the Berliner Philharmoniker were all desasterous!

      • Gaffney Feskoe says:

        I recently heard a radio broadcast of Gilbert conducting the NY Phil in the Third Symphony of Bruckner. It was a wonderful performance. I mention this only because I was so surprised, given the conductor and the orchestra involved as I don’t associate either with Bruckner.

    • Papageno says:

      “I can’t believe Esa-Pekka Salonen isn’t on the short-list of mentioned candidates. He’s no longer one of the young guns – he’s their more accomplished older brother, and seemingly with plenty of creativity left. But I have no idea about his Beethoven and Bruckner.”

      Salonen’s Beethoven and Bruckner are truly dreadful. Not that he doesn’t keep trying, unfortunately.

  • ganymede says:

    I’d love to see Daniel Harding take over one day but it may be too early now for him, for his own best sake. He’s a wonderful musician and in my view more talented than Rattle. He has less hype and more substance than most names mentioned here.

    I admire Barenboim hugely for all his commitment to music and politics but he’s getting tired and not the right choice for the Berliner now.

    Probably it will be Thielemann though…

    • Don Ciccio says:

      I would not like Daniel Harding. I mean this is the guy who managed to make the Dresden Staatskapelle sound boring. Never thought I was being able to say that, but here you have it (and unlike my Rory MacDonald post, this is not a joke.)

      • ganymede says:

        He’s anything but boring! He’s one of the few conductors active today who have something to bring across. Just listen even to his earliest discs such as the Don Giovanni. And it got better ever since. His live concerts are superb, his music making is refined, he sheds a new light on the works and doesn’t merely imitate what others have done before.

        He certainly has a lot more to bring than Thielemann or Dudamel or even Nelsons. But he’s wisely taking a back seat in publicity and I think it’s slightly early for him, but in a few years definitely!

        • Don Ciccio says:

          OK, I will keep an eye open on Harding, but this does not changes the fact that my first impression of him was not positive. Yes, it was boring.

  • Manuel says:

    Vladimir Jurowski?

  • Larry W says:

    10 reasons why Daniel Barenboim would be wrong for the Berlin Philharmonic:
    1. Vivaldi
    2. Bach
    3. Handel
    4. Shostakovich
    5. Prokofiev
    6. Britten
    7. Copland
    8. Barber
    9. Adams
    10. Takemitsu

  • DESR says:

    Barenboim is great but his time and chance for this post is surely past.

    A Daniel in the lions’ den?

    No, the lions themselves will call for a Christian instead!

  • Barba says:

    I would say: Barenboim isn´t necessary…

    But I´m a heretic in a way, because I don´t buy the story, that die BerlPhils decide spontanously on 11th, call Mr(s) X
    (who maybe asleep, depending on the time zone. Or drunk. Or sick.)
    and put a gun at him:

    – “Say now or never. Just decide for god´s sake, we have a press conference to hold.”

    – “But I have contracts going on, this is a huge decision. Please let me sleep about it, talk it through with my family…”

    – “No. You knew you could get the call beeing a living conductor, so you had time to sort all that out. Sorry to have disturbed you. We now call number two on our list. Bye! And – don´t tell…”

    Well, the orchestra surely has no deficit of self esteem, but I guess it would be “nice” if the candidates of the shortlist know already that they´re on.

    Furthermore I think it will be a duel between Dudamel and Nelsons.
    But not yet, this has to wait a few years. It is obvious, that the Phil like both.
    Dudamel came in for Rattle last year for the Waldbühne, conducted a “Europakonzert” in Vienna and the people of Berlin like him.
    But they like Andris, too. His intensity is scary sometimes. He will perform Thursday to Saturday in Berlin, Mahlers 5th. I am looking forward to that.

    2026 it will be one of them.
    Until then Jansons. Or Bychkov.
    Thielemann would not just be a decision, it would be a statement. One I don´t expect from this orchestra at this time.
    But Barenboim… Really, there is no need for that.
    There is no lack of Barenboim in the city.

    So I wish…

    • RW2013 says:

      So many words to say nothing Barba.
      But since you obviously live in Berlin by stating that
      “There is no lack of Barenboim in the city.”, I will gladly give you my BPO subscription if Nelsons wins the vote.
      The few times that I’ve had to witness his shallow head-in-the-score display of having fuuuuun on the podium, have been just that few times too many.

    • Peter says:

      I wonder if all the hoopla about Thielemann being a controversial character is not actually a strong pro for him, in this world of mediocrity and streamlined “Maestri” who bore us.
      Thielemann certainly knows how to make them sound their best. His repertoire – or his appetite for new repertoire? – needs extension, he is not that young anymore for it either. But you can’t have everything in one person, that’s what you have visiting conductors for.
      I would welcome Thielemann as the new chief conductor in Berlin. A chief who after transitional Abbado and Rattle years knows the musical foundation and urge of this orchestra to make music.
      Among the younger generation I would see Jurowski as the dark knight, but not sure he has a lobby in the orchestra.

  • Greg says:

    Ricardo Muti or Seymon Bychkov for 10-15 years, then one of the younger ones might be ready.

    • Stephen says:

      Riccardo Muti is certainly a very great conductor but he would be 77 by the time he took over. Also he does not have much Bruckner or Mahler in his repertoire and, apart from Schumann, has not so far proved very strong on the German classics.

  • Sam says:


  • DESR says:

    If Thieleman is too ‘contaminated’ (wrongly), then Bychkov – if he can be persuaded to give up a life of guesting since Stuttgart – would indeed be a terrific choice. Right repertoire, great respect from musicians, and a sense of adventure in his work.

    To me he is at his best in opera, but…

  • Barba says:

    Dear J.,

    even if I doubt RW2013 got my posting right (my english isn´t just that good) and I neither think nor wish, that Andris takes it this time yet – we have to talk this over in case I´m wrong and the stoic and stonelike, nearly expressionless and notoriously unengaged Sir Simon
    (I think, this was one of the major points of his critics, besides his tendency to speak too much german and to neglect details in the score)
    gets replaced by this unusual vivid, intense and passionate musician.

    But I am also astound by this generosity.
    What a nice welcome to my first posting on SD!

  • Bart Hermsen says:

    Jaap van Zweden can bring the Phil to a new and more vibrant level than any other conductor. His passion and thorough energy brings inspiration!