A dark horse at the Berlin Philharmonic?

A dark horse at the Berlin Philharmonic?


norman lebrecht

May 04, 2015

Andrew Powell, a well-informed voice in Munich, has been sounding out players on the Berlin Philharmonic election. In a blog for Musical America, Andrew confirms our assessment that Christian Thielemann has the largest, best organised group of supporters in the orchestra but is still probably short of an outright majority.

However, if the Thielemann bloc holds firm in subsequent ballots there is no standout candidate who could rally support from all factions. Except one, perhaps.

He’s Russian, lives in Berlin, and will be conducting there the night before the election.

His name has not been mentioned before as a candidate.

He might just be a contender.



  • Sébastien Chonion - recording producer (Glyndebourne & freelance) says:

    Vladimir Jurowski is a genius and to me the best choice to follow Rattle in this position. He has a vast repertoire (vaster than many of his much older colleagues), he is modern (without ignoring how to build up on tradition for an orchestra of the likes of BPO), he is equally compelling in opera and symphonic.
    He’s got it all.

  • DLowe says:

    I disagree with you there, Norman. Jurowski’s been mentioned several times, and would be ideal. Particularly with respect to the strength of his repertoire, and I think, his work ethic and dedication – one only needs to look at his 2015/16 schedule.

  • william osborne says:

    I don’t think it’s correct to say that the Berlin Phil has lost its dominance to the Gewandhaus or the Dresden Staatskapelle. Such views reflect the usual Bavarian resentments of Berlin more than anything else. Berlin is still by far the top dog.

    It would seem strange for Berlin, which has done so much over the last two decades to recreate itself in a modern, cosmopolitan image (which is one of the main reasons Rattle was hired,) to swing back to a conductor who stresses conservative, German cultural nationalism. On the other hand, pendulum swings like this seem to be what orchestras and orchestral publics do. And there has been a significant resurgence in German nationalism since the wall came down that the Berlin Phil and Thielemann could play to.

    Such a move might eventually create image problems for Berlin not unlike those the VPO faces. Thielemann’s support of Pegida, “guarded” or not, is just one example. Berlin also has the third lowest ratio of women in the world, and only three in the entire wind section. The ratio of women has only increased a miniscule 1.6% over the last ten years, about 1/6th the international norm for top orchestras. It has done a lot to window dress these problems. I suspect Thielemann would blow the cover fairly quickly. The large faction supporting him shows what lies behind that orchestra’s mask.

    (Just a small correction, the orchestra has 129 positions, not 124.)

    • Max Grimm says:

      129 positions total of which 124 are held by tenured members who will have the right to vote.

    • John Borstlap says:

      It seems rather objectionable to call the normalization of Germany after the fall of the Berlin wall ‘German nationalism’. It has become a normal European country that hopes finally to be recognized as such (that’s why it is now paying-up for mismanagements in the garlic belt). Just for the record: the Second World War ended in 1945, most perpetrators have meanwhile died, younger generations do not carry responsibility for what happened so long ago. If Thielemann wants to focus upon German musical tradition, that does not disqualify him more than an English conductor loving Elgar, or American conductors being really fond of Charles Ives (purely theoretically). If Thielemann supports Pegida, that DOES disqualify him, but not musically so.

      • william osborne says:

        Normalization and nationalism are two different things, especially when nationalism is manifested in support for a xenophobic organization like Pegida. Your comment about Germany “paying-up for mismanagements in the garlic belt” certainly reveals something about your worldview…

  • Rgiarola says:

    It would be a really top-notch choice, I would say

  • Michael says:

    Utter nonesense. Who paid Andrew Powell to write this? While Jurowski has roots in Berlin and has done well for himself in the UK, he hasn’t conducted the Berlin Phil since 2011 – fair proof the orchestra does not think much of him. There is no way he is a “consensus” choice. Seriously, how are the BPO musicians supposed to consider so many supposed ‘candidates’ bandied about on this blog and by ‘commentators’ like Mr. Powell when half the names have either no or but fleeting experience with the orchestra? It’s frankly absurd. We all have our opinions on who we think it should be, but can we at least keep the idle speculation realistic? Jurowski indeed conducts in Berlin on May 10th – at the Komische Oper – while on the same night, most of the BPO musicians will be watching a far more likely Russophone: Mariss Jansons.

  • herrera says:

    Interesting theory about an anti-Thielemann bloc that, while it won’t be able to get anyone else elected, could block Thielemann from getting elected. Hmm, can such a bloc exist?

    If the winner must get a “clear majority” which we could interpret as 66%, that’d mean there must be around 33% or around 40 players absolutely dead set against Thielemann. Is it possible that there are 40 players who disapprove of Thielemans that much?

    In any case, that’d be Mr. Lebrecht’s best hope, to rally this bloc.

  • Malcolm james says:

    Although it may well not influence the pro-Thielemann lobby, are there many, or indeed any, members of the BPO who are so anti-Thielemann that they would leave if he took over? Jonathan Kelly joined as principal oboe from the CBSO in 2003 and the vacancy was created by the departure of Hans-Jorg Schellenberger in 2002 when only in his mid 50s. He might well have left for other reasons and the timing was coincidental, but it might be a case of ‘if that mop-haired Scouser takes over, I’m going!’

    • MacroV says:

      People leave the Berlin Phil at relatively young ages all the time. Schellenberger supposedly said he wanted to leave (at age 52) before anyone suggested his playing was in decline. And he’s been able to maintain a fine solo/chamber/conducting career, not surprising for a Berlin Phil principal. Are you suggesting he wasn’t enamored of Sir Simon?

      Wolfram Christ and Kolya Blacher left at relatively young ages, too. Radek Baborak left in 2009 or 2010, at age 34! Guy Braunstein left in 2013 at age 43 or so. Going back a ways, James Galway left at about age 36 (in 1975). Andreas Blau, who joined as principal flute at age 20 and retired last year after 45 years (and is still around this year though “retired”) is to some degree an exception.

      • Malcolm james says:

        I was suggesting a possibility, but I hope made it clear that I had no evidence one way or the other. Thank you for clarifying the matter.

      • Peter says:

        Let’s not forget Georg Faust, principal cellist, who couldn’t carry on under Rattle and quit prematurely.

        • Malcolm James says:

          There’s alwys likely to be the odd one or two, but I wonder if there might be rather more than that if CT takes over.

  • George King says:

    Thielemann is routine, dutiful, and as dull as dishwater. Jurowski would be a much better bet.

    • DESR says:

      If this were so, why would he appear to be a serious, possibly the most serious, contender? It does not compute.

      You might respond, well, because he would sprinkle some magic (commercial?) dust, even if he is not the right artistic choice.

      But again, there are not many ‘dull’ and ‘dutiful’ conductors around who are able to sprinkle such dust.

      So again, it does not compute…

  • janssonsfan says:

    BTW I really don’t see why people still mention Jansons.
    Of course he is absolutely great. But many people in Concertgebouw said he left because of health concerns.
    I don’t think he could accept the BPO job (sadly !)

    • Aimere46 says:

      You dont seem to be a true Jansons fan, otherwise you would know that he’s been feeling very well lately, and said publicly that he regrets leaving Concertgebouw since his health considerably improved over the last year.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Janssons’ health suddeny improved because he knew that he would be leaving the Netherlands.

  • La-di-da says:

    O dear! Not this bore of Thilemann!!!
    Let us hope to see there somone with vision and courage to make music, touch peoples hearts .
    There some very interesting conductors arround, but the question is: does the orchestra want to have it easy, or great and adveturous…
    I doubt that Vladimir Yurowski has a chance – but if ai am wrong, that would be one of the greatest surprises in last 10-15 years, for meny reasons …

    Anyways, a lot of interesting guyes , but no Karajans, or Abados arround. The tragedy is : nobody want them any more, everything has to be fast and pragmatic…

    • ganymede says:

      The greater tragedy is that calibres of Abbado and Karajan, Kleiber, Furtwängler, Celibidache are no longer around. If they were then they would surely get the vote.

      Jurowski is interesting, I agree. Harding too, and they are about the same age. Probably Harding would be a more likely (and in my personal taste, a better) candidate than Jurowski, having conducted the BPO far more often, but they will both be great contenders next time around, I think.

  • Peter says:

    W. Jurowski: outstanding artist, very intelligent, big repertoire, good looking and charismatic too.
    But not well known and connected in the BPhO I think. Don’t even know he would want to do it.

  • baron z says:


  • Robin Mitchell-Boyask says:

    Of the conductors (both principal and guest) I have heard in Philadelphia since 1988, here is how I would rank them:
    1) Tennstedt
    2) Sawallisch
    3) Jurowski
    4) Rattle
    5) Nezet-Seguin
    6) Muti
    YNS might climb at some point (ranking him below the other 4 is no criticism!). Jurowski is an extraordinary talent. He reminds me so much of the young Abbado and I sense his ceiling is very high. Berlin could not do better.

  • AntonyCW1 says:

    Maestro Jurowski is one of the most extraordinary talents in the conducting world today, with an incredible mind and a capacity to get to the emotional and intellectual heart of whatever he conducts. I think he and the Berlin Philharmonic would stimulate and inspire each other, and it would be a fascinating relationship to watch grow. I hope that Maestro Jurowski is a serious contender, if he wishes to be.

  • Roger Kaza says:

    Here are some of the more interesting conductors I have played under in the US:

    Gilbert Varga
    Claus Peter Flor
    Hannu Lintu
    Stéphane Denève
    Cristian Macelaru

    All are passionate musicians with integrity, imagination, and the requisite people skills. Berlin could do way worse than these very dark horses.

    • Eetu Karhu says:

      Hannu Lintu is really a man of the future. He is now chief conductor of Finnish Radion SYmphony . When he was conducting Tampere Philharmonic orchestra I had an opportunity to sing in the choir with him Mahler 2nd and St. John Passion. Marvelous!!

  • keinidee says:

    If BPO hires Thielemann, I may completely lose respect for them.

    Jurowski happens to be a wonderful choice.

  • 5566hh says:

    Jurowski is totally implausible. Why would they choose someone who hasn’t conducted them at all in recent seasons?

    • Peter says:

      No, no, no, why would they choose someone who is not in favor with the armchair classical music connoisseurs in good old Engeland and over the pond? Someone who might even be good at their core repertoire and close to their musical hearts. No, no, no, that can not be right. It’s been hundred years since the British royals changed their German family name into an English sounding one. Now Berlin Phil, live up to the tradition, and change your identity to a good ol’ Anglo-American one as well. Thielemann is a no-no for the Brits and the Yanks.
      A start has been made. I mean, “digital concert hall” sounds cool. “Digitaler Konzertsaal” sounds dusty. “You are *not* leaving the American sector”. 🙂

  • Hans-Dieter Glaubke says:

    Numbers! Numbers! Numbers! The title of DAS MAGAZIN DER BERLINER PHILHARMONIKER is “128”. There is a clue here.

  • anon says:

    recently seen attending a Berlin Phil concert: Daniel Harding (just saying)

  • Michael Farrington says:

    Jurowski is the best conductor working in London today. His loss would be a major blow for London, but a terrific choice for the BPO.

  • John says:

    If only Blomstedt was 15 years younger…what a musician, already in close association with Berlin Phil. I hope he will keep conducting as gast-dirigent for the next few years…

  • Gilles says:

    A recent Verdi’s Requiem with LPO in Paris at TCE was disastrous

  • Takis says:

    What about the other Petrenko……Vasily?
    I find him a lot more interesting than Jurowski. And there is also Ingo Metzmacher ( he has no chance, not the right profile).
    And Myung Wu Chang. The guy has a very special, warm , mellow sound, vast repertoire. I like him a lot.
    But my bet is for Dudamel.

  • Daniel says:

    RAFAEL PAYARE is a name that people should take note of. He will one day lead an important orchestra.

  • DESR says:

    Can we be honest for a moment, and agree at least that if it weren’t for his personal style which seems to be linked by some to his politics, Thielemann would be a shoo-in…

  • Judith Lembke says:

    Marek Janowski is never mentioned, to my surprise, as he has been the most successful conductor (RSB) in Berlin in the last years. He is probably too low-key for the Phils. A true master.