That’s what the Berlin Philharmonic election has come down to.
When the 124 players go into conclave tomorrow, the largest bloc on first ballot will favour Christian Thielemann. He is the only German candidate, Berliner to his bones, technically reassuring and popular with older audiences.
The drawback is that Thielmann, 56, is a blast from the past, deeply conservative in his repertoire and reactionary in his political views. Once accused by Daniel Barenboim of antisemitism, Thielemann has come close to giving coded support to the anti-immigration Pegida movement. Thielemann has not conducted for years in the UK and only once in the US. He is out of tune with Berlin’s vibrant, multicultural profile.
The question is: who’s going to stop him? Thielemann is unlikely to win on first ballot but so far as we can tell, there is no single candidate for opponents to rally around. The late withdrawals of Barenboim and Jansons have left the anti-Thielemann faction without an interim successor to Simon Rattle, available to hold the reins for 3-4 years until a young talent comes free.
Many in the orchestra favour Andris Nelsons, but he’s too new in Boston to up sticks and leave.
Riccardo Chailly, Kirill Petrenko and Vladimir Jurowski are the remaining options. Can one of them – or a rank outsider – call in enough support on second ballot to stop the Thielemann bandwaggon?
That’s what the election is about.