Breaking: Thielemann is named music director at Bayreuth

Breaking: Thielemann is named music director at Bayreuth


norman lebrecht

June 29, 2015

His new title was announced at a press conference this morning.

Nobody’s saying out loud that it’s a consolation prize for not getting the Berlin Phil.

First intimation of the new dictatorship – er, directorship – appeared three days ago on Slipped Disc.


thielemann pit2

Thielemann in the pit at Bayreuth


  • Thielemann Skeptik says:

    Not impressed.

    Has nobody else noticed, by the way, Thielemann’s resemblance to Ardal O’Hanlon, when playing Dougal in Fr Ted?

    • Max Grimm says:

      While he may look like Ardal O’Hanlon as Dougal in Fr. Ted, his personality (judging by some of the comments here and elsewhere) seems to be more inline with Hyacinth Bucket…errr sorry Bouquet, from Keeping Up Appearances.

      • CDH says:

        Not exactly who occurred to me when I saw that photograph. Distinctive hair, and the shadow under the nose…

      • John Borstlap says:

        I always thought Hyacinth’s conducting skills far inferior to Thielemann’s.

        • Max Grimm says:

          Indeed, Hyacinth was always known for her voice. Musical criteria aside, you would be surprised at how many similarities between Christian and Hyacinth exist.

  • Tony D says:

    Genius choice of images.

  • Mahlerfan says:

    Thielemann’s a nice guy, but that Vienna Ring released a few years ago was not that great. He has a lot of work to do. Good luck!

    • Gene Gaudette says:

      As one wag on this side of the Atlantic said to me a few weeks ago, “He shows great promise. In fact, he’s shown great promise for several decades.”

    • Pianofortissimo says:

      Not Herr Thielemann’s fault. Nilsson, Flagstad, Melchior, and Windgassen were all busy elsewhere.

  • nimra says:

    Thielemann’s most definitely not a nice guy. In musical terms, Thielemann is bizarrely overrated – it would have been a disaster for the Berlin Philharmonic would they have chosen Thielemann for the post!

    • Sebastian Petit says:

      Nice guy / not nice guy. Who cares? He is one of the few great Wagner conductors around today!

    • Gregor Tassie says:

      You don’t have to be nice to conduct Wagner…

      • urania says:

        There are better Wagner conductors around, he is a perfect example for focused PR work…I have seen his conducting form the beginning in Nürnberg, never thought he was the best!

  • Petros LInardos says:

    Great conductor for Wagner, Strauss and late german romantics. Not necessarily the best diplomat.

    Can someone explain to me why the above photograph accompanies Thielemann in this blog so often? It resembles more to Hitler than to Thielemann, primarily because the nose’s shadow reminds us of Hitler’s mustache. Anyone who has seen Thielemann in real life knows how misleading this photograph is.

  • rambonito says:

    Please stop with this propaganda against him. He doesn’t deserve it. Have you already drink a tea with him? Is he that weird? No.. he is not.

  • Marter says:

    He is one of today’s greatest conductors, and he should be the leader of the Berlin Philharmonic.

    • nimra says:

      Most definitely not. The Berlin Philharmonic wishes to continue to be an orchestra for the 21th century, cosmopolitan and open-minded – right? Thielemann is the opposite. He has an extremely narrow and Germanocentric repertoire, his far-right political views are highly questionable and his authoritarian manner polarizes every orchestra.
      Petrenko was a great choice (even with Wagner’s music, Petrenko is simply the better conductor.)

  • Petros LInardos says:

    I hope that the same skilled photographer who took the above picture will manage a snapshot of Kirill Petrenko that will highlight his resemblance to Lee Kwan Yew.

  • pooroperaman says:

    A great conductor, with views that you should not be sneering at, especially after the events of the last few days.

  • Herrera says:

    Be honest, admit it, Petrenko is the consolation prize for Berlin, not even the second choice, but the third choice.

    • nimra says:

      There is no such thing as ‘first choice’ or ‘second choice’. Some excellent conductors harmonize with a certain orchestra, but not with another… With Petrenko the Berliners chose someone with whom they enjoy making music, and that is not the worst criteria I assume…? It is an exciting choice since this means that the Berlin Phil have opted for a musically intriguing adventure rather than a merely career-orientated collaboration with a ‘big name’ who has made staples of recordings and who is already omnipresent in the worldwide media circus. (OK, maybe the first choice would have been Claudio von Kleiber-Furtvinsky, but sadly that rare animal wasn’t available, so…)

  • nimra says:

    One of the few great Wagner conductors around today? Well, there’s no accounting for taste … but he is most certainly not the only one accomplished living Wagner conductor. And if we look beyond Thielemann’s Wagner and Strauss interpretations, what remains? If we stay in the German classical-romantic repertoire, Thielemann’s Brahms and Schumann, for instance, sound rigid, heavy and imho rather ugly. And what are his accomplishments in the realm of baroque music, Wiener Klassik, classical modernism and the music of our time? His repertoire is arguably (by far) the most narrow of any acclaimed active conductor.
    Imho there has been a huge media hype around Thielemann in Germany which I have found rather ominous especially considering Thielemann’s far-right political views and his occasionally strange choice of repertoire (which have included revivals of a justly forgotten and politically contaminated piece by Richard Strauss, which was written for Baldur von Schirach and premiered at the 5-year-jubilee of the Anschluss, and pieces by two glowing antisemite and proto-Nazi composers: Max von Schillings and Hans Pfitzner. Well, to be fair, these repertoire choices might just be coincidences, albeit odd ones, but why didn’t he rather choose to perform one of the great late-Romantic Jewish composers of that era such as Zemlinsky and Schreker than some politically contaminated minor works by Richard Strauss?) And I don’t think Thielemann is a great ‘orchestra educator’ either: when Thielemann was at the Deutsche Oper he seemed much more interested in advancing with his career than caring about the orchestra – strangely, the latter was blamed by the media for the meagre result while Thielemann was cheered (almost as if he was some ‘saviour’ of German music…)
    As for the question of whether Thielemann is a nice guy or not – well, as long as one has not to perform under his baton this is fairly unimportant. But what certainly counts are Thielemann’s highly questionable far-right political views: it would have been disastrous for the Berliners to choose him – both in musical terms and in terms of image.

    • PDQ.BACH says:

      You ask, “And what are his accomplishments in the realm of baroque music…?”

      Well, having endured Thielemann’s Weihnachtsoratorium from the Frauenkirche in Dresden, I still haven’t recovered.

      It is quite a feat to conduct a high baroque masterpiece as if Harnoncourt and Gardiner and Hogwood and Goebel et tutti quanti had never happened.
      But Thielemann managed it.

      Compared to “Christian der Einzige”, even Karajan would seem a historically-minded revolutionary, e.g., in 1969 in Lucerne, when he conducted Bach’s 3rd Brandenburg from the cembalo.

      As Peter Schickele said of my misbegotten namesake, Thielemann’s achievements in the realm of baroque music are quite unforgettable — no matter how hard one tries…

    • John Borstlap says:

      I heard some really good Beethoven under Thielemann, but also some much too heavy Wagner (W himself preferred rather FAST tempi and textural clarity!) and a Rosenkavalier ohne Schwung, like champagne in a glass the next day. But he did a wonderful ‘Jeux’ (Debussy) in Amsterdam (I had listened to a video on YouTube but can’t find it any more) and with all the Schwung and virtuosity this hell of a difficult piece requires, a really great achievement. People are not machines, and condcutors are people.

      • Simon S. says:

        “W himself preferred rather FAST tempi and textural clarity!” – Yes, indeed! And, btw, there is a great Wagner conductor (though I fear he won’t conduct neither Wagner nor anything else again) who followed these principles very thoroughly. I refrain from naming him, though, because experience tell that this would cause afurious reaction by John Borstlap. 🙂

    • Seeker64 says:

      By the way, among the few available recordings by Kyrill Petrenko there is a complete «Palestrina» (on Oehms) by «glowing antisemite and proto-Nazi composer» Hans Pfitzner.

  • Neven P says:

    Why don’t you just leave him to suffer in solitude? It seems, Norman, that you have something personal against him. By constantly writing about Thielemann, you are just making him more important. If you really can’t stand him, ignorance would be your best weapon. There are far better conductors and you should focus on them.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Thank you for the advice. I have nothing personal against Christian Thielemann. Surely an academic like yourself can tell the difference between principled difference and personal grudge?

      • La Donna del Largo says:

        At Slipped Disc a blind man could tell the difference.

      • Neven P says:

        I don’t know where you got that I am an academic (based on the e-mail address???). If you really want to play a detective, you can find out everything about me in about 5 sec. The bottom line is that Thielemann is a loser and he should be relegated to the oblivion. Petrenko is the man and all lights ought to be on him!

        • Adam Distler says:

          “…The bottom line is that Thielemann is a loser…”.
          With all due respect: who are you ? What achievements have you
          earned in the world of classical music ?

  • Malcolm james says:

    I hesitate to make such a reference on this blog, but this photo makes Thielemann look like the love-child of Hitler and Charles Kennedy!

  • DESR says:

    Rumours that Thielemann would be made Music Director in Bayreuth have been around since before the first Berlin vote, so it is not a consolation prize…

    It is certainly a rare honour and I think even unprecedented?

  • James Jolly says:

    I’m not an unconditional Thieleman fan. But I think he does have the potential to pull the festival back together. Here’s hoping…

  • Pedro says:

    It is true that Thielemann’s repertoire is restricted but I have heard him conduct several excellent performances ( at least when music is concerned): For instance, Frau ohne Schatten in Salzburg, Tannhäuser, Holländer and the Ring in Bayreuth, a Schumann programme with the VPO in Paris and a really outstanding Brahms 4 with the MPO in Brussels, not forgetting a very moving Mozart Requiem and a truly excepcional Alpine Symphony in Dresden. Judging only by what I have listened to, he is for me a very, very good conductor, though his Beethoven and Bruckner were not so impressive.

  • Mark Henriksen says:

    Much is made in this column regarding the “anti-semitic” caricature of Petrenko (which is fair enough). Yet, you manage to publish a picture of Thielemann that is obviously intended to draw a visual comparison between him and Hitler. Thats “hitting below the belt”.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      No such intention. The photo was taken in the orchestra pit and submitted by an orchestra member.

  • John says:

    If Christian Thielemann did not exist Mr Lebrecht would needs invent him.
    Such is the lot of one who is prey to obsession.
    As the late great Joan Crawford used to say, ‘whom is fooling whom?’