German editor regrets antisemitic slur against Kirill Petrenko

German editor regrets antisemitic slur against Kirill Petrenko


norman lebrecht

June 29, 2015

The programme director of NDR public radio, Barbara Mirow, has published a statement of regret that her site published an unfavourable comparison between the heroic German conductor Christian Thielemann and the Berlin Philharmonic’s incoming conductor, Kirill Petrenko, ‘ the tiny gnome, the Jewish caricature of Alberich’.

Ms Mirow said there had been ‘shortcomings’ in Sabine Lange’s article and the editorial team would take care that there was no repetition. The obscene reference has been removed. Read the apology here.

kirill petrenko conducting


  • Mahlerfan says:

    Making offensive remarks about people is short sighted and silly. If one is nice, people will be nice in return. Try it. To think what Mahler put up with in Vienna 110 years ago, and people are still like this. Have some respect for talent and you might gain some self respect.

  • Max Grimm says:

    Why was KP’s religion of interest in the first place? I could understand commentary in regard to say Daniel Barenboim, Iván Fischer, Zubin Mehta or Herbert Blomstedt, as these conductors are and have been publicly open about religion and some of their personal religious views. As far as I know however, KP has never publicly stated anything about his religious beliefs or views.

  • Frankster says:

    I read it as ironic and an unflattering reference to Thielemann’s way of thinking. I have learned, by experience, that irony often evaporates as soon as you hit the “enter” button.

  • Herrera says:

    It’s not that people care if he’s the first Jew or the first Russian to head Berlin, but that to the extent these things should even be talked about, he’s not considered the best Jew (Barenboim) nor the best Russian (Gergiev) deserving of Berlin, heck, he’s arguably not even the best Russian Jew (Jurowski) deserving of Berlin.

    Just saying, there are a lot of better qualified people, however you break it down — by age, religion, culture, ethnicity, gender, hair color, height, weight, number of fingers — that Petrenko just doesn’t come up on top.

    • nimra says:

      What’s the use of such rankings? There are a number of fine conductors who could have been chosen but not everyone of them is available or willing, and not everyone of them harmonizes with the Berliners. (If they would have asked me, I would most certainly have voted for Claudio Riccardo Mariss von Kleitink-Furtwinsky … but I understand he wasn’t available either…) Petrenko is an excellent conductor and it speaks in favour of the Berliners that they decided to choose a committed and musically exciting wild card rather than a media-experienced jet-setter. And since these brilliant musicians enjoy making music with Petrenko, the result is likely to be very good. This certainly is one of the most interesting music director choices for a long time.

      • John says:

        Revealing it is how certain people keep track of who is and who is not Jewish.
        Antisemites? Philosemites? Jewish nationalists? No thanks to all three.
        But of course it is the antiGerman
        tone of this forum takes the cake. There seems to be an obsession here with Vienna,
        Berlin, Bayreuth, Karajan, Thielemann, Wagner, Strauss a virulent(ja!) resentment that these named represent the supremacy of classical German musical culture, and a compulsion to cover them with
        exuberant defamation. It doesnt take much for the haters to check in with their idiotic,
        selfserving mendacity, as in ‘all things German are suspect and most likely vile, whereas
        all things Jewish blaze with light.’ Is that the intention? It certainly is the perception.

        • nimra says:

          Oh my goodness… words fail me…
          To put it very simply: I hate the ideology of Wagner but I have to admit that he was a genius composer as was that opportunist named Strauss. Karajan was a genius conductor (although, in many ways, a highly questionable human being). Now, as for Thielemann, he is simply overrated. He is far away from being a second Karajan or a second Furtwängler. But that’s not the problem. The problem is that far too many people here in Germany seem to consider Thielemann as some kind of savior of German tradition. There’s a lot of nationalism here which is weird and even ominous. Firstly, there are so many other conductors – German and non-German – who are as accomplished with the German repertoire (or even more accomplished) than Thielemann. Second, Thielemann’s far-right political views, his limited repertoire and his authoritarian manner simply don’t make him a suitable candidate for a music director job in a cosmopolitan city. Besides, he would have polarized the Berlin Philharmonic.
          As for Petrenko, I believe he is simply much, much better as a conductor than Thielemann, even with Wagner’s Ring. The Berliners could also have chosen some other fine conductor, but Petrenko is an interesting choice. Time will tell how it will work, but it seems a promising match.
          As for the two German journalists: it is shocking that they write such offensive and even anti-semitic crap about Petrenko.

          • James Livingston says:

            You write ‘words fail me’ yet I see no sign of that.
            I suspect that Thieleman might just have greater success at Bayreuth than
            Petrenko at Berlin. Petrenko’s symphonic quiver is apparently next to empty and if it
            is true that he is a gentle unassertive chap, what can await him from such an
            overbearing, hard, demanding and proud orchestra? Or prehaps you imagine he will be
            performing Mahler all the time.(see below for spoiler) Dear God in heaven….

            One remembers well the hoopla that
            marked the arrival in Berlin of Abbado and Rattle. And its brevity.

            Thielemann only after power? What conductor of note or not of note is not
            after power? Mahler? Toscannini? Reiner? Solti? Bernstein? Barenboim?
            Maazel? Rattle? Mehta? Muti?

            SPOILER: members of the BPO have had rather too much Mahler dumped on
            them in recent years, his ‘hackneyed & thankless’ works have worn out their welcome.
            That`s between you, me and the gatepost.

          • nimra says:

            @James Livingston – how very interesting: I didn’t even mention Mahler and I don’t have the slightest idea why you bring his name up here. Perhaps you would like to explain?
            I do actually agree that Mahler has been a bit overrepresented in the Berlin Philharmonic’s programming (nevertheless, I think his works should have a permanent place in the core repertoire, perhaps for the simple reason that they are, um, good symphonic music…?!)
            As for Petrenko, he hasn’t performed Mahler with the Berliners. He conducted works by Rudi Stephan, Bartók, Rachmaninov, Scriabin, Stravinsky (all of them underrepresented in the Berlin Phil’s programming) and … surprise surprise … Beethoven.

  • Neven P says:

    Why are you trying to make an issue out of something that is not? It seems to me that these posts will only inflame the situation even more and blow it out of proportion. Would it not be more prudent to just ignore the comments made by those German critics last week? By writing about them again and again, you are only assigning them more importance and weight than they actually have. The only relevant thing is Petrenko’s musicianship and his ability to lead the Berlin Philharmonic. At this day and age, his religious affiliation and background should be completely non-important.

    • nimra says:

      I absolutely agree that the religious or/and ethnic background should be completely irrelevant! But (especially) in German society it sadly isn’t: in this respect, Germany remains amazingly parochial. The article by Manuel Brug and the original version of Susanne Lange’s article were shocking (but, alas, not surprising, since such prejudices are not uncommon among German music critics). In my opinion, Slipped Disc has certainly not exaggerated this issue which remains a real problem here in Germany.

  • william osborne says:

    Ms. Mirow’s apology was placed on the site last Saturday. She says there were “editorial oversights” because the comments were in “poor taste” and that it “will never happen again.” At first on Saturday there was an expression of regret for the comments by the author Sabine Lange, then it was replaced by Ms. Mirow’s broader statement. The first objections were raised on a blog that is part of the website of the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik.

    After the NZM comment, the most offensive statement by Lange was quickly removed. To characterize the opposition between Thielemann and Petrenko, Lange ironically described Thielemann as Wotan, and Petrenko as, “his opponent, the little gnome, the Jewish caricature, Alberich…” („Sein Gegenspieler, der winzige Gnom, die jüdische Karikatur, Alberich,…“)

    To answer the criticism Lange responded that, “we are dealing with a commentary that reflects a personal evaluation. We are not making any assertions, but rather formulate pointed questions resulting from recent events. An equation of Petrenko with Alberich did not follow, but rather a scenic description from the ‘Ring’ that reflects Richard Wagner’s world of thought and ideas and which play a central role in Bayreuth.”

    („…es handelt sich um einen Kommentar, der eine persönliche Einschätzung wiedergibt. Zudem stellen wir keine Behauptungen auf, sondern formulieren zugespitzte Fragen, die sich aus den Ereignissen der (jüngsten) Vergangenheit ergeben. Eine Gleichsetzung von Petrenko und Alberich ist nicht erfolgt, vielmehr handelt es sich um eine Szenenbeschreibung aus dem ‚Ring‘ und spiegelt die Gedankenwelt Richard Wagners, die in Bayreuth eine zentrale Rolle spielt.“)

    In the last sentence of the article, Lange writes: „Will Pretrenko survive the witch’s cauldron of the alrready infamous Wagner Clan, in which the added ingredient of his competitor’s scorn is now boiling?”

    So far there have been 68 comments on the site, almost all highly critical of Ms. Lange.

    • william osborne says:

      Here is a more complete translation of the paragraph deleted from the article:

      “’I just want one thing – the End!” Sings the broken Wotan, god of all gods in Wagner’s Mamoth Tetralogy “Der Ring des Nibelungen.” Wotan’s plans, his hopes are destroyed. His opponent, the tiny gnome, the Jewish Caricature, Alberich, threatens to succeed with his claim to power. Does Christian Thielemann feel like this humbled god, his glory robbed, when he disappears in the depths of Bayreuth’s opera pit to rehearse ‘Tristan und Isolde?”

      ” “Nur eines will ich noch – das Ende!” Singt der gebrochene Wotan, Gott aller Götter in Wagners Mammuttetralogie “Der Ring des Nibelungen”. Wotans Pläne, seine Hoffnungen sind zerstört. Sein Gegenspieler, der winzige Gnom, die jüdische Karikatur, Alberich, droht, sich mit seinem Machtanspruch durchzusetzen. Fühlt sich Christian Thielemann in diesen Tagen so wie dieser zutiefst gedemütigte Gott, seiner Herrlichkeit beraubt, wenn er in den Tiefen des Bayreuther Orchestergrabens verschwindet, um “Tristan und Isolde” zu proben? ”

      It is fairly rare in Germany for Alberich to be described as a Jewish caricature. The racist metaphors in the “Ring” are often denied. This is another reason that Ms. Lange’s article is exasperating. She opens important ground by using the platform of Germany’s state radio system to address this oft denied racism, and yet tastelessly compares it to a real-life context. I suspect that some of the criticism she is facing in Germany and abroad is specious, that it is not motivated by the abhorrent description of Petrenko, but by the fact that she openly confirmed that the “Ring” contains metaphors of racial hierarchies.

      • Gerhard says:

        Wagner’s antisemitism is very well documented and indisputable. On the other hand to directly ascribe ethnic traits to his invented opera characters is far less straightforward. The one which is most often seen as an antisemitic charicature of a jew is Beckmesser in “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg”. Yet Wagner himself had put him in a position which is proof that this wrong. The office of a Stadtschreiber was simply not open to a Jew in medieval German towns. Now Wagner has never conceiled his racist beliefs, and in his time he was also under no pressure to do so. Therefore this detail of the libretto was certainly not invented for the sake of some PC, which is entirely a phenomenon of our days. Which leads us to the conclusion that some things are a lot more unclear and ambiguous than one would need it for a nice sharp black-and-white picture.

        • william osborne says:

          This is another factor that makes Ms. Lange’s commentary interesting. She directly states that Alberich is a Jewish caricature — a view seldom openly stated in Germany, especially in the state radio network. I thus feel her intentions were not anti-Semitic, and in fact, a criticism of anti-Antisemitism. Unfortunately, her effort was clumsy and misunderstood. As a professional journalist, she and her editors should have known you can’t make such allusions even in an ironic comparison to current events. Still, I hope the light she inadvertently shed on Alberich will lead to less denial about the metaphors Wagner created, even if he, like any experienced theater person, was clever enough not to spell out their meanings.

  • JVG says:

    Herrera, what makes Petrenko less “good” than Jurowski, Gergiev or Barenboim? Perhaps he has fewer years of experience tha at least Barenboim and Gergiev, but he certainly is qualified, so much so he was elected by the orchestra.

    • harold braun says:

      At least he is ten times better than the ridiculously overrated german right wing conductor with the waist pocket repertoire…..

    • Alexander Hall says:

      Well said! I think it is safe to assume that the members of the Berlin Philharmonic knew exactly what they were doing, having looked at all the competing talents on offer. They have made their choice – a very wise one, in my opinion – so let’s leave it at that.

  • Edgar Brenninkmeyer says:

    Kirill Petrenko needs to focus on the RING in Bayreuth, and when he is done, he needs to get out of Thielemann’s poisonous Nibelheim as fast as he can, clease himself from all of Bayteuth’s filth, and mive on to make great music in Munich and elsewhere before taking the helm in Berlin.

  • Inga says:

    dear people. let just stay friends. we are all just homo sapiens 🙂 ( I think :))

  • Evan Tublitz says:

    A travesty of huge proportions………………………Ms. Lange’s comments are indicative of the less then submerged prejudiced population that wishes time would be turned back to 1939 for a ‘do over’. Sadly, the civilized world has learned that attacking a greatly accomplished person on the basis of their heritage is tantamount to an assault. How dare Ms. Lange enjoy ONE more day at her job for spewing hate!

    • Adam Distler says:

      You seem to be either incapable reading and understanding the original article in German or you are just out for some canard style propaganda that Germany hasn’t changed since 1939.
      In either case your comment is out of balance and ill informed.

  • john says:

    The NDR, part of the ARD broadcasting Group – on of the biggest culture producer in the audiovisual world should not have employees who write such silly and dumb comments. These are totally unnecessary and pointless. Did she watn to appeal to the Wagner-fans ??? If the lady had no sensible comment to make, she should not have made any comment at all.

  • Bruce Ford says:

    In situations such as these, why not refrain entirely from taking (for lack of a better word) an orchestral “leader”. Maybe the absence from such a monogamous relationship would bring a renewed freshness to the organization?

  • John says:

    Really, now. Carlos Kleiber wasnt really all that bad. An purposely small repetoire of works
    he loved and knew well and could perform well. Those were the days!

  • nimra says:

    That’s a lame comparison. Kleiber was a genius while Thielemann isn’t. Thielemann is very much in pursuit of power (imho in a negative way) while Kleiber wasn’t.
    The simple fact is that a perfect conductor, a crossbreed named, say, Claudio Arturo Mariss von Kleitink-Furtwinsky doesn’t exist. Kleiber probably comes close, but his repertoire was extremely limited and he wouldn’t have been a great music director (his last permanent post was a Kapellmeister job in Stuttgart in the early 1970s) …

  • Arie says:

    Sabine Lange is a very prominent pro-Palestinian activist.
    Makes you wonder how many other closet Nazis use the Palestinians as a convenient PC wrapper for their venom.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Your proof, please?

      • Steffen Voss says:

        Don’t ask for that, it’s just too obvious that this was a nonsense comment. (Not very funny in my opinion…) Arie is a Dutch name and Dutch people love to make stupid remarks on anything German. Sabine Lange is a superficial radio journalist with zero musicological approach in her programs on operatic mainstream repertoire, nothing more and nothing less.

  • John says:

    Sure. Let’s apologize and go back to sleep.