German media antisemites come crawling over Kirill Petrenko

German media antisemites come crawling over Kirill Petrenko


norman lebrecht

June 26, 2015

Two responses in German media to the election of Kirill Petrenko as chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic have been decidedly hostile, verging on racist.

Sabine Lange on NDR Kultur drew an unfavourable comparison between the rejected candidate Christian Thielemann, ‘a world acclaimed expert in the German sound’, and the Russian-born Petrenko, ‘ the tiny gnome, the Jewish caricature of Alberich’ who threatens to seize power.

If that’s not bad enough, Manuel Brug in Die Welt points out that three leading conductors in Berlin are now Jews – Barenboim and Ivan Fischer are the others. Unhelpful and unnecessary, the more so since the three are so different in almost every aspect of character.

Both are castigated by the magisterial Eleanora Brüning in the Faz for disseminating racist clickbait, but the damage has been done. Lange on NDR has appended a semi-apology to her post, saying she was using Wagnerian rather than racist imagery when comparing Petrenko to Alberich. She misses the point entirely.

Two German publications find fault with Kirill Pentreko being a Jew, one of them likening him to an offensive character. This is, as Ms Büning rightly says, unacceptable conduct. Lange and Brug should be ashamed.

kirill petrenko conducting2

UPDATE: In a page 3 feature for the JC today, I noted that Petrenko’s origins counted for nothing these days in an enlightened, multicultural Berlin. Specifically: Among the precedents that tumbled when Kirill Petrenko was elected chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra this week, the Jewish element was the least remarked upon.

It now seems that outside Berlin the enlightenment has been slow to dawn.

Read the JC article here.


  • DLowe says:

    Wait, sorry, what’s Brug’s fault? I completely see the disgrace of Lange’s comment, but you said Brug “points out”. Is he critical, or just observing?

    • norman lebrecht says:

      He’s more cynical than critical, but offensive nonetheless.

      • Evan Tublitz says:

        How can people make any comments about a musician based on their ethnic background or their nationality for that matter? When conducting auditions, traditionally behind a curtain or screen, one should not care about their gender, ethnicity or anything OTHER than their musical gifts. Snide comments or ‘sanitized’ ones to ‘offer interesting information’ serve only to further the rampant prejudice and racism we must guard against. The “US against THEM” mentality is too much part of our society. For example, we, music aficionados are also guilty of it when we talk about music in detail and ‘look down our nose’ at someone who has less knowledge than we do. Hence, we keep our ranks a closed one instead of teaching and educating others to join us and therefore create a new audience for this important art form! Be careful to watch out what you say as it DOES act like a hidden bomb that can explode into action at any time — killing us all!

    • PDQ.BACH says:

      You have to read Brug in the original to catch his innuendo.
      I read it before the flak prompted him to try and water it down. (Characteristically, he only made it worse.)
      Fortunately, Ms. Brüning of the FAZ got on to it early, too.

      The original version read:
      “Petrenko, interestingly the third Jew besides Barenboim and Fischer on a Berlin chief conductor’s chair, brings a dominant mother into the relationship, just as Thielemann would have done. But otherwise, to the relief of many, nothing interpersonal is alien to him. Whereof at least one of this year’s female singers in Bayreuth could tell a tale.”

      What is that supposed to mean?
      The dominant mother?
      The interpersonal relations?
      The relief of the many that Petrenko does not appear adverse or immune to female attraction?

      As Brecht wrote in ‘The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui’:
      “The belly is still fertile from which the foul beast sprang.”

      • Olassus says:

        Well the last part I think refers to the rumor that Anja Kampe, the ex-Isolde this summer, sleeps with Petrenko.

        • Pei says:

          Sleep with Petrenko??? Why this language? As if Anna Kampe got the job/ or get sacked because she “slept with Petrenko”.
          You would say: “Magdalena Kožená sleep with Simon Rattle”, would you?

  • Elliot Rothenberg says:

    Three cheers for Kirill Petrenko and for the Berlin Philharmonic for having the courage to choose him as its conductor.

  • Sixtus says:

    The Lange article has been redacted by NDR Kultur with the following comment (in a not horrific Google translation):
    The editors of NDR Kultur regrets the publication of the comment “Petrenko vs. Thielemann?”. The analogy used therein to figures of Wagner’s ring would not have chosen and the comment for that reason may not be published. During the acceptance process of the editorial, there have been shortcomings in this respect. The editorial team will make sure that such mistakes are not repeated. Barbara Mirow, Programme Head NDR Kultur

    Since the original antisemitic comments are now deleted, does anybody have the original un-redacted text to post here? This would be to keep Lange’s true thoughts on the matter visible.


    • william osborne says:

      I read the article about half an hour ago when the original text was still there. I just checked again and the metaphorical allusions to Petrenko as Albrecht are gone. Basically, she commented with what seemed to me heavy irony, that the god Thielemann as Wotan has been humiliated by the troll Petrenko as Albrecht. I think the pointed irony about the racism in Wagner and its correlations to current attitudes was apparent, but now that the allusion is gone, people can’t see for themselves, and so only the negative interpretation will remain.

      OTH, ironic allusions to racism are always dangerous ground and a line the media shouldn’t cross. Barenboim hasn’t faced too much trouble of this sort in Berlin. I wonder if it will be different for Petrenko.

    • John says:

      They just don’t get it… Here’s why: A quick look at their team show a all-white group, that even verges on Aryan.

  • Tristan says:

    shame on them, both ridiculous critics anyway, one should know that both literally have nothing interesting to say.
    Thielemann is just a very unpleasent human being (and definitely not really a noble looking Wotan!!) who left every institutions he has been involved in distress and disaster. It seems that the only person who can deal with him is Katharina Wagner – this says it all.
    Petrenko is simply the better choice for this marvellous orchestra than Thielemann!
    Let’s be happy to listen to more Mahler with Petrenko than Pfitzner with Thielemann, more than fair.

    • Novagerio says:

      “Let’s be happy to listen to more Mahler with Petrenko than Pfitzner with Thielemann” – So, you have apparently a problem with Pfitzner. Ironically, within Petrenko’s extremely limitted discography, you will find an excellent recording of Pfitzner’s Palestrina! And by the way, how much Mahler have you heard with Petrenko, and do you already know about his future repertoire-politics?…

      • Mahlerfan says:

        It was Mahler’s decision to stage Pfitzner’s Die Rose vom Liebesgarten at the Vienna Opera, and the 2nd movement of Pfitzner’s Violin Concerto has distinctive Mahlerian overtones, very beautifully sad indeed. Thielemann’s conducting does nothing for me and Petrenko still has much to prove, orchestrally.

  • nimra says:

    Sadly, my home country Germany has still a long way to go before it becomes a truly openminded and cosmopolitan society. Prejudice and quasi-racist comments (especially about Jews and Asians) such as those quoted above are highly common in German classical music circles which can be parochial and nationalistic indeed.

    • Angela Rodion says:

      Thank you, Nimra, for your honesty and your objectivity.

    • John Borstlap says:

      That seems to be a bit exaggerating. There is enough hardly suppressed racism in other European countries, more now directed to muslems, but also to Africans, and within muslem circles towards jews. In this respect Germany is not different from the rest of Europe – its history always invites exaggeration of these things out of proportion. And let us not forget that many Russians and Eastern Europeans from jewish background prefer to settle in Germany and especially, Berlin. So, Petrenko, Barenboim and Fischer are merely reflecting a trend, nothing special. Slips of the tongue like the ones mentioned are not less embarrassing though, but hardly invite for absurd generalizations.

      • Rosana Martins says:

        I would hardly call any racist remark “a slip of the tongue”, nor deny that racism doesn’t happen in other parts of the world. The point in question is that, in Germany now, different journalists referred to Mr. Petrenko as a “Jewish musician”. That is a crime in the minds of every civilized human being.

        • Gerhard says:

          I would beg to differ. Just to mention the Jewishness of a person doesn’t have to be an antisemitic slur, even though sadly it often is. I for one find it reassuring to see the cultural scene in Germany getting more influenced by jewish artists again after the unspeakable horrors of the nazi era. This is a blessing I don’t take for granted.

      • Peter Phillips says:

        Does this also justify their reluctance to employ women in the orchestra?

    • Peter says:

      OK, please give us one bigger country on this planet, that is more cosmopolitan and open minded, less self-centered and nationalistic, than Germany. Only one. I don’t know any.
      And no, not metropolitan areas, you said country…

      I’m getting around a lot in professional classical music circles and have yet, after 26 years in the business, to hear one single anti-semitic remark, so far not even one.

      • John says:

        I truly believe you, I really do. Beethoven didn’t hear anything either, I guess you two share some physical similarities…

  • Rosana Martins says:

    As far back as early history, religion has been one of the major causes for discrimination, suffering and war. I am amazed that in the 21st century people still take such backward attitudes. What do the religious backgrounds and beliefs of these artists have to do with the music they make? Some respect for their faith is most welcome and the use of Wagner as a possible explanation for the article is pathetic!

  • william osborne says:

    I read all three articles very carefully. I don’t see Sabine Lange’s article as anti-Semitic, but rather an allusion with heavy irony to the racist hierarchies implied in Wagner’s Ring. Thielemann is portrayed as the humiliated and degraded Wotan whose power has been usurped by one of the Ring’s trolls. Rather than take her allusion literally, it seems to be a commentary on the racism implied in Wagner’s metaphors – even if embarrassingly awkward.

    I suspect that one of the reasons she is being attacked is that many prefer to deny these metaphors exist in the Ring, and yet Lange puts them out in the open, and even correlates them to current attitudes still uncomfortably present in German society. Her mistake is that the topic of anti-Semitism is still too painful in Germany to address even in an ironic allusion to the Ring – and especially when there are so many people who prefer to deny that anti-Semitism even exists in the work.

    Under normal circumstances, Manuel Brug’s observation that three of Berlin’s conductors are now Jewish would be a confirmation and celebration of the city’s open and tolerant culture in contrast to its very dark past. Unfortunately, he didn’t put it that way. He simply pointed out that three of the conductors were Jews, and only after criticisms arose added that this was “erfreulich,” which in the context could mean “heartening” and “a happy development “. It is not at all clear why he mentions that both Thielemann and Petrenko have domineering mothers. It sort of comes out of nowhere in the article. Brug’s article is more troubling than Lange’s.

    Eleanora Brüning in FAZ says the two journalists are just out for clickbait, but she uses a word much more interesting and untranslatable: Quotenjägergerüchteküche. Literally translated, she says journalists are operating an “unappetizing quota-hunting-insinuation-kitchen.” I prefer to think that both were just a bit clumsy since these authors and the publications they write for do not have a postwar history of racism. To specifically say the two journalists found “fault with Kirill Pentreko being a Jew” seems untrue, and I suspect they would find the suggestion very hurtful.

    • Olassus says:


      Oh, that’s good.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Both cited being a Jew as a negative quality. If pointing that out is hurtful to them, too bad.
      On lighter matters, I am trying to find an English sentence into which I can insert ‘Quotenjägergerüchteküche’. Possibly together with the wonderful Hanslick adjective ‘traumverwirrtenkatzenjammerstil’.

      • william osborne says:

        A couple great words. I must have missed something in the texts. For the sake of public awareness, and the gravity of the situation, it might be helpful to specifically quote those sentences here so that we can all see them. Even with a careful reading I didn’t spot them, but perhaps my effort to give the authors the benefit of the doubt caused me to miss something. Still, it is hard to imagine how these two articles got through the editors. What on earth were they thinking?

      • John Borstlap says:

        This is also a nice one: ‘Nachkriegsschuldverwaeltungsmusik’ for German postwar atonal music.

      • Derek Castle says:

        Norman, knowing how you’re a stickler for accuracy, isn’t ‘Traumverwirrten……stil’ a noun?

        • Gerhard says:

          In either form it is not a recognizable German word. Unfortunately I don’t know this quote, but perhaps it might read somewhat like “(in einem) traumverwirrten Katzenjammerstil”. But this is speculation, of course. Anyhow, it is quite evocative.
          (BTW the reply function seems to be a little messed up. Perhaps some tech could look into it?)

      • Wiesenthal says:

        No, Norman, Sabine Lange’s text does not cite being Jewish as a negative quality. She only mentions the adjective “jüdisch” once, when she describes Alberich as a “caricature of a jewish gnome”. But that’s not an anti-semitic statement of hers nor is it her idea. The left-wing philosopher and music critic Theodor W. Adorno – who had to flee from Germany because he was categorized as “Half-Jew” by the Nazis – interpreted the figure of Alberich in his “Versuch über Wagner” (written in his exile in 1937/38) as one of several “Juden-Karikaturen” in Wagner’s operas. Since then, this interpretation has been an constant subject in Wagner musicology and on stage. The Australian director Barrie Kosky – describing himself as “gay jewish kangaroo” – has shown Alberich, Hagen and Mime in his stagings of the “Ring” in 2013 as examples for anti-semitic stereotypes. Yet, no one would come up with the accusation of anti-semitism. Lange is just citing a common topic of Wagner-critizism that some Wagnerians don’t like to read or hear.
        The problem of her text is, that you COULD think she compares Alberich to Petrenko. But, if you read the text without the suspicion of discovering anti-semitic tendencies, you might also follow her idea: she changes the perspective in the debatable passage to Wotan’s view and describes Alberich as Wotan may see him (through Wagner’s eyes).
        Yes, that’s a bit weird, and yes, I also don’t like her comment (which was obviously meant to ironise Thielemann’s position in the first place) and triple-yes, I think she should have carefully avoided the misinterpretations.
        But, again, no, it is definitely not the doubtless anti-semitic statement that Eleonore (not Eleanora) Büning is assuming in the FAZ. The observation that a passage of Lange’s text CAN be interpreted as if SHE sees Petrenko as Alberich doesn’t simply mean that she wanted or implied it on purpose. For not having excluded this suspicion, she and NDR are not getting a huge shitstorm, which, to my opinion, is also due to the coincidence with the article by Manuel Brug in the “Welt” from the same day.
        That one is really disgusting to my mind and a totally different story – because Brug is obviously trying to discredit Petrenko as a person by speculating about his dominant mother and by hawking allegedly affaires to singers in Bayreuth. By gossiping these would-be human weaknesses just after he mentioned that Petrenko is the third jewish person to lead a Berlin Orchestra: That is a nauseous way of insinuating connections between being jewish and being a questionable character which can’t be criticized hard enough.
        But, apart from that, the vast majority of German media have perceived the decision of the Berlin Philharmonic with great acclaim and enthusiasm and without mentioning a word about Petrenko’s religious beliefs – that should not get out of sight while discussing these two incidents.

        • Peter says:

          This comment would deserve bold letters, it is by far the most sane and knowledgeable post on the whole matter.

    • Theodore McGuiver says:

      Good post. It’s no secret to anyone who has spent time around them that Thielemann and Petrenko have omnipresent mothers, though I’m not sure how relevant that is to the debate.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Reading Jewish caricatures in characters in the Ring is a form of antisemitism. Wagner attacked ‘Jewishness’ as a cultural critique of the first phase of industrialization and capitalism, and tried to explain this phase by referring to racist origins, which is stupid but in 19C context not as bad as later forms of antisemitism. He avoided open antisemitic traits in his operas, and if he wanted to express them ‘under cover’ as it were, by suggestion, it backfired because it merely flashes-out antisemitic interpretations.

  • Cornelius says:

    The issue of “origin” in key positions such as chief conductor for such an “authentic” german brand that is the Berliner phil is not new, and understandable from a populist point of view. But indeed the “offensiveness” added in the discussion is not understandable.
    I do remember many, many years ago a similar discussion took place when the romanian legendary conductor Sergiu Celibidache was chief conductor in Munchen. A great young romanian violinist, fresh winner of the first prize in the Jacques Thibault violin competition won the position of concertmaster in the orchestra but he didn’t got the vote after the trial year, many voices claiming there was a “problem” with the fact that both key positions in the orchestra were on romanian hands. There are several recordings with the romanian violinist as concertmaster there, including one made of his very last concert where he played solo lines; the vote was made after this concert. Everybody can hear for themselves his level – afterwards he was immediately accepted in another german orchestra of identical class as concertmaster, position which he occupies even today. So I believe it is not a question of antisemitism here, but a question of patriotic/nationalist spirit, which is very strong in a great and rich nation such as Germany. It is a subjective matter and no one can change it. People feel and think as they wish to.

    • william osborne says:

      Even though Celibidache, as one of its victims, had every reason to be abhorred by racism, he also had some strange beliefs about ethnicity, culture, and music. In an interview in Munich’s Abendzeitung, for example, he once complained that the German vibrato is lost and that only an Israeli vibrato remains. (If anyone needs the reference, I can look it up in my files.)

      The VPO’s exclusion of Asians is not merely a belief in musical training. Traditionally, the orchestra has insisted that even with thorough training, Asians would still not sound Viennese because they are inherently different. Historically, the orchestra has also felt that even if Asians could be included, their appearance would damage the orchestra’s image of Austrian authenticity. It is very difficult to separate concepts of ethnic purity and nationalism in classical music from racism.

      • PDQ.BACH says:

        William, we all have prejudices, and Celi had his.
        Lots of them. Some belonged to his age and formative culture.
        Some were peculiarly his.

        But we must not conflate “positive” prejudice with racism.
        I remember an off-stage conversation on the subject of the Kabbala, when Celi interjected: “The only ones who really understand this matter are a few old Jews. And myself.”
        In a similar vein, I have taped a number of interviews with Yehudi Menuhin, where he enthuses about “l’âme tsigane” inspiring “le violon tsigane” (we made the interviews in French), which one had to have “in the blood”. Yet no one would dream of accusing Yehudi Menuhin of racism; his “positive prejudice” towards those whom he still called “Gypsies” stemmed from a life-long affection and admiration.

        When Celibidache spoke of matters musical, like differences of vibrato style, one had to be very careful. His quaint phenomenological jargon masked the very precise assessments of a superlative craftsman, who practically ran deconvolution algorithms in his ear. The excruciatingly slow tempi of his Munich Bruckner, which translate less than felicitously on CD, reflect his minute attention to spectral decay periods in the wretched Gasteig. In the Gasteig, they were magical; in one’s living room, less so. I remember a rehearsal in Zurich with the Tonhalle Orchestra. Younger players mumbled because he made them listen to “the sound of silence” in their home venue, which the thought they knew so well. They didn’t. Celibidache’s tags are not always Celibidache’s meanings; but the latter were musically well-defined.

        • Michael Schaffer says:

          “The excruciatingly slow tempi of his Munich Bruckner, which translate less than felicitously on CD, reflect his minute attention to spectral decay periods in the wretched Gasteig.”

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            Oops, sorry, I mis-clicked before I actually entered my response!

            Anyway, so, I was going to say: I don’t buy that! I heard Celibidache conduct Bruckner 7 in the Philharmonie and the Schauspielhaus (now Konzerthaus) in Berlin, and the tempi were more or less exactly the same – while those three halls have very different acoustical characteristics.

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            …and not just in the two halls in Berlin, but also in the Philharmonie am Gasteig.

            I forgot that, too. So now I finally have everything that I wanted to say together, even if it took three posts! 🙂

      • ruben greenberg says:

        Celibidache stayed on in Germany throughout World War II. He was never a Nazi, but it is curious he should have remained there, working on his doctor’s thesis in the midst of so much horror.

        • Peter says:

          He found himself in Germany (a most natural place to go for studying classical music from Romania) when the war broke out and then lived in semi-underground hiding to ditch serving as a soldier in his home army in the war. I heard it from him personally.
          Nothing conspicuous.

    • PDQ.BACH says:

      You are referring to Florin Paul.
      I remember the affair, as I was in Munich at the time (1983, if memory serves).
      It was a lot more political and ugly than you make it to be.
      As often in such cases, what started out ostensibly as animus towards a bright newcomer turned into an intrigue against the old dominant alpha male — viz., Celibidache. Celi had not only admirers, but also a number of irreductible foes in Munich, among them the formidable Joachim Kaiser. (One really must re-read Kaiser’s elegantly poisoned stabs at Celi to remember what the high art of the high-brow yellow critique was, in the heyday of print journalism.)

      Celi had left Romania in 1936; Florin Paul, in 1981. That was the Ceausescu era, remember: emigration was a one-way ticket. So yes, the “Romanian origin” card was ostensibly played, but it didn’t catch then, and it doesn’t convince now. No comparison at all with what’s being thrown at Petrenko.

      Oh, and one small factual correction: Florin Paul won, in 1977, a very respectable Second Prize in the Long-Thibaud Competition. Not the First, which wasn’t awarded in that year at all. Just a matter of record.

      • Michael Schaffer says:

        Are there online resources where one can read some of Kaiser’s commentaries on Celibidache? I searched a bit on the website of the Süddeutsche Zeitung, got a few hits, but all fairly recent articles.

    • John Borstlap says:

      There is also the perfectly normal desire to keep an orchestra related to local cultural identity, and a German orchestra entirely made-up of Chinese, Russians, Scots, Americans, and a tuba player from Seoul somehow does not seem to express authentic ‘locality’. This is not chauvinism. In these times when orchestras are sounding so much alike, due to cosmopolitism, international tours, recordings etc., cultivating an authentic profile becomes problematic. That is why the VPO is so often criticized for wanting to remain typical ‘Viennese’ which is for many people the same as racism, fascism, etc. etc. which is utterly ridiculous. After all, there is something like a typical German music culture, as there is a French mucic culture, a Russian one, etc. etc. Would it not be a poorer musical world where all particularities have disappeared?

      • Peter Phillips says:

        Does this include and excuse their reluctance to employ women musicians. Do women somehow not share in the nation(alist) characteristics?

      • job says:

        You are assuming that you or anyone else could HEAR the difference between a tuba player from Seoul and one raised in Vienna. You couldn’t: “locality” has died with the rise modern transportation and communication technologies, and all musicians listen to and learn from everything everywhere. Like us, musicians live in a world of instantly accessible everything. The best become masters of re-creating widely different styles. Take Gershwin- ANYclarinetist from any country knows how to do the glissando and vibrato in Rhapsody in Blue like Ross Gorman. They can then play Mozart in “classical” style (having heard and probably played on historical clarinets) and Copland like Benny Goodman and even pick up on clues about Muhlfeld in Brahms. You really DON’T need an American orchestra to get an idiomatic Rhapsody – we all learn it in exactly the way American musicians do, which is through listening to recordings.
        Every violinist can play Bach like Kuijken and then Tchaikovsky like a Russian in mid-century and then Faure like a French-school violinist. Even Viennese ones can vary their style.
        The Vienna Philharmonic is an interesting case, to be sure. They do have a few non-standard instruments (the horns), and a sense of a corporate style. But do they really play just like the orchestra I hear in recordings from the 1920s-30s under Clemens Krauss and Bruno Walter? No. The strings now use uniform fingerings and bowings – unlike the free fingering clearly audible back then. The portamento and vibrato are modernized. The strings themselves are steel now, not gut. I love the VPO strings, but I laugh at the idea that a top-notch musician from Japan or Korea or Des Moines couldn’t learn to sound just like the Viennese, partly because I laugh at the idea that they are carrying on a tradition that goes back to Nicolai and partly because I reject the idea that they pick it up as children.
        When you say that “a German orchestra entirely made-up of Chinese, Russians, Scots, Americans, and a tuba player from Seoul somehow does not seem to express authentic ‘locality’. – I can’t help but be taken aback. For one thing that kind of make-up seems an accurate representation of any modern nation in the 21st century – and that is a VERY GOOD thing, to be encouraged. Any cosmopolitan city has multiple ethnicities in it. Surely you don’t mean to say that we should feel cheated if a German orchestra is not composed of obvious “echt Deutsch” people with obviously “Aryan” features – that literally is what you imply and I hope it is not what you mean.

        • John Borstlap says:

          What you say here is all true, but that does not refute the notion that it is desirable to cultivate something of a ´personal sound´ of orchestras. See Osborne´s remark underneath… Culture is not the inevitable outcome of race or ethnicity or nationality, but can be chosen and ´grown into´, absorbed into one´s identity. After all, German players also ´grow´ into their Germanness when young as we all do with our surroundings, and this is easier than acquiring a culture later in life. These are flexible processes… but do not contradict the idea that cultivating an authentic character of an orchestra is a good thing to strive after, whatever that may mean in terms of results.

      • Theodore McGuiver says:

        I agree. It’s rather like football these days, where the name of the club often indicates no more than the town or city in which that particular business is located. Local character is desirable, otherwise an orchestra just becomes another branch of the Macdonalds Philharmonic.

      • Olassus says:

        In soccer it has already happened.

      • william osborne says:

        There is a big difference between concepts of cultural authenticity, and the idea that cultural expression is inextricably tied to race or gender.

  • Angela Rodion says:

    Mr Lebrecht, I am surprised that you are surprised, because in certain elements of German society anti-Semitism is, as I’m sure you know, rife.

    • Max Grimm says:

      I am surprised that anybody is really surprised. For all this constant talk about music transcending borders and being a “universal language”, there’s an awfully high level of latent and not so latent chauvinism and flag-waving to be found in the classical music world.

      • John Borstlap says:

        I am surprised that someone can be surprised about people being surprised. But the subject is full of paradoxes…. Performance culture should be seen as different from ethnic or national background. Where people want to preserve local authenticity, they want to cultivate a performance culture and that is not necessariy chauvinism. If, in some unforeseeable future, the Bamberger Symphoniker would be entirely made-up of Chinese and Russian players, if they had settled there to fully absorb the local performance culture, they would have become Bambergers and their cultivating their performance style would not be chauvinism.

        • Max Grimm says:

          On that note, I am surprise that you are surprised that I was surprised……Seriously though, while I am of the same opinion as you are, the problem remains that one relies on large groups of mere mortal human beings not to amalgamate performance culture with ethnic or national background. While it mostly isn’t as bad as with a certain Central European orchestra, the situation is far from ideal.

  • J. says:

    It’s always so funny when Lebrecht tries to read anything written in german.

  • John Lancaster says:

    Lange is just stupidly lashing out because Thielemann was rejected at the BPO, and Brug should know better.
    And Norman, thanks for the top notch article in the Jewish Chronicle. A non-bias, sensitive account of Maestro Petrenko.

  • Alexander Hall says:

    Germans – and they’re not the only ones – have traditionally had problems with the ethnicity of people in the news. Just after Malcolm Rifkind became British foreign secretary the FAZ (no less!) referred to him in an editorial as “Der Jude Rifkind”. As long as commentators struggle to find something nasty to say about Petrenko, and can only dwell on the utter irrelevance that he is Jewish, we can be sure that the artistic and interpersonal reasons why the Berlin Philharmonic chose him are absolutely the right ones.

  • harold braun says:

    Disgusting and stupid!But,on awhole,it gives a truthful picture of the sad state of german music journalism.An uneasy mixture of gossip and pseudo intellectual drivel!

  • Pamela Brown says:

    Surely the possibility of some turbulence over the choice of Mr. Petrenko was anticipated, and for that reason the choice is even more commendable for the group once hailed as “Das Reichsorchester”…

  • Jon Lindemann says:

    Many people here seem to be mystified by Brug’s mention of a “dominant mother.” A quick re-reading of Freud’s “Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality” might shed some light. It would seem that the innuendo at work here has to do with sexual orientation and not with Jewishness. But it was most unwise of Brug to insert a mention of the latter into a sentence already overladen with rumor.

  • Marg says:

    Excuse my ignorance but I fail to see the problem …. what does it matter what a person’s religion/enthnicity is? Now we have three orchestras conducted by three white males ….. so????

  • Fred says:

    1. these two remarks ARE anti-semitic, no doubt. I was surprised they could utter it so easily. And they did do their research, never ever would i have even guessed Petrenko is Jewish. Gee the world is in BIG trouble still and people will never learn.

    2. I do not like nor support the permanent anti-Thieleman stand on this blog. He IS a great conductor and yes, he should have been appointed conductor of the BPH. I wonder what their real reason was for not taking him?!?

    • erich says:

      Anyone who knows Manuel Brug would know he is in no way anti-Semitic. The lady from NDR is a disgrace and should be sacked but I see Brug’s piece as a journalistic ploy for finding a – maybe with hindsight slightly unfortunate – cosmetic way of linking the three Berlin chief conductors.
      Far more interesting and not without a certain piquancy, is his comparison of Petrenko and Thielemann’s ‘Zwischenmenschlichkeit’. Wicked tongues in certain areas are maintaining that the possible lady in question has just been ejected from Thielemann’s forthcoming Tristan. Coincidence?

      • GiGi says:

        The lady in question and Petrenko have not been an item for several years now.

      • Misha says:

        “Anyone who knows Manuel Brug would know he is in no way anti-Semitic.”

        Sorry, but this is a misconception by racists around the world that if you are basically a nice person and don’t actively hate the minority in question, you aren’t actually a racist. Brug wrote certain lines that made an issue of Petrenko’s heritage and which rehashed old anti-semitic tropes with respect to the sexuality of Jews. If one doesn’t on some level believe these things one wouldn’t write them. He may not be a conscious anti-semite, but he unconsciously furthers anti-semitism by writing such garbage.

        • job says:

          With great respect, Misha, I (as a Jew) can’t quite follow the specific point about Brug’s mentioning of the “Bayreuth mezzo” as evoking an anti-Semitic trope, and would appreciate clarification After all, it was Norman whose book The Maestro Myth exposed numerous examples of conductors of all backgrounds carrying on with leading and non-leading ladies; anyone who has spent time around top conductors will have salacious tales to dish. (For example, how the sainted Furtwangler had a secretary whose job was to keep track of his assignations – to be sure, I only read about that case.) It did seem odd of Brug in 2015 to suggest that – horrors! – Petrenko had a consensual relationship with another adult, but that sounded to me like simple media dishiness. I would never have guessed that it was a sly reference to anti-Semitic stereotypes. I mean, after Furtwangler, Karajan, Abbado (his involved a great violinist), and Rattle (ah – another mezzo!)… isn’t that pretty much a part of the job description? Seriously, would any of Brug’s German readers have raised an eyebrow, much less have thought “Those sensual people – no Gentile conductor would have done such a thing!” Hard for me to imagine that thought arising in Berlin, but please help me understand if I’m missing something and why, thanks. Again, I’m not raising this to be argumentative, but because I don’t understand the point.

  • Boguslaw Dawidow says:

    Let us see what happens with that wonderful Orchestra, after they start their cooperation with new choice ! Don’t like their choice ? So what, let them do the job they love.
    Let’s hope, they will grow !
    Foks, get your politics and racism away from music !
    If Ber Philh like Petrenko, maybe they need him ?

  • Gabriele says:

    Sorry to correct you, William, but it is Alberich and not Albrecht. Alberich, the dwarf who is hungry for gold. A disgusting analogy.

  • George says:

    we have a much different world today. i estimate that no one can stand up to the scrutiny of determined opposition. so we must take people with their faults and judge them by determination and credit their strengths. we are our own worst critics but with this new world, no can be free from the eye of the uniform beholder.

  • Julian Rowlands says:

    What would German music, or for that matter German literature, including journalism, be without Jews?

    • John Borstlap says:

      In the 19th century, all those Germans with ´jewish roots´ became fully German, so in a real sense ´jewishness´ disappeared and was only cultivated as a racist notion later-on in the century and beyond when culturally it became impossible to ´spot´ jewishness. If you read Wagner carefully you see that he attacked ´jewishness´ as a cultural critique of materialism and capitalism, which he explained in racist terms, which is as silly as explaining communism by the hair colour of many red-haired communists. When jewish communities were liberated from their ghettos at the beginning of the 19th century, they quickly developed into a German cultural and economic elite, which created jealousy and thus…

    • Peter says:

      Where it would be without? Somewhere close to where it is today. Your black and white dualism doesn’t help here. Judaism had an influence, but not a major one. Only with enlightenment and the rise of the secularism, the Jewish elite’s contribution to the culture increased beyond the borders of the actual or the virtual “ghetto”.

  • Z says:

    The orchestra players have voted, for the sound the wished, and Petrenko was found most suitable. There are many players around the world in the Berliner Phikharmoniker, as the city Berlin is full of people from around the world.
    About the fact that Thielemann wasn’t chosen – it’s not about Wotan – it’s about his attitude that is not liked by many musicians, not only in Berlin, and not only in music, but mainly in music!

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    Petrenko should get out now. No one needs that sort of slur. And in future I expect German newspapers to refer to Christian conductors…… as if anyones religion defines their abilities!

    • Theodore McGuiver says:

      Why should he get out? He’s just been offered a great job with a fabulous orchestra. The German press does refer to Christian conductors, but only those who conduct in Salzburg, Dresden and Bayreuth.

  • jaypee says:

    This is indeed revolting… But explain me something: when Valentina Lisitsa makes disgusting comments on Ukrainians, many -including here- support her and justify her racist and antisemitic comments with the sacro-saint “freedom of speech”. In which way are her comments so different from those?
    I find them equally appalling but I still don’t understand why some find one acceptable and the other not.
    Either the “freedom of speech” is for everyone -and then, racism, antisemitism, homophobia are accepted- or we SYSTEMATICALLY reject all form of bigotry and intolerance. Including Valentina Lisitsa’s.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Indeed. But maybe ´freedom of speech´ is not such a good thing, as ´freedom´ is a meaningless notion if not carefully formulated with ´from´and ´to´.

  • Peter says:

    Everybody take deep breath and stop the hysteria. None of these two comments are anti-semitic. Sabine Lange has read her Adorno and makes a dumb comment, actually it’s an attempt of an Anti-Thielemann and pro-semitic comment, by putting the mud of suggestive anti-semitic rhetoric into Thielemann’s mouth, in her dirty imagination only.
    So Sabine Lange is just dumb. the same for Brug, who also tries to actually make a pro-semitic comments, but so clumsy that the usual anti-semitism police howls in pawlowian reflexes. Stupid, filthy (the sexual insinuations), but not anti-semitic at all.

  • Eintracht says:

    Dr. Eleonore Büning.

  • HugoPreuss says:

    The Lange comment has been removed by NDR with an apology, so I can’t comment on it. But if they remove it, there must be a reason for it. BTW, nobody in Germany would be crazy enough to do an outright antisemitic comment in any mainstream media; they would be fired before the day ended, and they know it.

    I am puzzled, however, by the outrage on the Burg comment. First, the article is full of praise for Petrenko. And then, it mentions in an aside that Berlin has finally three major Jewish conductors again, for the first time since the “brown racial chimera”. This is more boasting than anything, esp. since before 1933 Berlin had three Jewish maestros at the helm of its most important opera institutions (Leo Blech at Staatsoper, Bruno Walter at Deutsche Oper Charlottenburg, Otto Klemperer at Krolloper). So, the gist of the remark is that Berlin is finally resembling the glory days of its music life. I fail to see what is antisemitic about this.

    • Gerhard says:

      I don’t see it either, but perhaps this is because we both understand German. Therefore we can be fooled easily by the written text, and fail to see as clearly as those who have little command of the language what it really must mean.

      • Theodore McGuiver says:

        As I read it, Brug uses the noun positively, welcoming the development much as Hugo Preuss describes above. His allusion to KP’s private life was unnecessary, though.

  • Baron T-Z says:

    Music is culture and culture comes from nations, from people. People are not abstract, they are a product of their culture, their nature, education and experience. Classical music is drawn from, in origin, Jewish music, so it entirely appropriate to hire him for whatever Jewish qualities he may bring with him to the orchestra, which surely needs them. These people just don’t want to admit they need Jews, because it means admitting they have deficiencies. It’s also a way to cover up the fact that Germans are actually from Siberia in origin.

  • Jonathan Turner says:

    I don’t really agree with Sabine Lange that Thielemann is an expert in the German sound, whatever that is meant to be. I find the sound he creates in the German classics is dour and lacks colour. Karajan created far more colour than Thielemann does. I think Thielemann is overated and Petrenko a better choice. I also dislike the way Thielemann imitates Furtwangler recordings and mimics his tempo changes etc.

    • Yurko Notoco says:

      Yes,Petrenko with good adulation and experience from Moscow conservatory can be super organizator for new starting in Germany culture ,because experience is very important staf for new generation Europian artist!

      • Michael Schaffer says:

        No, that has nothing to do with “new starting in Germany culture”. Petrenko is just one artist soon to occupy one single (but fairly important and iconic) artistic position, but that has little influence on German culture overall, which is a vast spectrum in which the Berliner Philharmoniker are only a small element.

        • Yurko Notoco says:

          German is Europian country and need Europian conductor for everydays life in music and politic.Not Jude ,because this nationality have different means in and for all continent! For Israel,U.S. It’s OK,but not for Europe!
          It’s not antisemit means.It’s true means about Music arts in Germany,Poland,Ukraine…for all Europe.
          Sorry for my English!