Christian Thielemann: ‘I don’t do it for the money’

Christian Thielemann: ‘I don’t do it for the money’


norman lebrecht

August 28, 2015

Early in his career, the controversial German conductor gave an insight on his priorities to our featured interviewer, Bruce Duffie. This is the second in a short series of Duffie interviews.


‘Opera conducting is more an adventure than concert conducting.  And don’t forget a concert usually is from 8 to 10.  An opera like Rosenkavalier begins maybe at 6 and ends at 11.  Tristan is longer, and Götterdämmerung is, my God, six hours!

‘I don’t like to talk about money, but I get the same for Rosenkavalier (as for) a concert.  You don’t make music to make money.  That’s not right, but an opera like Rosenkavalier is so exhausting that you cannot imagine.  You as a conductor have to get them all together.  Sometimes they are not very exact, and you must be friendly since you have to keep it together — which sometimes can be quite hard.’

Read the full interview here.



  • Cavett Dunsby says:

    ==I did Tristan without score, I did Tannhäuser without score, and I did Lohengrin without score.

    That’s staggering. It’s a very intelligent, thoughtful interview. Thanks for sharing

  • Dominique says:

    As as a dear colleague of mine once said: if the concert promoters would only know, that many times we musicians would do a performance for a modest fee, just for the sake of performing that particular glorious Mahler, Wagner or Strauss – it would be the end of our economic existence. Yes, there are definitely moments when, what you do matters much more than how much you get. But one would rarely admit that. Chapeau for Thielemann.

    • Erich says:

      Er…the interview was in 1993! Anyone who has Had anything to do with the ‘gentleman’ in recent years will know very well that neither a disinterest in money nor the word ‘friendly’ apply in any measure!

      • Olassus says:

        Dominique’s comment still stands.

      • Theodore McGuiver says:

        I beg to differ. I’ve had dealings with him for years, always cordial, polite or friendly.

        • DESR says:

          Thanks TG for some first hand, direct insight rather than recycled press cuttings – and I think from the Bayreuth werkstatt?

          The whole, now rather lazy and hand-me-down, trope about Thielemann being ‘impossible’ and also some sort of right wing crazy has got so out of hand that it invites caricature almost on the same scale on which people now depict him.

          Newsflash: you don’t have to be signed up to a leftist agenda to be (whisper it quietly) an artist!

          • John Borstlap says:

            Often, if you don’t ascribe to some sort of leftish politically-correct agenda, or only disagree partially with it, for some people you are immediately a rightwing extremist or neonazi, as if ‘left’ equals medieval orthodoxy.

    • Doug says:

      Do you feed your children with your “good intentions”? Seriously, what is wrong with you people? Muisc is a profession. Does your doctor treat you for the love of medicine?

  • DESR says:

    Doesn’t take long for the bashers to come out.

    Take a look at Thielemann’s book ‘Mein Leben mit Wagner’, just out in English.

    Full of interesting insights, and rather more up-to-date than 1993!

  • Janis says:

    It’s a luxury of the upper class to not do things for the money — and I say this as someone who DOES write music for fun. I get what he’s saying, but on the other hand when you grow up with very little money, bullsh*t you’ll work for free or a greatly reduced rate.

    I always think of Zoe Keating who once said something along the lines that she’d do it for free as long as the bank decided they would stop expecting mortgage payments.

  • Jonathan Cavett Dunsby says:

    There’s an interesting SD thread on the conductor here, from 2011 :

  • Mahlerfan says:

    It would OK if actually he was any good.

    • DESR says:

      Good, so we have (I imagine but briefly) moved off the ‘rude right winger’ trope, and can talk music.

      I heard and saw his Tristan last week in Bayreuth. It would be fair to say he hasn’t cracked Act II, but the rest was very fine indeed. Even Normanno of this parish was impressed in his vanished link to the show on YouTube… And I think it is fair to say that he is no natural Thielefann.

      Do you think him no good in his chosen repertoire, or is the clue in your handle, ie he cannot be any good because to date he has not conducted Mahler?

      It would be surprising indeed, on an objective basis, if he were no good so soon after being appointed Bayreuth’s first Music Director (unless you count Furtwangler’s brief role in the ’30s), and having been considered seriously for the Berlin Philharmonic.

      Please ”give”.

      • Erich says:

        His musical credentials are not in question so much as his personality and behaviour. Ask those who have dealt with him professionally in Berlin, Munich, Dresden or Salzburg.

        • DESR says:

          Do you have personal experience of this, as Mr McGuiver does? Or if not, can you give any examples?

          • Una says:

            People who call into.question another person’s behaviour or character heresay from others, just ends up revealing first hand something very negative about their own. Always pays generous in life.

            This interview is fascinating and so many in the profession did not go in to make mega bucks. They went in for the sake of their art and in a profession that was not so commercial and so agent-led. Also not every note sung or played was dissected on the internet by backseat musicians who have never been in the profession or by musicians who think they should be the soloist!! Just pays generous in life …

      • Mahlerfan says:

        He has conducted Mahler, the 8th Symphony, and that also wasn’t very good. All the great conductors brought something unique to the music. Painting a sea of boredom in 5 minutes is not part of the reason Wagner spent 25 years writing great music. I feel sorry for Wagner, Bayreuth and the musicians. Bad times.

  • Olassus says:

    It could be worse, as at James Jorden’s, which is now celebrating Geraldine Farrar (1882-1967).

  • DESR says:

    Whereas in Bayreuth he is King of the Hill, and so benign?

  • MacroV says:

    I think the headline here is being misinterpreted here. I’m pretty sure Thielemann isn’t saying he doesn’t conduct for the money; just that the money is the primary driver of what he chooses to do – i.e. a big slog like Rosenkavalier pays the same as a considerably less taxing symphony concert, but he’ll still do the hard slog because he finds it otherwise rewarding. Of course he has the luxury of being paid more than a typical orchestral musician, so can afford to make such choices.