France has 6 new music directors, Britain two. Why is that?

France has 6 new music directors, Britain two. Why is that?


norman lebrecht

September 20, 2015

The French open their season with fresh faces.

Marc Minkowski at Bordeaux, Mikko Franck (pictured) at Radio France, Michael Schønwandt at Montpellier, Douglas Boyd at Paris Chamber Orchestra, Rani Calderon at Nancy and Grant Llewellyn at Orchestre Symphonique de Bretagne. Daniel Harding is soon to come at the Orchestre de Paris. That’s a sweeping set of changes.

Across the channel, meanwhile, no new hands on the baton – apart from Mark Wigglesworth at faltering English National Opera and Lars Vogt at the Royal Northern Sinfonia.

Birmingham and LSO both enter the season without a music director (though LSO knows who it’s getting in 2017).

There is a sense of stagnation in British music. It must not be allowed to turn into a stench.

mikko franck conducts


  • ruben greenberg says:

    The Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France is in dazzling form and should reach new heights with Mikko Franck. When an orchestra is happy, this communicates itself to audiences. When it’s in a rut, audiences also feel this and a general lack of enthusiasm can be heard in an orchestra’s playing.

    • Edgar Brenninkmeyer says:

      …and experienced in the increasing number of audience members opting to stay away or go and listen to a another, better band.

  • Marc Feldman says:

    Make that seven in France. Grant Llewellyn just started as Music Director of the Orchestre Symphonique de Bretagne. He’ll taking us on tour to Korea in January with some Breton artists and he is setting some very ambitious sites. Norman, please don’t leave out the French Regional orchestras when reporting. They are a great source of innovation and forward thinking in a place that sorely needs it. Why is everything about “national orchestras”. Take a look at what we are up to, you might be surprized by the season. Marc Feldman

  • John says:

    Minkowski becomes General Director (not Music Director) in Bordeaux at the end of this season when Thierry Fouquet retires. Not sure what happens to Paul Daniel then.

  • Halldor says:

    The delay in Birmingham is down to – in this respect at least – high standards (this isn’t some 4 weeks a year rent-a-baton figurehead gig; they’re looking for a credible successor to artistic leaders of the stature of Rattle, Oramo and Nelsons) and genuine player-democracy. In the meantime, a season packed with young conductors making Birmingham and UK debuts, emerging talents like Ben Gernon and Alpesh Chauhan plus the UK premiere of John Luther Adams’ ‘Become Ocean’, hardly suggests stagnation.

  • DLowe says:

    Who needs to change? The LSO have announced their new chief, the BBC SO got Oramo relatively recently, Pappano is considered by most to be gold still, Jurowski still delivers at the LPO, likewise Elder at Halle. Richard Farnes is about to step down at Opera North, so they’ll have a new chief soon. If there’s a sense of stagnation, you’re one of the very few to be feeling it, which suggests that the problem isn’t with British music…

  • Jevgeniy says:

    Of course, if another orchestra is getting a new Executive Director they “need to find stable management” but you are awfully impressed by all these orchestras changing conductors at the same time. Is that a metric of their musical worth? What about next year?

  • Pedantic says:

    We’ve had the same queen for 60 years. Is that also a sign of stagnation?

  • Holger H. says:

    Can someone explain, why a high turnover rate is a sign of growth and a low one a sign of stagnation?
    So Italy has the best government?
    The editor obviously doesn’t understand, what is needed for growth in music, and what leads to stagnation.

  • Andy says:

    Scottish Opera – Stuart Stratford is just starting there this season.

    Conductors don’t make any noise though…would it not be more appropriate to list every player to retire/move/guest in every single orchestra? They’re the ones who play the notes, turn a phrase, have control over intonation and tone colour…

  • Emil says:

    Slipped Disc is still written by the same guy as last year. Clearly this blog is stagnating.

  • Gonout Backson says:

    Maybe it should be noted Minkowski is the only Frenchman on the list. The last (and only) French director of the Orchestre de Paris was… Charles Munch, dead in 1968. The last French director of the Orchestre National de France (previously ORTF) was Martinon, dead in 1973.

  • James says:

    Why does Norman Lebrecht suggest that the lack of changes in the British line ups constitute a sense of stagnation that could potentially lead to a stench? The fact that the French need to change directors so often might suggest that something isn’t working within their system, or that they suffer from greater instability and less success, hence the constant need to spice things up? Maybe the Brits don’t need to change anything, because why fix something that’s not broken and experiencing so much success? Maybe the LSO doesn’t need a director, as it could allow for the board and for players to have far greater autonomy over their work? This zero-sum argument, just like Lebrecht’s zero-sum argument, aren’t notions that I support or oppose. It’s just interesting to see how he would respond to an alternate insubstantial narrative.

  • Will Duffay says:

    Presumably the opposite argument could be made. French music is in turmoil and the constant turnover of music directors is causing confusion and worry. French musicians look with envy at the stability and high standards across the water in the UK.
    Or something like that. Basically this is a non story created out of some changes of personnel and a couple of grinding axes. That’s how journalism works.