Leipzig and Boston: Who’s dog, who’s tail?

Leipzig and Boston: Who’s dog, who’s tail?


norman lebrecht

September 09, 2015

It seems extraordinary that the Leipzig Gewandhaus chose to name its next music director through the Boston Globe newspaper, several hours before it broke the news to German and European media.

We cannot recall an instance of a music director being announced in another city, let alone another continent. It makes no sense. If Nelsons is to be a lion in Leipzig, Leipzig ought to be the first to know about it.

What the media manipulation suggests in this case is two things:

– Andris Nelsons’ German-based agents were managing the deal, spinning for all they were worth to protect his Boston position, even at the expense of his new orchestra;


– Boston needed to be compensated, palliated, face-saved for giving up a chunk of their music director’s time.

Whichever way you look at it, Boston loses out and Andris has got off on the wrong foot in Leipzig.

A very odd deal, indeed.



  • John Kelly says:

    “Whichever way you look at it, Boston loses out and Andris has got off on the wrong foot in Leipzig”. –

    Huh? Chailly wasn’t monogamous with the LGO, spending a lot of time in Milan, which I grant you isn’t the other side of the world away, and Kurt Masur before that had several jobs at once (NYPO and LGO simultaneously for 5 years). We all know that the Rattle living in Berlin and working with the LSO has gone down the wrong way on this blog (ridiculously – Fritz Reiner never lived in Chicago, he lived in Connecticut and went home each week, carrying the broadcast tapes!). I don’t get it. Is there a worldwide shortage of really top notch conductors? Well, yes. Norman even referred us all to an Omnibus documentary from the 1990s (or 80s) which stated that there were “maybe 10 conductors who deserve to stand before the greatest of orchestras.” Think that’s changed? Nope. So we get conductors with two jobs because orchestras and audiences want that. How many jobs does Yannick have? I don’t hear Philadelphians complaining about being short changed and that partnership is really something special.

    Nelsons wasn’t exactly giving a huge amount of time to the BSO anyway. I don’t think this LGO situation means he gives less than originally planned. I live in NY but have heard the splendid results with the BSO already. I agree with the person who says he must stay in the USA, but realistically we can’t expect monogamy or anything close to it.

    And let’s face it, Mr. Nelsons is a long way away from the schedule of Mr. Gergiev.

    • RW2013 says:

      While I am deeply honoured that you quote my words (AN must stay in the US etc.), I’m afraid that you misunderstood that I meant that YOU in the US are welcome to keep him, and that WE in old Europe are not all as enamoured of him as you seem to be.

  • Iain Scott says:

    Usual Slipped Disc coverage.

  • Christy says:

    I don’t understand why Boston and Nelsons are expected to be different from other top conductors with two or three orchestras?

    If anything, this shows that the BSO is on top of things – working out a deal that involves them, while other top conductors simply go off and conduct at their second or third orchestras.

    Am I missing something? Seriously – I don’t understand what why this is such a drama – except that the BSO is obviously on top of it.

  • HXZ says:

    I thought the critics would have learnt from the appointment of BPO that don’t take the practitioners as idiots like themselves. But seems they still have not learnt enough about this.

  • herrera says:

    All this begs the question, what the hell has the New York Philharmonic been doing all this time in ITS search for a music director?

    How did Gewandhaus beat them to the punch when they started their search later than NY? If Nelsons was available for Gewandhaus, would he have been available for NY? Wouldn’t it have made much more sense to split between Boston and NY?

    In short, did NY miss the boat, AGAIN?

    • MWnyc says:

      We don’t know what the New York Phil has been doing in its search for a music director because the New York Phil, like most high-level orchestras, goes to some lengths to keep what it’s doing in its music director search a secret.

      That said, I think filling that job will not be easy – because of the whole Avery Fisher David Geffen Hall question.

      No one really knows when construction work on the renovation will actually begin; indeed, I think it’s not yet entirely certain that the Philharmonic and Lincoln Center can raise the enormous amount of money necessary for the job.

      If they do raise the money and the construction work begins, whenever that may be, no one is sure (for now) where the Philharmonic will perform all its subscription concerts during the construction period.

      And, of course, no one really knows (because it’s impossible to know) if this massively expensive project to improve Philharmonic Avery Fisher David Geffen Hall’s acoustics will be much more successful than the previous two were.

      All that uncertainty, and all those potential headaches, don’t make for a terribly attractive situation for a music director.

    • John Kelly says:

      Oh that would NEVER happen. That’s like the same person being music director in NY and Philly or Chicago and Cleveland. They are way too competitive. Maybe the odd guest gig but even that’s a push much of the time.

  • Lyon says:

    I like the aspect of the two orchestras shifting personnel back and forth on a regular basis. This, along with the common MD, may lead to a lot of cross-fertilization and potential growth in interpretive ideas, stylistic and sonic approaches, etc. Further, the issue of a few top conductors leading multiple orchestras, while hardly new, may be more due to the desire of boards and managements each to have at least a piece of one for promotional purposes, rather than a real need in terms of expressive interpretation or of excellent conductorial skills. There is actually a lot of conductorial talent around – more well-trained and talented young ones than before, IMHO. Lebrecht’s focussing largely on who announced first, who won and who lost which podium, and which management was spinning hardest seems to be a most unmusical way of looking at things.

    • NYMike says:

      I’m wondering about the prospect of players shifting back and forth. Wind players – especially woodwinds – are very different in their sounds in the US and Germany.

  • Milka says:

    It is all about making money …under the guise of serving music .The suckers that
    get the short end of the stick are the audience . Clever Nelsons knows how to
    play the game…….

    • Cristo says:

      So you are one of the suckers? Thought so.

    • Urania says:

      True – I was in concert with Nelsons and Birmingham – Bruckner 7th – not good. The usual strong bodily actions of Nelsons to activate the orchestra was strongly disturbing. – The first time ever in this hall I saw around 50 people stand and up and leave after the laste tone. They did not leave the shy way people usually do when trying to get early to the garage or so. No, they left in a kind of upset mood, many young people too. Bruckners 7th never did unfold on this evening.

  • Christy says:

    Norman – Can you elaborate regarding what you see that makes this deal different from other MDs who have other orchestras/houses? Philly, SF, Chicago, etc…. all MDs are also engaged elsewhere.

    Why is this different? Thank you.

  • fer says:

    There is a interesting, historical link between both orchestras: It seems that Boston’s Symphony Hall was designed inspired by the shaping, and acoustics of Leipzig’s Gewandhaus. Of course, it was the second Gewandhaus Hall, destroyed during WW2.

    This probably will not have much significance in the current era of globalized orchestras, but I personally have a certain affinity with these details, and I wanted to share it with you …

    • Tony D says:

      Also, no less then five BSO music directors — Gericke, Pauer, Max Fiedler, Muck, and Nikisch — had titles with the LGO. And Charles Munch was concertmaster there for 7 or 8 years.

  • Ray Richardson says:

    Three articles on this now on the same day. Surely not sensationalism!

    I was fortunate to be at school near to Manchester in the 50s and early 60s, the great period of the Hallé under Barbirolli. Towards the end of the 50s he took on Houston as well. In fact we did very well at Manchester, we had some world famous conductors when Barbirolli was away and gave him a hero’s welcome when he returned.

    Before this era transatlantic travel didn’t make such appointments so easy. Since then, similar examples have become too numerous to list all, but to name just one, Solti was chief in both Chicago and London at the same time and that was back in the 70s. What is all this stupid fuss about? Nelsons will have had three seasons in Boston before his new Leipzig post starts, plenty of time to establish a full rapport with the orchestra. I’m sure that there is far more good to come from the new arrangement than some narrow-minded gripers would have us believe. I am looking forward to some wonderful music making as a result of this forward-looking project of such positive internationalism.

  • herrera says:

    An American orchestra needs the full time attention of its music director to do the enormous amount of fund raising required, and the community outreach and arts leadership.

    That is why Barenboim left Chicago and vowed never to take on another American orchestra, he hated every second of the time and energy consuming fundraising. That is why Maazel was such a bad MD for the NYP because he flew in and flew out after every concert, doing nothing in community outreach or development.

    And that is why Boston is the big loser here. You can’t just take a look at Nelsons’s schedule and say, “oh, he has a free weekend here, he has enough time to fly to Gewandhaus and conduct a concert”.

    No, it is expected that an American music director will spend that “free” weekend being an arts leader in the community, and yes, raising money by schmoozing with the board members and wining and dining with wealthy donors.

    • pooroperaman says:

      ‘it is expected that’

      OK, so what happens if he says ‘I’m a European music director and that’s not how I’m prepared to do things’. I don’t see Boston kicking him out, especially after this latest development.

    • V.Lind says:

      If the Americans would offer the arts public subsidies, as they do everywhere else in the civilised universe, artists would not have to be come marketeers. I don’t blame any MD for avoiding fundraisers. I do think outreach should be part of the job description. Building audiences is as important as fundraising, and depends only on the artistic talent the artist brings to his day job..

      • Greg Hlatky says:

        Any time any American city wants to support the arts with public funds, they can do so. All we need is one successful example to serve as a model.

        • V.Lind says:

          Every orchestra in Europe and in Canada, and many others worldwide that are surviving and in some cases thriving, receives public subsidy. Not enough to live without fundraising, especially in the straitened economic times that everyone suffered after massive American irresponsibility in the glory days of 2008, the collapse of financial institutions after the prime lending scandals, etc. The civilised world uses part of its tax base to support the health of the arts. American subsidy seems to be reserved for bailing out crooked bankers.

    • Tony D says:

      First of all, the BSO is the richest orchestra in the USA and doesn’t need its m.d. to flirt with wealthy dowagers to raise funds to keep the orchestra going for another season.

      Second, add Nelsons 8 week commitment in Leipzig to his 15 week commitment in Boston, and he still has half a year left over — enough time for community outreach, etc.
      Why not wait to see what happens instead of getting into an uproar over the kind of situation that has been the norm for the past half century.