Just in: New title for Christoph Eschenbach

Just in: New title for Christoph Eschenbach


norman lebrecht

January 25, 2016

The retreating conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra has been named Honorary Conductor of the Bamberg Symphony, where he has made 150 appearances over 51 years.

A consolation prize.



  • Brian from DC says:

    Come on Norman. Why the need to express your disdain for every honor that Eschenbach receives? Didn’t your parents teach you, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” An honorary title for Eschenbach doesn’t harm anyone.

    You’ve received a few honorary honors in your life haven’t you?

    • norman lebrecht says:

      If you live in DC you should know that he has milked the orchestra for the highest music director fee in the US for limited returns. That’s not honorable.

      • Max Grimm says:

        Bamberg is in Oberfranken and not in the District of Columbia. I’m not a fan of Eschenbach but whatever you, the Washingtonians or I may think of him clearly has no bearing on who the Bamberger Symphoniker choose to grant the title of Ehrendirigent (a title for which “modest income in a foreign orchestra” probably wasn’t a prerequisite).
        While I personally probably wouldn’t have guessed “Eschenbach” to be the fourth name of the Bamberger’s Ehrendirigenten-Lineup, together with Eugen Jochum, Horst Stein and Herbert Blomstedt, I’m certain the Bamberger Symphoniker know best who the Bamberger Symphoniker would like to honour with titles.

  • Rudiger from Hamburg now London says:

    Eschenbach can get as many honorary titles as he can arrange, but it will indeed not help his image nor improve his mediocre conducting reputation.

    I agree that his legendary greed and extortionate salary as Music Director of the NSO is certainly not honorable, especially for what he gave or rather more for what he didn’t give. The same for his troubled time in Philadelphia and Paris before that. Let’s hope that all he gets now are honorary titles that don’t siphon much needed funds away from true music making.

    Sadly, Eschenbach was once a slightly interesting musician and more interesting as a pianist, but like many others, he managed and had his career managed very very poorly and let his greed, ego and eccentricity come in place of modesty, humility and generosity, leading to the widespread disdain and disgust that this man provokes nearly everywhere that he was entrusted with a music directorship. He is a particularly sad case. We should wish him well and let him live with his honorary titles and hopefully he will reflect on the unfortunate path that his career took.

    • Alexander Hall says:

      If he is so much reviled and hated by musicians everywhere, as you seem to imply, why is it that the likes of the NDR Symphony in Hamburg (yes, your home town!), the London Philharmonic and the Vienna Philharmonic continue to hire him for premium concerts? They can’t all be fools, surely.

      • Walter says:

        That is a good question and I asked myself that many times after I attended an Eschenbach performance of The Magic Flute with the Vienna Philharmonic in Vienna in 2014. It was so terrible and so boring beyond belief, one of the worst conducting jobs I have ever heard in 22 years of attending opera performances worldwide. He was booed off the stage, as I have rarely seen, the press was scathing and there were calls for his dismissal from the entire series of Mozart opera productions that he was supposed to conduct.

        I too wonder how, after witnessing that and reading so many similar reports of his failures on both sides of the Atlantic, that any orchestra, of any category, would engage him. A friend of mine said the same thing to me just today. He said that the “business” is political and the actual quality and audience opinion doesn’t matter very much.

        One thing is for sure, I haven’t and won’t in the future, attend any concert where Eschenbach conducts, as I find his interpretations, apart from the Mozart fiasco in Vienna, to be self indulgent, mannered and superficial.

      • Mark Henriksen says:

        A voice of reason.

      • Brian from DC says:

        The excellent Bamberg Symphony decides to honor Eschenbach. And the musicians of the Vienna Phil keep picking Eschenbach to conduct them on foreign tours and concerts at home. Presumably the Bamberg and Vienna musicians don’t know as much about good conducting as many of the experts on this blog. (That said, I agree the Kennedy Center probably should not have paid Slatkin and Eschenbach so much.)

  • PaulD says:

    Eschenbach did not point a gun at the heads of Kennedy Center management to achieve his demands. That he was able to negotiate the salary he did reflects not on him, but on the fool that negotiated for the Kennedy Center. That’s whom the baton should be pointed at.

  • musician says:

    Eschenbach has continuously performed at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater – with Leonidas Kavakos, the Thymos Quartet, Matthias Goerne, Dan Zhu, NSO principal players and numerous singers over the years. I would venture to guess that this outside performing at the Kennedy Center’s prestigious Terrace Theater is part of his salary. He doesn’t know how to sit still and generously gives his music making to the public.

    • Brian Hughes says:

      It is considerably easier to “give” when one earns in excess of $2 million for essentially a part-time gig. How he pulled that off following what appeared to be a nightmare in Philadelphia is beyond me.

  • FreddyNYC says:

    So when is Dan Zhu coming out with his debut CD? Waiting on pins and needles……

    • Ross says:

      Who is that and what does he have to do with this post about Eschenbach?

      • Max Grimm says:

        Dan Zhu is a violinist. Eschenbach mentored and endorsed him, boosted his soloist beginnings by inviting him as guest artist and conducted many (most?) of his debuts with bigger-name orchestras. I haven’t heard hardly any of Zhu’s performances, so I cannot offer a personal opinion on his musicianship but some have claimed that he is mostly technical glitz with little musicality or musical insight (if you’ve heard the criticism of Eschenbach + Tzimon Barto, you’ve heard the criticism of Eschenbach + Dan Zhu).

  • Bruce says:

    I don’t understand the “consolation prize” remark. Consolation for what?

  • David Boxwell says:

    Next title:
    Super Legendary Maestro Extraordinare Music Leader of the National Symphony Orchestra of the World’s Greatest Superpower in History in Perpetuity.

  • Stuard Young says:

    Does Eschenbach’s “honorary” title in Bamberg mean he does not actually need to conduct the orchestra?

    Eschenbach’s directorship in Philadelphia was not all bad. The musicians I know found it frustrating to try to understand what he wanted in rehearsal. In concert, I found tempos were often erratic, though some performances were marvelous. Some musicians complained he was sometimes unprepared. A couple of gems made it to CD: Bartok Concerto for Orchestra/Martinu Lidice; Tchaikovsky Pathetique.

    The saddest thing I know about the Eschenbach situation is that while he has been cashing a $2 million per year paycheck at the National SO, Yannick Nezet-Seguin in Philadelphia has reduced his fee to about a quarter of that sum in order to help his orchestra recover from its hard times. Yannick has his orchestra playing one exciting concert after another, back to sounding as sumptuous as they did under Sawallisch. Yannick is worth so much more! The NSO deserves so much better for its money. If our Philly experience with him is an indication, they have hit the mark with Gianandrea Noseda!

  • Daniel F. says:

    What can D.C. hope for when a great conductor like Osmo Vanska comes to town, makes them sound like a major orchestra in a single week of rehearsals, and then gets trashed by the Washington Post’s chief music critic? I wish Noseda and the players all the luck in the world, because he and they going to need it. Performing arts in D.C. are a sink-hole.

  • Wiener says:

    Er ist und bleibt ein ganz drittklassiger Dirigent. Ein Engagement bei den Wr.Philh. sagt gar nichts mehr über Qualität.Die nehmen jeden der sie in Ruhe lässt.