Next music director: It’s hers (or his) to lose

Next music director: It’s hers (or his) to lose


norman lebrecht

January 12, 2016

On Sunday, the young Lithuanian conductor Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla gave a hastily-inserted concert with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. It went, by all accounts, outstandingly well. Mirga, 29, impressed the musicians on debut last year. She is presently a Dudamel assistant at the LA Phil. This was to be her confirmation concert.

There is just one hurdle to overcome. Next weekend, the Israeli Omer Meir Wellber will conduct in Birmingham. Wellber, 34, is a few steps ahead of Mirga in the music pecking order, having made a couple of recordings for Decca and earning respect from international stars.

omer meir wellber midori

recently, with Midori

The musicians will make their decision within a week of the Wellber concert. At present, we hear, they are 4-1 in favour of Mirga, but a lot can change in a week, or a night.

Either way, Birmingham will once again break the mould for the next generation of music directors in Britain.

Rattle, Oramo, Nelsons: nobody beats the CBSO for talent-spotting.

Mirga Gražinyte-Tyla

(Needless to say, nothing of this nail-biting showdown has been spotted by UK national media.)


  • Grasscroft says:

    There was undoubtedly evidence of a partnership with huge potential between the orchestra and Mirga Grazinyte Tyla on Sunday.

    Wellber’s even more hastily arranged concert of Schubert’s 3rd Symphony and Shostakovich’s 6th Symphony on Saturday evening will be interesting, to say the least.
    I did not attend his debut with the CBSO in November so I’d be interested if anyone who did (or has seen him conduct elsewhere) could comment here.

    The point about the national media is not wholly true, the above two conductors are mentioned towards the end of the Daily Telegraph review of last week’s CBSO concert:

  • Angie swanson says:

    As a member of the orchestra I,d love to know where you are getting this information!its all news to me!

  • Nigel Harris says:

    Very exciting times for us in Birmingham. I’ve not heard either conductor, so can’t comment. What puzzles me a bit, though, is why Lahav Shani is now being discounted. I’ve heard him in Prokofiev and Mahler, and been very favourably impressed both times.

    • Gerhard says:

      If one knows how the search process for a conductor works within an orchestra, there no surprise that journalists are trying to sell their guesswork as serious insider information. Mr. Lebrecht is certainly not above this. A guess may come true eventually, but before there are facts, it is not more than a mere guess. Your own guess is as good as anybody else’s.

      • Olassus says:

        Well, Shani is still very green, notwithstanding the Vienna successes. He is barely out of school.

      • Max Grimm says:

        Agreed. I find Norman’s sentence stating that the musicians “are 4-1 in favour of Mirga, but a lot can change in a week, or a night.” to be a bit contradictory.
        If the musicians are really 4-1 (4-1 equaling ~80% of the orchestra) in favour of Gražinytė-Tyla, I don’t believe much will change in a week, let alone in a single night (unless the musicians are inconstant and capricious, or that 4-1 ratio was never really the case).

        • Halldor says:

          If you’ve never met a musician who isn’t “inconstant and capricious”, you can’t have met many musicians!

          • Max Grimm says:

            I don’t believe I wrote or implied “never [having] met a musician who isn’t “inconstant and capricious'”.
            While I have met many a capricious musician, I’ve never come across an entire orchestra so fickle that 80% of its musicians want a conductor to be their music director and then change their mind, choosing somebody different over the course of only one single week.

    • Jim Gerhardt says:

      He’s an extremely astute, intelligent and sensitive musician. A great conductor. This means absolutely nothing if the orchestra simply don’t get on well with him. He was extremely tiresome and came across at times as arrogant.

      • Halldor says:

        I didn’t hear his Mahler or Prokofiev but I heard him conduct Beethoven 6 with this orchestra last summer and it came across as mannered and sloppy. The orchestra didn’t seem to be looking at him and he didn’t seem to be listening to them. No chemistry between them.

        Horses for courses – it doesn’t mean that he isn’t a fine musician (though he seemed only half-formed as yet), or that he might not click in a wonderful way with a different band. By all accounts his Bach directed from the keyboard in Vienna was magnificent. It does, however, make it seem unlikely that he’ll be offered a significant post with this one.

      • Peter says:

        And there you have today’s deadlock on progress in the conducting profession.

        Orchestras who have a vote and who want conductors that “wash my fur but don’t make me wet”. Conductors who deliver great results, are a box office hit, never boring, but do not demand too much front he musicians.


        A Furtwängler, Karajan, Toscanini would not make it today anywhere. Too demanding, too arrogant.

        • Halldor says:

          Impressive conductors who are arrogant monsters are certainly at a professional disadvantage, these days, to equally impressive conductors who are decent human beings. Personally, I’d call that progress.

          Every decent orchestral musician I’ve ever worked with has wanted to be pushed, challenged and inspired. But given the choice, they’d choose someone who can do those things and still treat their players well. The CBSO has managed to find such people for their last 3 music directors, with spectacular and far-reaching artistic results. I hope and suspect they’ll do do again. It’s not either/or.

  • Halldor says:

    The Arts Desk and BachTrack are national media – this is 2015; it doesn’t have to be on paper these days, you know!

  • Halldor says:

    D’oh – 2016 even!

  • FreddyNYC says:

    With his appointment Mr Wellber will following a long line of distinguished Israeli conductors…..

  • ira says:

    so how does one pronounce her name?

    • RW2013 says:

      only really important in Bham for another few days…
      for me she’ll always be “i want you to fall in love with letter D” followed by the appropriate
      illustrative choreography.

  • Peter Phillips says:

    The list of CBSO conductors really should include Louis Fremaux. He was there for eight years before Rattle and seemed to get the orchestra on their collective mettle. Whether they liked him or not I cannot say but the evidence of quality is there in the EMI Studio Two recordings. The Massenet disc caused quite a stir at the time – in Bham anyway. You could say that if Rattle laid the foundations for the future then Fremaux turned the ground over. He is an interesting man (still with us, I believe) and, if you read his war record in occupied France, an outstandingly brave one.

    • Halldor says:

      Indeed, all true and a fine conductor, but the discussion is about the CBSO’s more recent tradition of “discovering” young talents who then go on to build a significant career.

      Fremaux was already mature and very well established when he arrived in Birmingham; in fact the Birmingham position was his last-but-one music directorship. And the manner of his leaving it is not one that anyone in Birmingham is likely to want to repeat.

      • Peter Phillips says:

        Yes, I absolutely accept the truth of all that you say, including your last sentence.

        • Olassus says:

          Is a departure 30 years ago still so delicate no one can speak out here?

          • Halldor says:

            Closer to 40 years ago. And – in some quarters – yes, still too delicate. Orchestras have long memories.

          • Nigel Harris says:

            There is quite a bit about the CBSO/Fremaux relationship in the public domain, though – what seems like an informed and balanced account in Beresford King-Smith’s ‘Crescendo’, for example, and an orchestral insider’s one in Maggie Cotton’s ‘Wrong Sex, Wrong Instrument’. On the basis of what little I know, both Peter Phillips and Halldor are right! By the way, Fremaux (b. 1921) might well have been mentioned in the recent ‘oldest living conductors’ thread. So he must already have been around 50 when he came to Birmingham, though you would certainly never have guessed it from his appearance and manner.

  • Ben says:

    I personally cannot believe they let Rafael Payare slip through their fingers. I saw him make his debut with the Chicago Symphony recently and was blown away with his musicianship and technique. i understand he made his CBSO debut a couple of years ago and is now Principal Conductor of the Ulster Symphony Orchestra.

    • Nigel Harris says:

      I see Payare (and his wife) are in fact returning to the CBSO next month. I’ve no idea what precisely he thinks of the orchestra and they of him, but the evidence suggest both parties are happy with an occasional, ‘guest’ relationship. As others have pointed out, this sort of thing is plainly about personal chemistry as much as musical talent.

    • Zena says:

      I believe Rafael Payare signed with Ulster just a few days before his CBSO debut; although his official start date there was afterwards. His concert with the CBSO was certainly very well received by the audience, and guess that the CBSO must like him, at least a little, to have him back as a guest. It’ll certainly be nice to see him conduct them again.

      Lahav Shani has some talent, and looks pretty on the podium, but he really doesn’t interact with the orchestra, he mostly conducts with his eyes closed for a start.

      The CBSO deserve someone they can collaborate with. They seem happy to be challenged and worked hard, but don’t like dictators – there’s a difference!

      Omer Meir Wellber seems an interesting and intense conductor, but didn’t really get the extra chemistry vibe between him and the CBSO, although maybe it will be there on Saturday. From the notes he wrote for the programme, it would appear perhaps he is very intellectual and a little lost in his own head and thoughts? He barely looked at many musicians in the orchestra. Sure he will find a good fit somewhere, yet to be convinced it will be with the CBSO.

      Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla has done two brilliant concerts with the CBSO, the second one being particularly interesting, perhaps because it showed a nice contrast to the first? Enjoyed the Sibelius very much, and after the wonders of Oramo’s Sibelius that is quite something. She has a very watchable, quite balletic presence on the podium, she smiles at and silently applauds the orchestra; so her concerts have shown more of a collaborative effort!

      There are still some interesting folks to be seen (and wish there were more women being “auditioned”) so not sure if the CBSO will make a decision soon, or wait and see if a more perfect fit comes along. There’s some wonderful home grown talent for a start.

  • M2N2K says:

    It’s time to congratulate Mirga and the CBSO – and wish them many years of fine musical collaboration.