Thielemann: I learned a lot from Harnoncourt and Boulez

Contrary to his reputation as a tunnel-visioned conservative, the Bayreuth music director tells Der Standard that he learned a lot from two trailblazers in baroque performance and contemporary music.

Of Nikolaus Harnoncourt, he says: ‘He was an ear-opener.’

Of Pierre Boulez’s Parsifal at Bayreuth: ‘I attended all his rehearsals. He was a musical authority of a kind rarely experienced.’

STANDARD: Neben Harnoncourt ist unlängst auch Pierre Boulez gestorben. Beide Epochengestalten scheinen für Sie künstlerisch aber keine große Rolle gespielt zu haben. Thielemann: Da muss ich widersprechen! Ich habe bei Harnoncourt sehr genau zugehört und mir viele Gedanken gemacht über die Art und Weise, wie er die Dinge interpretiert hat. Es war schon erstaunlich, zu welchen Lösungen er kam, da wurden einem die Ohren geöffnet! Boulez habe ich sehr häufig erlebt, in Oper und Konzert. Bewundernswert, mit welch kleinteiliger, wunderbar unaufgeregter Dirigierweise er Details offenlegte. Als er in Bayreuth den Parsifal dirigierte, habe ich alle seine Proben angehört. Es war ganz anders, als man es gewöhnt war. Beeindruckend aber, mit welcher Freundlichkeit er seine Ideen durchgesetzt hat. Er hat alles erreicht, ohne je unangenehm oder laut zu werden. Er war eine musikalische Autorität, wie man sie nur ganz selten erlebt hat.


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  • And that’s what makes you a wonderful conductor, Christian Thielemann. Keep doing that thing you do!! Having seen you in person a few times I now have the occasional pleasure via the Berliner Philharmoniker Digital Concert Hall!!

  • It is all very boring, Norman: in twenty years’ time, you will be hailing CT as a relic of the true cross, and will be assailing some new ‘nazi’ wunderkind.

    • Charming description of Boulez’ ways of working…what a pity Thielemann chooses not to emulate them. He would make the lives of those with whom he works so much less unpleasant!

          • I think you just need to get out more. He has lots and lots of ‘supporters’, much as that will pain you!!

          • Rumors, rumors, probably he is a bit special, self-centered, but so are almost all these artists at the top of the food chain. Probably only a handful of people actually know these artists well enough to really give testimony to their characters. And some of it might just be deliberate PR to keep a person in the news. Remember, “there is no such thing as negative PR”. As long as people talk and write about you, everything is fine.

  • I learned a lot from Bernstein and Celibidache and Gunther Wand… i look further into the past then the death conductors of yesterday. These are the names that matter 🙂

    • That’s not in dispute, Sue…so did many dictators in the past, even if many of them came to a sticky end! It’s not his genuinely major abilities as a musician in discussion here – it’s his unpleasant personality, proven over and over again wherever he works.

      • And what of Toscannini, Reiner, Mahler….3 gentlemen whose personalities
        left rather much to be desired. Tis always advisable not to be too petty…

        • Ah yes, but they were not politically incorrect – which is Christian’s sin. Speaking up for his community has to be censored by the Thought Police. Freedom of speech – a thing of the distant past. Ironically, everything he said about muslim immigration has come true. Oh, but who’d have thought…!?

          • You are confusing two completely different points. I made no comment about his politics – I was referring to his bad behaviour towards those with whom he works.

        • True – but still no reason to accept his bad behaviour, particularly since he himself makes the point about Boulez!

          • Thielemann has made himself unpopular with the bien pensant because of his views and which were in support of his community/supporters in Dresden. This is used to justify all other subsequent attacks on his ‘behaviour’. The game’s up; he’s just not pc and that’s the beginning and end of it. If all conductors found guilty of ‘bad behaviour’ had been dealt with we would have no recorded legacy and few giants of the podium. Temper tantrums are not the exclusive prerogative of classical music!! I remember the things which were said about ‘the screaming skull’ and none of it pleasant.

          • It is said that upon receiving word of Fritz Reiner’s death, his orchestra, the Chicago Symphony, cheered loudly and broke out the champagne. He was an extreme disciplinarian and perfectionist who made himself generally disliked, yet he brought the orchestra to a state of high symphonic excellence approaching perfection. One thinks of the impeccably fine Strauss recordings! The same might be said of Georg Szell at Cleveland. The late Harnoncourt said that in his early Vienna days he hated Szell for his rough and driving methods, oh, but the results!
            Anyway, your dislike of Thielemann is less than convincing. Do you know the man, or are your objections only hearsay of 2d and 3d hand, malice, gossip? What proof can you offer, providing names, dates, and the like? Shouldnt a reasonable person be expected to overcome his aversions, especially in view of the results Thielemann achieves? He is a great success in Dresden, Vienna, Bayreuth and Berlin…not at
            all a bad recommendation. I fear you must continue to live with him and his considerable achievements.

          • I strongly doubt the players of the BPO gave him the finger because of his views on political correctness. No-one wants to work for a rude and petulant man.

            You can believe what you like, Sue. The players know otherwise, and voted accordingly.

  • Like with most public figures, you never know how much truth there is in what they say. Two major musicians have just died, so he’d better pay respectful tribute to them, but there is not much evidence of either influence in his actual music making, IMHO.

    • One can learn from any example what not to do. Often that is more instructive than mere following examples because in resisting examples one finds oneself through one’s own efforts.

      • Fair enough… Like Albert Einstein is supposed to have said “Es gibt keine andere vernünftige Erziehung, als Vorbild sein, wenn es nicht anders geht, ein abschreckendes.”

        • There are tapes of Toscannini in rehersal. He rants, curses, screams, the ‘horrores’ and ‘porcherias’ fly thick and fast. His tone is rather like that of Roland Freisler, the
          vile proscutor at Nazi show trials. He would break his baton into pieces and hurl them at the orchestra. His wife was the best at calming him down, tho she prehaps wasn’t at all the rehersals. A snarled ‘Arturo, basta!’ would ususally do the trick. In my youth in Boston I knew a member of the BSO who had played under Toscannini at NBC. O the stories…
          Yet, his musicianship is undisputed. It is a mistake to judge musical genius by human
          weakness and imperfections. That, I fear, would certainly thin out the ranks.

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