Show me a conductor with balls

Show me a conductor with balls


norman lebrecht

February 24, 2017

So many Russian composers of the Shostakovich and post-DSCH era have suffered from the timidity of music directors – their reluctance to propose or perform great music by unfamiliar names.

Weinberg is the premier casualty.

Boris Tischchenko is another.


From the Lebrecht Album of the Week:

Try as I might, I can’t stop listening to these late works of a Russian composer who was close to Shostakovich but never tried, as others did, to imitate him. The eighth symphony, written in 2008 when Tishchenko was mortally ill, draws the ear into an eerie landscape of ghosts, trolls and spooks, weird and possibly political. The composer thought it might make a good companion piece to Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony. He was right: it would. But where is the conductor or orchestra manager that dares to do such a thing in timid 2017?


Read on here.


  • Cubs Fan says:

    Wow, no comments? Well I have this: are orchestras and audiences in Russia any different from anywhere else? I don’t know. But if they’re like the ones in the US, who can blame them for not playing Tischchenko? Orchestras and their music directors here are reluctant to go for the unfamiliar; they’d rather bore us to death with more Brahms, Beethoven, Mahler, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, and company. Rarely will they go outside the box and play something off the beaten track, much less so if it’s “modern”. In many places even Sibelius and Shostakovich and Bruckner can spell death to a concert with low ticket sales. There are very, very few conductors, orchestras, managers with balls these days. And it’s the audiences, and their philistine tastes, which have done the emasculating.

    • Steve P says:

      NYPO had Gilbert. That wasn’t what they wanted, so they cleared the house to make way for museum music. Well played, probably, but monetheless a step backwards into the past as compared to the direction they had been going.

    • John says:

      Double that in spades for more classical radio. I am so tired of Finlandia, the Peer Gynt Suite and Beethoven’s Fifth!

    • Ricardo says:

      Throughout my, ahem, concertizing career, I have many times heard the comment “wow! I didn’t know that a concert of contemporary/unfamiliar music could be so enjoyable”. Concert promoters and program committees assume that audiences are stupid. They are not! They simply need to be made aware that there is great music other than the standards. There was, after all, a time when Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler and many other of our time’s “standards” were considered problematic.

    • Talking the Talk says:

      Yes, exactly, because the one’s that are capable of this, are demanding and have integrity don’t get invited back or even taken on by an agent in the first place as they are too ‘difficult’.

      Much easier and easier money also if you take on some young face with no real conviction or aesthetic taste and development or even much talent, that is so grateful to be pulled from obscurity and do what they’ve always dreamed of doing and then simply ease them down the road that is deemed ‘best’ for everybody by agents, orchestra’s etc.

      If you doubt this take a quick look behind all the PR

      ” I didn’t really have an ambition to conduct it was just fate and luck and here I am” or

      “I did want to conduct and it all just worked out without any struggle”

      And Sue, sorry to prick your positivity bubble but we don’t actually live in a world according to Disney and ‘taking the rest of the week off’ is what led to the nonsense that is
      Trump et al and worse.

  • Chris says:

    First time I’ve heard this symphony and it’s quite compelling. The reminiscences of the Unfinished in it are effective. Both symphonies could make up a satisfying half of a concert. I could even see the Tishchenko symphony being played without break after the Schubert. Certainly would be worth it for orchestra and audience alike. Thanks, Norman, for bringing this symphony more attention.

    • Stuard Young says:

      I have now listened to the Symphony 8 six times, and find it more interesting with each hearing. More importantly, it was very easy listening the first time, as I believe it would be for most audiences. However, knowing the Schubert “Unfinished” Symphony very well, I still do not get the connection. I hear connections to other composers, particularly Hindemith in the Finale. Perhaps I am hearing Tishchenko’s own voice, and overlooking references to Schubert? (This is a voice I like, so I will be exploring more of this composer. Thanks to Norman for bringing him to our attention!) Since the composer himself spoke of the connection, it must be there. I am interested that someone point out what I am missing.

      • Chris says:

        For me, I hear references only to the 2nd movement of the Schubert (perhaps someone else hears some for the 1st movement). The most obvious reference I think is at the beginning where the pizzicatos seem like the ghost of the opening of the 2nd movement. From the You Tube recording of it, around 8:50, I hear the off beats in the violins as another reference and at 10:30, the woodwind chords sound like the end of the Unfinished. Those are the ones that stick out to me and, again, that’s only my perception.

  • Mr Oakmountain says:

    I actually found quite a bit of Tischchenko on Spotify, including the CD reviewed. Thanks, Mr L., for bringing this composer to our attention.

  • James says:

    Will Kirill Petrenko bring Pfitzner and Reger to Berlin? Prehaps, even, Tishchenko?
    May it be so. He strikes one as possessing a certain wisdom and decency….
    One truly does have more than enough of the standard works that are eternally
    on offer by our take-the-money-and-run orchestras, conductors, concert managers.
    An enormous number of compositions are but waiting for artists and their masters to
    smarten up. A vain hope?

    • David Osborne says:

      Sorry, but why Pfitzner and Reger? These two to me were very much symbolic of the malaise that gripped German music in the early part of the 20th Century and that triggered the modernist, atonal backlash. Pfitzner had the odd nice moment when he wasn’t trying to be overly clever or labouring under the weight of that massive chip on his shoulder (i.e. his ‘little symphony’), Reger made beautiful sounds at the expense of anything vaguely approaching an imaginative idea or a decent tune. Both wrote music that is for the most part dreadfully dry and academic. I had a really good look at these guys when I was going through my ‘why Schönberg?’ phase. I think I may have found the answer.

      • James says:

        Malaise? Prehaps, but what of it, if the music speaks to one.
        What is malaise for one may be miraculous for another.
        All is a matter of taste, of preference, naturally. After all, what matters is the
        music alone and not the composer’s character, personality, religion, politics,
        degree of alcoholism, greed, bodily lusts, opportunism, chip on the
        shoulder, and such like. We have only the music, whereas musicology and
        musical gossip are prehaps not worthy of TOO much attention.

        Schoenberg, for many, the last word in dead, dry, academic
        sawings the further he strayed from Reger and Strauss, thought Reger a genius.
        Hindemith stated ‘ohne Reger, kein Hindemith’. Vive la difference!

        Petrenko, by the way, has said that Pfitzner’s ‘Palestrina’ is the greatest
        opera he has conducted. Twill be a splendid irony if it
        is Petrenko, not Thielemann, who brings Pfitzner and Reger to Berlin.

        • David Osborne says:

          You are of course absolutely right, all that matters really is that the music speaks to you, but honestly I’m not sure how seriously we should take some of those statements from composers and conductors: Berlioz thought Spontini was up there with Beethoven, Schönberg believed that numbers had their own intrinsic magical properties and if Petrenko still thinks Palestrina is the greatest opera he’s conducted well, that’s just silly. And before you ask, yes there was a time when that work really interested me so I took the trouble to get to know it.

          In the end though the reason these two composers fell from favour is that audiences didn’t particularly want to hear their music. Strauss and Mahler have for the most part got that particular sound world covered. That’s also why we don’t hear so much Zemlimsky, Schmidt or post romantics like Marx. It’s like asking ‘why so much Beethoven, what about Spohr or Hummel?’ The answer is that only a tiny percentage of composers get to have their work endure. Schönberg bless him at least recognised it was time to move on, do something utterly different. A rare quality in this particular art-form.

  • Robert Holmén says:

    Simple solution… subtract ~70 years off his birth and death dates in the program notes and say he studied with Glazunov.

    With a name like Tishchenko no one will know.

  • Steven Holloway says:

    Might it be that the increasing number of conductors who most definitely do not have balls are the most likely to venture into the unfamiliar? They certainly wouldn’t appreciate that headline.

  • Robert Roy says:

    Simon Rattle doesn’t seem to have a problem with programming the unfamiliar…

  • Saxon Broken says:

    In London we hardly ever get the “classics”. The LSO next year will play no Beethoven or Bruckner symphony. The Philharmonia will play two Beethoven symphonies but no Bruckner. And the LPO will play only one Beethoven symphony. These orchestras are also playing little by Richard Strauss, and not much Mendelssohn and Schumann. They seem to have given up on Mozart symphonies. They all want to play an enormous amount of Mahler and Russian/Soviet repertoire.