The cheapening of orchestra titles

The cheapening of orchestra titles


norman lebrecht

March 30, 2017

The Philharmonia Orchestra today announced two appointments. Both of them are called Principal Guest Conductor.

Principal, according to the Oxford English Dictionary is an adjective meaning ‘main or most important’.

So which of these two chaps below is main, and which is most important?

The LSO has the same PGC label for Gianandrea Noseda and Francois-Xavier Roth.

The principal guest title has become meaningless.

Let’s replace it.



  • Peter says:

    Principal jetset conductor?
    Privileged attention deficiency syndrome conductor?

  • norman lebrecht says:

    Next in line (NIL).
    Not in line (also NIL).
    Not quite the finished item (NQTFI).
    Nice guy, needs a job (NGNAJ).
    His agent’s been nagging (HABN).

  • Peter says:

    Not a one night stand. (NONS)

  • herrera says:

    Hot Young Podium Entertainer (HYPE)

  • Anmarie says:

    Has best hair, tailor, and backstory (HBHT&B)

  • Talking the Talk says:

    What this Fellow..? WTF…?
    You utterly can knot: be serious. YUCK:BS
    We really owe the agent (a substantial favour) WROTA(asf)
    A really really really gargantuan one… ARRRGo

  • herrera says:

    New Orchestral Dynamic Understudy Displayed As Musically Eminent Leader

  • Peter says:

    BWQU: Brings work, quality unimportant.

  • Peter says:

    How many engagements does one need these days per season, to earn the “principal” attribute?

  • Halldor says:

    Cool it. There are some orchestras where every single non-string player (and about 25% of those too) is technically a “principal”. “Principal Third Trumpet”, “Principal Bass Clarinet” etc.

    With conductors, there are plenty of off-the-peg meaningless terms to choose from. “Emeritus”, “Laureate”, “Associate” etc.

      • Graeme Hall says:

        Priceless. How dispiriting must it be if you are one of the handful that doesn’t have a title?

      • Giles says:

        Fascinating. What does the “change trumpet” do? Does he or she run on stage with a replacement instrument if an existing one develops a fault?

        • Max Grimm says:

          A “Wechseltrompeter” (engl. literally change/switch-trumpeter) in German orchestras that have such a position will mostly be required to alternate between playing 2nd, 3rd, 4th and sometimes piccolo trumpet (usually not all in one concert of course), based on the requirements of the section and the given pieces.

    • Rank and File Member says:

      This title among orchestral personnel has to do with work rules and pay, and nothing else. It means they are contractually entitled to a certain above-scale wage and other regulations related to their position (i.e. They are not required to play 2nd trumpet, clarinet, etc. if asked; auditions committees generally are required to be populated by a certain amount of Principal players, so they can fulfill that requirement, etc.)

  • Mathieu says:

    Herrera wins the thread. Twice.

  • Evan says:

    Well, at least they are not BONE (Boring Overpaid Non-Entity) Idle. Having said that, I often wish these bland young whippersnappers did nothing more than handle the rehearsals. Alas, that could mean that they beat time awaiting a sweaty Gergiev to hot-foot it to the hall from the airport whilst his flunky assistant collects his toothpick ‘baton’ from the baggage arrivals hall. Uninspiring all round.

  • Nemesis says:

    Ah yes, how wistfully one now looks back to the boring conductors of one’s youth: geniuses all in comparison with most of what we see – or more unfortunately, hear – now.

  • Jonathan Grieves-Smith says:

    Frankly, who cares? They are terrific musicians, and fine appointments by the Philharmonia

    • David Nice says:

      Exactly. So much snittiness here. I can only speak for Hrusa, but his Brahms with the Philharmonia the other week was seriously great. And he’s still only 35. Hope he can be their next principal conductor

  • Nick says:

    I am not sure of the Philharmonia, but I can tell you that many smaller orchestras around the world absolutely need some regular Principal Guest ConductorS. It’s all very well having a Music Director who spends anywhere between 8 and 14 weeks with an ensemble – but what about the other weeks? Guest conductors all the time? That hardly makes sense when trying to build an orchestra. Far better to have 2 or 3 Principal Guests who come for 2 or 3 periods a year. The fact that they do the same job suggests to me there is no need for a change.

  • Saxon Broken says:

    Rouvali is only actually giving one concert at Festival Hall next season, and Hrusa only two. Judging by the number of times he actually conducts the orchestra, Ashkenazy is the real principle guest conductor.