Another podium legend turns 90

Another podium legend turns 90


norman lebrecht

July 18, 2017

He retired three years ago in failing health, but Michael Gielen can sit back in his armchair on Thursday and listen as German and Austrian radio stations mark his 90th birthday with fulsome retrospectives.

His legacy is considerable. As music director of SWR from the mid-1980s he was a leading driver of modernism, from Schoenberg (to whom he was related) to Ligeti and Lachenmann. His own compositions are written in strictly serial form.

SWR have since done their best to wreck his legacy by merging two orchestras.


  • Sue says:

    Gielen had some wonderful things to say about Carlos Kleiber in two documentaries on that conductor; one made in 2010, the other in 2011. He impressed me very much with his generous and warm enthusiasm for Kleiber.

    • Analeck Kram-Hammerbauer says:

      It will be an honor for Gielen to be primarily remembered as a fan of Carlos Kleiber.

  • Petros Linardos says:

    Many well known conductors shine in 20th-21st century music, or fast and loud music in general, but don’t have that much to say in earlier repertoire. Gielen is an outstanding exception. Sublime is an adjective I can readily use for many of his recordings I have heard, including the above one of Schubert.

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    For me Gielen’s recordings, within his repertoire, have been a good reference to a first approach to (for me) a new work. His Mahler 7 is very special, the best I have listened in recordings or in concerts.

    Hapy Birthday!

  • Thornhill says:

    Hugely under appreciated conductor.

    Thankfully he made quite a few recordings.


    He’s done many fine things, and his Schreker recordings are among my favorites.

  • Analeck Kram-Hammerbauer says:

    Did anyone also hear his late Mahler cycle with the NDR Sinfonieorchester?
    He seemed to be doing some extraordinary adventurous experiments there. The tempo was almost Celibidache-like, extremely spacious and meditative.

    I’m not sure whether it was a complete cycle, can only remember that he would guest-conduct NDR for one Mahler symphony each year. I hope these broadcast recordings will get published in the future.

    • Pianofortissimo says:

      Michael Gielen recorded a complete Mahler cycle (simphonies 1-9) with the SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg.

      • Analeck Kram-Hammerbauer says:

        Yes, the Hänssler box-set is the more widely-known Mahler recording by Gielen. But it was also more than 10 years ago. I just wanted to point out his newer and seemingly drastically changed reading of Mahler at his more recent guest performances with NDR.

        • thornhill says:

          His 9th from with the NDR from like 2010 is on YouTube. Without the movement breaks it’s a little over 90 minutes. His studio recording was only 85 minutes, and long playtimes for the 9th aren’t that unusual. Chailly is 90. Bertini 87.

      • Analeck Kram-Hammerbauer says:

        In fact, his Mahler 10 (Cooke) and DLvdE, also with the SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg, are available as CD by Hänssler as well.

        • thornhill says:


          The next release in the Gielen Edition will first the first time package all of his studio Mahler recordings into a single box. Also included will be a video recording of the 9th:

          Pretty good deal for 50 EUR.

          What no one will remember was how ingenious Gielen’s selections were for filler on the original individual releases, paring the symphonies with music by by Ives, Boulez, Schoenberg, Berg, Ives, and Schreker.

          And he did the same thing with other CD releases, like Bruckner with Feldman.

          • Analeck Kram-Hammerbauer says:

            At least for me it is not a good deal. If there would be a reason for buying his Mahler, then it would definitely be those “fillers” featuring on the full price first releases. Simply putting all the symphonies together is sooooo boring and lazy. I always scream for more creative programming in recordings and concerts. There are already way too many encyclopedic Mahler cycles out there.

  • John Cooledge says:

    “…fulsome retrospectives.” Are there others beside myself who cringe at such usage of “fulsome?” After all, accepted meanings meanings of the word include both “disgusting” and “abundant,” and as used here either (or both) meanings could be inferred.

  • Nigel Harris says:

    Absolutely first-rate Brucknerian, too.

  • Ross Amico says:

    Happy birthday, Michael Gielen! That said, with all the nonagenarian conductors lauded here of late, I’m surprised to find no love for Serge Baudo (born July 16, 1927).

    • Nigel Harris says:

      Absolutely. I was about to post something very similar. Another highly distinguished and underrated musician.