Charles Dutoit: Young musicians today have no culture

Charles Dutoit: Young musicians today have no culture


norman lebrecht

August 18, 2017

From a Telegraph interview with Ivan Hewitt:

‘Nowadays young musicians have everything under their fingertips, they can learn a new piece just by listening to it on YouTube. They are amazingly well-informed but they have no culture. In my day everything was slow, but it meant that it was rooted. You had to seek things out and work on them slowly with the score. ‘

More here. 


  • Ellingtonia says:

    What pretentious nonsense!

    • John Borstlap says:

      Typical of the mentioned young people.

    • ben LEGEBEKE says:

      Dutoit is completely right. Young musicians play better nowadays than ever, but they are only concentrated on their instrumental skills. Very few have knolledge about the great conductors, soloïst or performances of the past not to speak about the history of recording and so on. In short: they are well educated instrumentalist who don’t like music anymore….

      • Gerhard says:

        It seems to me that you may be right that most younger musicians may know less about the conductors, soloists and performances of the past. But in their majority they have learned instead to read scores and take into consideration the customs of the times in which these have been written. So they may become less inclined to accept performance traditions which date from times long after the composition as something indisputable, which can make life harder for some maestri who believe that they themselves must be the highest musical authorities, because they do what they have been taught by their own famous teachers. Not such a bad development for our musical life in my opinion.

  • John Dawson says:

    This is just standard “things were better when I were a lad” whingeing. If kids can learn pieces well enough to play them or conduct them just by listening to them on Youtube, I say “well done – wish I could do that”. (Indeed last year I had a pupil who did just that – three months of lessons – can’t read music – learnt the whole of Chopin’s Eflat nocturne – correctly voiced LH and everything (admittedly struggled with the cadenza – didn’t have the technique) simply by listening to it over and over on his phone. His school however, can’t give him more than 10 minutes tuition a fortnight!)
    Arthur Rubinstein boasts in his biography of learning Also Spracht Zarathustra after a hearing of two and playing it. Was he a lightweight?
    The problem is ’empty virtuosity versus musical understanding’ profoundity versus dilettantism; Liszt versus Brahms, if you like (though I’m aware that particular analogy may not be universally applauded).
    There are many young musicians who do value, understand and try to learn from tradition. The real danger is the commodification of music and the steadfast refusal of government in the U.K. to value it as a way of educating all children. 30 or 40 years ago, would have he support at school. 10 minutes a fortnight from a busy peri is not enough…..

  • Ungeheuer says:

    Well stated. Not only do they lack culture but class as well. It afflicts instrumentalists and singers alike. Look on youtube and you’ll see.

  • Cubs Fan says:

    Erich Leinsdorf warned about this, and strongly advocated that a conductor needs to rise through the opera house, or at least the ballet. Jumping straight the concert platform the conductor hasn’t equipped himself with the technical and musical issues, and learning from a recording is a sad disgrace. You know, like Dennis Prager.

  • Michael Endres says:

    “The world is passing through troublous times. The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint. They talk as if they knew everything, and what passes for wisdom with us is foolishness with them. As for the girls, they are forward, immodest and unladylike in speech, behavior and dress.”
    (From a sermon preached by Peter the Hermit in A.D. 1274)

  • Anton Bruckner says:

    One has to judge these comments against the maestro’s ‘achievements’ with the RPO – a distinguished orchestra which he turned into an orchestra playing mainstream repertoire with littld enthusiasm. The best response to this load of nonsense would be to appoint a realtively young chief conductor with affinity to modern repertoire who will bring the RPO back to life.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Yes, and that should mean: no Bruckner, or other oldies, and a repertoire that begins with Xenakis and spashes the end of the season with Feldman and Glass.

      • Anton Bruckner says:

        Definitely not. These ‘new’ composers will spice up repertoire and ‘oldies’ as you term them will profit from interesting interpretations. See what Salonen does with the Philarmonia and what Volkov did with RPO when he performed with them recently. Total transformation of the orchestra. Decide if you want artistic experience or mainstream boring repertoire with routine music making. The latter will lead gradually to the death of classical music.

        • John Borstlap says:

          You are right about Salonen. It thus depends upon wise programm choices, and knowing which contemporary music would blend within regular programming without the effect of a gorilla suddenly appearing at a wedding party.

  • boringfileclerk says:

    I for one applause Dutoit for pointing out the obvious. Musicians today are glib, shallow, and devoid of any true understanding of the music they are playing.

  • Jon H says:

    He’s referring to the young conductors who have skyrocketed to high positions and didn’t figure out the score over many years with provincial groups – and it’s true that being a music director of a German orchestra for 10 years say, will add to the conductor’s cultural understanding of the music.
    However, among the music directors who have done this “homework” – their quality is still variable. And there’s a small percentage of younger conductors who haven’t spent as much time with a score, but have something interesting in what they’re doing. There’s no hard and fast rules.
    But there’s a lot of money being thrown around at the bigger orchestras, and while they may think youthful conductors attract the youthful audience – typically I won’t buy a $150 box seat for someone who hasn’t spent some years in the saddle.

    • Jon H says:

      There’s still talent in the world, and any young musician who is well trained and works hard will be fine – the job opportunities are another matter.

    • John Borstlap says:


      And ‘culture’ is something different from ‘abilities’.

      The false perspective here is that youthful achievements which don’t carry weight are forgotten and real achievements are not, and they mostly tend to be the products of a bit older, more mature people. That is why it always seems that in former times, things were more mature, the achievements better, etc. etc. in comparison with ‘today’s youth’ – the latter has not as yet been filtered-out of the picture. Hence the eternal complaints of older people about today’s youth and never about yesterday’s youth – because that has disappeared while the current one is still around.

  • John Borstlap says:

    For a young musician to become ‘cultured’, not only is a cultural environment needed and the individual wish to become cultured, but also the culture in which one is born is important. Western culture over the last decennia has eroded in certain respects, and especially on the cultural edges. So it has definitely become more difficult for younger musicians to acquire a more broadly and deeper cultured personality and to find the time and the focus to ‘sink’ deeper into the scores they perform. All in all, the tempo of modern life creates an atmosphere of doing as many as possible things in the shortest time span and if possible, different things in the same time, diaries being crammed until every corner is filled with activities, and so on – not to mention the many pressures in music education where the student has to achieve things in much too short periods. In former times, life was much slower, and of course that was a great advantage for classical music. For instance, it is no coincidence that almost ALL contemporary music – apart from Feldman’s – is quick, hurried, superficial, confused, uncooked, hasty (like Boulez’ flea music). Or look at the average symphony orchestra: they have to play as often as possible, go on tour, make recordings, do community work, etc. etc. an intense work load which is against the nature of the art form.

    If a young performer wants to acquire culture, he has to slow down the usual modern life tempo and sink his mind into the space between and behind the notes, which is closer to yoga than to the contemporary roller coaster.

  • Cynical Bystander says:

    From the same interview…..

    Dutoit’s relationship with Montreal came to an acrimonious end in 2002, following a dispute with the Canadian Musicians’ Union. “I thought, why should I fight after 25 years for the freedom to maintain standards? I don’t need this. So I just resigned.”

    So the musicians contributed little, or in his opinion nothing, to the standard he apparently achieved singlehandedly?

  • Shalom Rackovsky says:

    Things are not what they used to be, and they never have been.

  • Adorno says:

    Dutoit’s account of his early learning process seems to conflict with what his former colleagues in Bern have said during his early days as an aspiring conductor. According to them, much of his early learning was done in a large ballroom-styled room, conducting along to records. Not so much unlike using YouTube today, I’d say.

  • Magnano says:

    Baloney. He needs to look in the mirror. What culture is he talking about? The casting-couch / rape culture he was (maybe still is) part of? Please don’t get me started.
    Borstlap I expect you will reply in disagreement. You seem to get worked up when someone points out your boyfriends BS.

  • Craig says:

    It’s all very well and good speaking from his ivory tower about musicians having no culture, but let him spend a year working as a freelancer in London, churning out world class performances on 3h rehearsal for peanuts, and then maybe he’ll realise who is really responsible for preventing this industry from going over the precipice.

  • herrera says:

    Dutoit has a point.

    If one is to claim that western classical music represents the height of humanity’s cultural and creative endeavors that took lifetimes to produce by the old masters and centuries to evolve, then how can one turn right around and appoint a twenty-something as music director and then watch him zip through all of the masterpieces of the western canon, season after season, before he has even reached the age of 30?

    Where is the time devoted to study each work? Where is the life experience to understand each work?

    If it took Furtwangler a lifetime of engaging Beethoven with the top flight musicians of Berlin in order to finally understand that he needed to take that movement from that symphony at that tempo, all it takes is a precocious teenager 10 minutes of listening to Furwangler’s recording on youtube to copy it. No thought, no analysis, no understanding required. Just imitation.

    • Ellingtonia says:

      “Where is the time devoted to study each work? Where is the life experience to understand each work?”………so according to your rationale young conductors shouldn’t play this music until they have studied it until they are about 75 years old. What utter bull! How do footballers improve their skills, by playing, how do musicians develop and improve their skill, by playing, how does a dancer improve, by dancing. A young conductor is unlikely to play conduct a symphony as would a 75 year old, and thank god for that. Young performers tend to push boundaries, try something different, offer a radical interpretation, but of course not always successfully. But it is their way of finding what suits them and what they feel reflects their approach to that particular art form. At 17 years of age George Best played football like no other in the UK…….should he have abandoned his unique talent and conformed to the pathetic standards of his “elders and betters” because they had spent their own careers playing in a certain way? And do tell me what is the difference between watching a performance on YouTube and going along to see a performance in the concert hall by an aspiring conductor / musician? (other than sneering snobbery).

  • Anon says:

    The lack of culture has nothing to do with speed or lack of roots.
    It’s the lack of respect for values, for heritage, for achievement, for knowledge, instead for “stuff that sells”, that are the problem of today’s consumerized youth.

    Now the old guys like him should ask themselves, what THEY have done, to fight against the onslaught of consumerism and pop culture, and how often THEY resisted irresistible but uncultured offers…

    • Ellingtonia says:

      What’s an uncultured offer?

      • John Borstlap says:

        ‘Uncultured offers’ are the stuff people who ask such questions generally prefer.

        • Ellingtonia says:

          Trite but typical response from a man who has no knowledge, let alone understanding of anything other than what he describes as “elite western classical music”. And it is not a matter of preference but of recognising that the different genres of music are “equal but different.” Some of us are capable of appreciating and getting as much enjoyment from Duke Ellington playing Take the A Train, Elbow singing My Sad Captain, Howling Wolf performing Smokestack Lightening to the sublime conclusion of Mahler 8. Some of us have more understanding of the world, all the differences, and have the capacity to crawl out of our “western classical music” hole and see the rainbow of music that is to be enjoyed outside of our western classical music “cave.” You will perhaps understand one day……………..but I doubt it!

          • John Borstlap says:

            You don’t know what you don’t know, and you should be forgiven for exposing yourself… The Ellingtons you mention are classics, great stuff. But it is not meant to be listened to with the same ears as to classical music. Thinking that making this distinction is something coming out of a hole, is just crazy: one can enjoy different types of music and still not confusing their appropriate listening attitude, their receptive framework. I would not listen to this with Maherlian ears:


            …. but I think it is highly enjoyable.

        • Ellingtonia says:

          I don’t know about you but the last time I looked in the mirror I only had ONE pair of ears…………it is not about ears, but open minds. Plus ridding oneself of a narcissistic belief that you operate on a different “listening plane” than us mere mortals. I think this is what is known where I come from as bullshit!

  • Luigi Nonono says:

    Low standards have been in place since the 1980s. As long as you can play without making a noticeable mistake, anything is acceptable as “artistic license.” Too much emphasis is on execution, none on style. And attacking classical music as “Eurocentric” racism is only going to make things worse. Of course, classical music is Eurocentric, and it should be. The only racism problem is the continuing domination by German culture.

    • John Borstlap says:

      German culture = racist? That is a very stupid remark. The composers who have contributed so much to the Western classical repertoire and who happened to have been German, were European through and through, and its ‘domination’ was not exercized by them but was given to them by the world. And where later performers thought this was a reason for chauvinistic breast beating, well, they were wrong, but the music has no responsibility for that.