How many desperate conductors out there? 563

How many desperate conductors out there? 563


norman lebrecht

October 16, 2017

The Danish National Symphony Orchestra has just closed applications for the Nikolai Malko Competition.

To its consternation, the number of candidates was more than twice the previous record – 563 of them, aged 18 to 35.

Recent winners include Rafael Payare and Joshua Weilerstein (pictured).



  • Jack Nighan says:

    It’s ridiculous to call all the applicants for the position “desparate.” You don’t know what percentage of the applicants are unemployed, and what percentage have jobs in conducting or elsewhere and are applying for this position to improve their careers.

  • Krystian says:

    How many desperate MBA-graduates want to be the CEO of a renowned company?Millions!

  • Rgiarola says:

    You just need to follow the tempo, and few ones in the audience will see you’re phony. That’s the easy job in the world. You can even get very famous, if you got a great MKT team, that makes your gesture looks likes larger than the music itself, or at least a important element to create it. There are cases that even hair shacking can be use for this purpose.

    Tell me? What is the easy way for a 20something to be famous and perhaps, look like serious? Ladies and geltlemans….. to be a Conductor!

    • Anon says:

      Conducting opera. operetta even. can’t fake it there.
      Real conductors can conduct that well. I doubt today’s Dudamels and Mirgas (sorry but that last name doesn’t stick) could survive there.
      Almost everybody can wave his hands in a rhythmical manner in front of a symphony orchestra playing anyway.
      Conducting competitions are nonsense, the way they are done. Even more so than instrumental competitions.
      Just look at their winner lists over the years. Meaningless in identifying the real talent.

      • sum ynona says:

        Mirga at least is a good opera conductor. She s not stupid at all. Not her fault to be on the women-conductors-wawe right now.

      • Halldor says:

        …which is why Mirga has been holding down the conductor’s job at an opera house in Austria for some years now. Did you hear her recent Idomeneo? Go on, give us a considered critique. You clearly write from authority…

        • Anon says:

          I see zero sense of phrasing and shaping the horizontal dimension in her. She is beating time, verticality, and is dancing to the music (and trying to look cute while doing so). Sorry, just my humble opinion.
          If she hears well and has an idea about music and a good methodology to rehearse I don’t know. I wish her the best.

          • Christopher Clift says:

            A pity you don’t publish your name to support your ‘theory’ about the style (or otherwise) of CBSO’s current Music Director
            Why not contact some of the players (who, incidentally appointed all their music directors from Simon Rattle onwards), to find out what THEY think about Mirga?
            I have attended quite a number of her concerts, and most of her performances have a very personal musical ‘stamp’ on them. Fresh approach to Beethoven 5, and, don’t forget, as others here have pointed out, a conductor’s work is done in the rehearsal environment, not in the concert.
            One conductor with whom I worked many years ago openly professed that what he would do in the concert might bear no resemblance to what he had done at rehearsal, but that we should just play as we had done in said rehearsal.

          • Anon says:

            Oh dear, I didn’t say you can’t like her. (or Simon Rattle) It’s a free world.

      • Rgiarola says:


        The risk is always to point out specific names. However, I’m glad no one is defending Dudamel (your first mentioned). 3 up to 10 years ago, you would be chased by the very same words you’re saying now about him.

        Hype does not survive ever.

  • Tutti Flutie says:

    Wow. Almost as bad as flute auditions!

  • Dave says:

    A Human Resources director once told me this story. A company announces an opening. Say they get one hundred resumes. Out of those one hundred, he said he can narrow the search down to five candidates. You interview those five and one or two people will be worth hiring. No way five hundred and sixty three people take the podium.

    • Sue says:

      And one of the significant methods of discarding those applications is to check their profiles first on Facebook. That’s very revealing and foolish people still don’t seem to be getting that!!

  • Cubs Fan says:

    Any good musician can conduct and by that I mean beat time. To really make music come alive takes something else that few have and cannot be taught. So, some of these 563 are no doubt frustrated, angry orchestral players who have had so very many lousy, over-hyped conductors stand in front of them and they figure that if that talentless clod can get up there and make ten times the salary I make, why can’t I do it? Of course, once they get up on the rostrum, they’ll find it’s far, far more difficult than they ever imagined. And to be really great…that’s something else entirely. There are very few Toscaninis, Koussevistskys, Bernsteins, Barbirollis and Gergievs out there.

  • David R Osborne says:

    But this just shows that the system is functioning well in terms of serving the interests of those who control it. The larger the pool is of those hoping to climb the ladder, the more compliant, the less willing to question or challenge authority those aspirants will be.

  • Robert Holmén says:

    Results may be judged at a performance but the real work of a conductor is done in the rehearsal.

  • Gustav Mahler says:

    These days there are too many talking “conductors” (esp. the HIPsters) who are giving lectures in rehearsals about what they heard or read about the piece from others. And there are a few real conductors who really know how to get the music to the point. Here’s one of the best examples:

    • Alberto says:

      Really? The Karajan film that is a total manufactured piece?

      • Anon says:

        Isn’t every film literally ‘manufactured’? Has ever a film been shot ‘naturally’?
        It’s always known to the protagonists, that they are filmed, at least in this genre.

        • Robert Holmén says:

          Yes, every film requires, at the least, a point of view to be chosen along with a span of time chosen to record.

          But there is fly-on-the-wall documentary and then there is carefully directed and edited film. They are not all equal.

  • George Marcus says:

    Anon, I agree completely; case in point a certin Dudamel

    • Rgiarola says:

      You meam the Dude? Dudamel the Rumba man? He is fantastic! You must understand he is acting as a dancer, in the role of a conductor. The music begins, and he starts to move away and shake all curlys.

      He’s best play were “The Messiah”. The one he was supposed to be the saviour of the classical music in the world. “The blood Dictactor” a drama that he is in the side of a murder that builded up his carrer, using money painted with innocent people blood.

      It was a way LA try to get on top of show business, regardless New York broadway.

      Actually, it is turning to be out fashion very faster now a days. Too overacting

  • Tristan says:

    These are some of the worst god damn comments I have ever seen on the internet

    • Ben says:

      I completely agree. NL creates so much negativity. Sometimes there’s some positive news, if you look hard enough, but it’s sad to read so many very personal and mean remarks mostly aimed at young artists who are finding their way. Of course people should have their opinion and express it. I’m all for that. But the maliciousness of some comments amaze me. Particulaty when it’s towards an artist that they, obviously, do not know.

      • David R Osborne says:

        Ah yes, good old negativity. Tried and tested accusation for shutting down debate. Just understand this please, when you see a problem, have the courage to speak out about that problem and by doing so, someway down the track positive change happens (and lord alone knows we need it) that’s not being negative.

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    “Desperate Conductors” would be a great reality-TV-show. Bring Classival Music to the people!

  • Christopher Clift says:

    Anon (Still no name I note!)

    The debate about conductors and their ability to conduct (or not) has nothing to do with LIKING them, but everything to do with how good they are at their job. Which is why I suggested you ask the people who work with them (in this particular case, with Mirga at the CBSO)

    • Rgiarola says:


      I don’t know enough Mirga. I’m not judging her at all.

      However you don’t have a trully definitive point. We all had recently similar conversation here, when Lionel Bringuier was choosed MD of Tonhalle Zurich. Many ones said the very same thing “ask the musicians”. Less than one year late, Lionel was dismiss by demand of all musician that could not tolerate him anymore due to his confused rehearsal, and lack of clear instructions. The honeymoon was very short.

      Now it seems too early to say something, considering the whole experience of the world of orchestras

    • Anon says:

      Hey look, misunderstanding. With LIKING I mean liking their professional qualities (of course). And you are right, I don’t know what the people in CBSO think about her. I only have sparse, anecdotal impressions about her work. What I think about that, see above. I also used her name synonymously for the overblown marketing hype around some younger “emerging” conductors, which she also stands for, not her fault at all though. It’s the fault of a sick classical music world, reminiscent of a disorder of the bigger world altogether, that has come to a point where the musical messengers and their actor/performer qualities stand above the music and the composers too often. Mostly for marketing/profit reasons.

      • Christopher Clift says:


        It’s always precarious to generalise about anything. The CBSO players have usually made the right choices, certainly as far as SR, (18 years) SO (10 years) were concerened, and Mirga seems to have made a real hit with players and audiences alike. (AN was a slightly different case). As ever we must wait and see but as a former player myself, I like what I see (and what – I am told – she wants to achieve with the players)

        • Derek says:


          I understood that the choices of all the recent CBSO conductors were supported by the orchestra members so what is different in AN’s case? He was another success surely?

          • Christopher Clift says:


            I think most observers would regard AN’s tenure at best a bit like ‘the curate’s egg’ – good in certai parts. The one aspect of his time was that when the first opportunity to move on presented itself, he grabbed it with both hands – moreover hardly was he in the post in Boston, he then added Leipzig to his portfolio. I think loyalty is not a strong part of his persona.

          • Anon says:

            Still AN had a seven year tenure in Birmingham. Boston named him their next music director almost six years after Birmingham did so. Not exactly like someone who is running away from it in disloyalty at the first occasion?
            You can’t really blame him for jumping on the Boston SO opportunity. Quite natural move.
            Boston also acted in a state of semi-emergency, after Levine suddenly could not fulfill his contract anymore.

        • Derek says:


          Thanks for your explanation.
          I understand your point that it would have been good if AN had resisted and stayed longer at the CBSO but also I think that ANON is right in that AN stayed 7 years and couldn’t say “no” to the Boston approach.
          I suspect that he has difficulty in saying “no” to good opportunities.

      • David R Osborne says:

        Dear Anon, you have to understand that this is classical music, and the notion that someone might want to express a strong opinion that doesn’t conform to the company line is for many, still a very new one. Stay strong, and anon!

  • chris says:

    What a weird picture to use for publicity. Look in the reflection, it seems he has a bandage on his nose!! Punch -up in the orchestra before the shoot maybe??

  • bernand says:

    (Disclaimer! By legitimate I don’t mean “bad”; I mean worthy of their fame, and given opportunitys to conduct the worlds leading orchestras.)

    Legitimate Conductors:

    Carlos Kleiber
    Bernard Haitink
    (Weilerstein, in 10 years)

    Non legitimate Ones:

    Lorin Maazel
    Alan Gilbert
    Alondra de la para

    So what do people think?

  • Cubs Fan says:

    Say what?

  • Anon 2 says:

    Maybe their marketing around the last round two years ago was just better than before? Maybe Fabio Luisi’s patronage is a plus?
    Using ‘desperation’ in the headline is uncalled for.

  • Giorgio Koukl says:

    how many desperate music reviewers are there in the world?
    Let us bet they outnumber the “desperate musicians” (which at least do something instead of yelling and hiding behind their jewish origins)