Sex, lies and orchestra conductors

I have written an essay for The Spectator this week on the role that sex plays in the life and work of the international conductor. It is not unconnected to recent events.

It starts like this:

I once knew a great conductor who never boarded a plane to a new orchestra without a tube of lube in his pocket. Just in case he got lucky (which he often did)….

Read on here.



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  • “The relation of baton and penis is more powerful than many maestros are prepared to admit. For this to change, we need to see more women on the podium. Once the gender balance shifts, sex should be less of an issue.”

    No sex please, we’re Mirga.

      • “Highly derivative stuff.”

        lol. Of course the information is “derivative”; no one wants LB making stuff up out of whole-cloth.

        • Hmmm, perhaps I should have written ‘repetitive’ or termed it ‘recycled’. My point was that the stuff of the article is the same stuff already widely broadcast and almost entirely the stuff of posts on this very blog. In short, same old, same old, and nothing new. That is not to say I don’t understand why. Being a freelance journalist and blogger can be a marginal existence, and would be without reprints, recycling material for various outlets, or, if you are extremely lucky, syndication. Nevertheless, the article is derived/repeated/recycled from old stuff mostly posted on SD. As Harold Braun commented, “Yawn…”. Oh, yes…who is LB?

  • A fascinating read, but the Russia-bashing is unnecessary and gratuitous. There are plenty of examples of “routine” “Abuses of power” far closer to home (especially in light of the Carillion collapse, which exposed the UK government’s willingness to privatise anything lucrative but continue to accept the liabilities — surely, the whole point of privatisation is that the private enterprise should assume the risk, in exchange for getting to keep the profits if all turns out well…). Putin’s Russia is no worse than May’s UK and Trump’s USA.

  • My favorite poet is someone who is unknown to most in the United States. Axton Clark was a rising star in the philosophy and classics department in Harvard right after WWI when he was fired in 1920 after a male student had complained that he propositioned him. He also composed music and had subsequently become a professor in the Mannes School until he became too sick from tuberculosis to continue. He then went to New Mexico and ultimately to the Jewish respiratory hospital in Denver where he died in 1943.
    He wrote a great book of poetry which is long out of print “The Single Glow” and in one of the poems, “Vicissitude on the Seashore” he makes the sex/orchestra connection very explicit.

  • “What matters is not the length of the wand, but the magic in the stick.” – Murphy’s Law on Sex

    • Sorry to raise Kleiber again, but he greatly admired Danny Kaye on that conducting adventure!!! Also, I’m amazed Lebrecht didn’t include Kleiber in his ‘sexploits’ of conductors. He was an olympic champion amongst philanderers.

      • Hmmm … from where do you get your information about Kleiber ( presumably Carlos) being an “olympic champion amongst philanderers.”?
        I’ll believe it when I see it / read it from an immaculate source.

        • OK; Charles Barber’s “Conversations with Kleiber” (interviews from erstwhile girlfriends), and two films, “I am Lost to the World” and “Traces to Nowhere”. Interviewees on those films tell all!!

          • Your constant gush re Carlos Kleiber is not only silly and unseemly.
            It is pathological. You are prey to obsession, I fear.
            It is also characteristic of rather too many women whose first loyalty
            is always to men and the power and strength and fame they represent.
            True sisterhood, solidarity among women, is a rarity. After all,
            why board a ship bound for nowhere? would seem to be the reasoning.
            I wonder what Kleiber would make of your adoration. Not much, I suspect.
            You wink knowingly at his extra-marital goings on, real and imagined, yet haven’t much time for his long-suffering wife, who, after all, remained with him until the end. My, my..
            Also, what would Kleiber, who loathed the media, have made of Slipped Disc, the inside track to gossip, name dropping, lime-lit vulgarity and wishful thinking? Again, not much, I suspect.

          • James:

            Dude. Relax. People can have a “thing” for Carlos Kleiber if they want.

            If you’re tired of reading about it, just do like I do and skip any post that has her name at the top. Or do a “Ctrl + F” text search for “Kleiber” and make sure not to look at any of the results. Nobody’s forcing you to read her posts.

      • This thread is supposed to be about sexual abuse, sexual assault, rape! Philandering in itself is not a part of it. When NL posted a piece that went on about the extra-marital capers of Furtwangler and others, he derailed the thread and diverted the discussion from the extremely serious issues actually involved. But such seems always to be the way of these things. They have their own dynamic and always at some point go downhill. So does the serious import of the initial subject get lost.

        • Agree.

          “I love women, and women love me — I asked and she said yes (or she asked and I said yes) — I love my wife, but I just can’t help myself — what she doesn’t know won’t hurt her… etc. etc…”

          Whatever you may think of that kind of thing, it is not the same as:

          “If you ever want to have a career, pull down your pants and bend over the desk.” (Or don’t even ask — just grab them and force them to do it)

          Would you like to have Kleiber included in the same category as Dutoit and Levine?

  • No one ever accused Solti? Solti continued to engage women who rejected his advances? Norman, please read Beverly Sills’ 2nd autobiography – and certainly she wasn’t Solti’s only victim.

    • Solti liked women. What on earth is there wrong with that? Kiri Te Kanawa rejected his advances on one occasion but they remained friends to the end of his life.

      • If you were a woman, and you were physically attacked as Beverly Sills described on that occasion, you wouldn’t be so forgiving of Mr. Solti. Nothing wrong with liking woman, but there’s EVERYTHING wrong with physically attacking a woman – particularly when not being invited to do so. Got it?

          • Sills had nothing to gain in providing details of a sexual assault by your Saint Georg Solti, and your attitude about it is exactly what is wrong with this world. Using your logic, why should we believe Levine’s or Dutoit’s accusers?

          • @ La Verita: + 1,000,000! Those who say they don’t believe abuse victims unless they can “prove it” are abusers, too, as they do add insult, and thus further injury, to horrific injury. Sadly, there are commenters here who belong to this category of deplorables.

          • Rape is horrific. Assault, providing no physical harm is done, is not. Don’t generalize and exaggerate.

        • Here is the truth of what happened between Sills and Solti: he chased her round the piano so she slammed the lid down on his hand. Google this if you don’t believe me.

  • “I once knew a great conductor who never boarded a plane to a new orchestra without a tube of lube in his pocket.”

    Ewww…. how can you start an article in the Speccie like that? Gross.

    • With safety regulations being what they are these days, that would probably not be possible any more.
      (or, can one buy lube at Duty Free?)

    • Correction: “You’ve got to throw the juice over the orchestra with the stick.”
      (What he meant was that you’ve got to project what you think and what you feel, according to Sir Colin Davis)

  • I wonder if performing arts people (e.g. conductors, directors, producers) in positions of power are worse abusers than other males in positions of power.

    Part of me hopes that we’re not worse than anyone else, and part of me hopes we are (in other words, it’s not as bad for others). But it’s probably pretty much equally bad all around.

    • Absolutely. I just don’t get the implication (in this and so many other posts on this site) that people in the classical music business are so very different from others. We all like to talk up our jobs to give ourselves a sense of importance (I guess that’s just human nature), but I have yet to see any evidence that people in any particular line of activity are, in the context of this topic (or most others), different from (and by implication superior – or inferior – to) those in any other (or indeed the general run of humanity).

  • The damage done by these arrogant dirty and especially, entirely loveless men to the art form is immense, it gives teeth to the philistines already lining-up to get rid of this ‘decadent, elitist, outdated, authoritarian’ classical music world alltogether. In the same way the scandals of the catholic church (and its attempts to cover them up) destroy any credibility the institution otherwise might have preserved, these revelations undermine the very raison d’être of an expensive cultural asset: the symphony orchestra. Only rigorous cleansing of the stables may restore some status to the outside world, so hopefully this exposure of abject behavior will be helpful in the process.

    It should not be forgotten that meanwhile, more positive attempts are going-on to support rejuvenation of the symphony orchestra:

    • “these arrogant dirty and especially, entirely loveless men”. One shouldn’t generalize. Talented famous men are very attractive to women. Would anyone accuse the women engaging in consensual sex of being “dirty and loveless”? Nor should Solti or Carlos Kleiber be classed along with Levine or Dutoit.

      • I think Borstlap’s description was directed at those who abuse their power.

        The funny thing about this is, yes, women are often attracted to talented, famous men. Conductors/ directors/ etc. usually have lots of beautiful young people of whatever gender putting themselves on offer. Sure, some of those may be cold-eyed gold diggers trying to advance their careers, but it doesn’t have to be true love, it only has to be consensual. That’s probably why we still have never heard awful stories about Solti, Bernstein, Kleiber, etc. (Arthur Rubinstein talks pretty frankly in his memoirs about being approached by many women, especially in the early years of his career, and happily going to bed with most of them. He stops talking about it after he gets married, but I’d be surprised if it really stopped.)

        I remember reading Lorin Maazel in an interview saying that the one indispensable quality a conductor needs to have, even more than musical insight or talent, is the absolute will to dominate. Clearly a lot of men in powerful positions have that quality, and it seems that they don’t really enjoy sex if it’s with a willing partner.

        • But Solti, Bernstein and Kleiber all had wives. Wives. Were those ladies content with the line ‘I love women, and women love me!” Or prehaps was it more
          ‘I’m the star, I earn the money that keeps you in clover, so smile graciously and lump it, one has a reputation to think of” …no less an abuse of power than what Dutoit and Levine are accused of, and no less vile.
          Being the spouse, the child of a famous person is not always a cause for joy,
          although starry-eyed fans are not meant to know this.

          • I addressed that above: whatever you think about infidelity (I mean consensual infidelity), it’s not the same as coercion or rape.

        • If it is true that Maazel said that thing about power, he was entirely wrong. Conductors need to have musical authority, which is something different. Most of the conductors who are around today, and many of them are relatively young, and especially the top rank of international conductors, achieve their effects through authorative collaboration which is a different attitude than wielding power. Convincing dedication to the work at hand invites voluntary surrender to musical authority; players feel much better and more free to make the best of their part.

          • Bruce,

            consensual infidelity meaning…? That the wives consented to be publically cheated on? Oh, puhleese. Rather a brave leap in the dark on your part.
            No, infidelity is not ‘the same’ as coersion or rape, but just as vile. I think the wives would agree.

          • James — I was trying to say if your husband is out having sex with willing women, as opposed to raping or coercing unwilling ones.

            I don’t know: obviously neither situation is a good one, but I wonder if women would rather find out they are married to a selfish jerk who sleeps around, or a serial rapist. I agree with your use of the word “vile;” I don’t think I can agree with “just as vile.”

            I’m not a woman, but as a person, I submit that a woman, faced with that choice, would choose the option that involved harm to the least number of others.

  • Mmmm… all those hideous crimes…. rapes… assaults…. women want justice … perhaps blood too …

    yet … doesn’t seem any single victim care nor dare to walk into a police station to file a formal police report about the crime, then or now, under the penalty of the law if any information is falsified…. I meant, “let’s talk about my shame to the media and on Faceslap and Tweaker so the whole world would know … but let’s keep law enforcement out of this….”


    P.S. The word “woman” is sexist – why not ban it? A man (kind) with “W” at the upper body and an “O” at the lower body. Sexist sexist sexist sexist die die die die die!!!!!


    • “doesn’t seem any single victim care nor dare to walk into a police station to file a formal police report”

      Imagine a well-known dominant male walks up behind you (a younger free/lance subordinant male/ female), in a room full of people and presses his ‘hard on’ into your back. What do you do? Go to the police? Because you have to work with him, he carries on with similar non-visible behaviour. What do you do? Go to the police? If you (male/female) don’t throw yourself at him, said dominant male then starts to take it out on you. What do you do? Go to the police? If you don’t take him up on the invitation you lose out on work or even a potentially prestigious job, which happened to me. At what point should you have gone to the police? At the moment we are witnessing decades of unreported bad behaviour being called out, which nobody could do much about at the time and it’s a relief for those who had to endure it.

      Of course, according to an ex-leader of the LSO, who I know, during the 1970s, any female violinist who did voluntarily get on the casting couch, didn’t get the job anyway – and that was considered hilarious.

      Let’s face it, it’s all 98% chimpanzee behaviour and should be classified as such.

      • Then it’s 98% CONSENSUAL chimpanzee behavior.
        All nice people doing nice things. Ha ha ha haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa
        Lest we forget.

  • Reading the article at spectator, I stopped at this sentence: “The most serious case I know of is the soloist in her late teens who was summoned to the conductor’s room in one of Europe’s most famous halls an hour or so before a concert to discuss a few points in the score. She emerged a while later, sobbing uncontrollably. She had been raped, and she still had to go on stage, perform a concerto, and take a bow with her rapist. I have tried to persuade her to speak out, but she — understandably — wants to get on with her life and is probably still more than a little afraid that the man who raped her can, after all these years, still damage her career. Several music insiders saw her come out of that green room. Nobody confronted the aggressor.”
    It means there is a sexual criminal leading orchestras, some knows who is and nobody gives a name? We don’t need the victim name, as this is her prerogative to go public, but if NL (and others “musical insiders”) knows who is, why not telling the world that this guy is a criminal? Hiding it would not be as criminal?

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