Why Christian Thielemann is such a good call for next New Year

Why Christian Thielemann is such a good call for next New Year


norman lebrecht

January 02, 2018

Austria has its most right wing government since… whenever.

The Vienna Philharmonic needs to choose a conductor for New Year’s Day 2019.

It calls the German conductor with the most rightwing political views.

For the first time.

A coincidence, no doubt.



  • Anon says:

    There is nothing wrong with a right wing political view, as long as it is within the general democratic constitutional order? Or what
    is the point of your innuendos?

    • Theodore McGuiver says:

      We have to remember that those who don’t share the centre-left, spineless and vacuous political and social viewpoint have forfeited their right to express themselves publicly.

    • John Borstlap says:

      What is called leftwing or rightwing is so loose a label, and both inviting for so much abuse and misunderstanding, that they have lost much of its meaning. Better would be to think of the standard of civilizational values, and then one finds serious flaws on both ‘sides’.

      • mr oakmountain says:

        I wanted to say the same thing. You beat me to it (and probably phrased it better than I would have).

        Last time we (Austria) had a conservative/freedomite government in 1999, I was in England. Most media and many EU heads called the government fascist, while the labour government of the UK was discussing putting asylum seekers under lock and guard until their fate is decided.

        Left and right?

  • no anti - german racism says:

    the desicion was made years ago – as anybody knows Thielemann had to wait until his contract in Dresden AND with the ZDF allowed his appereance in Vienna. Great choice, finally ! One of the greatest conductors of our time.

  • Andreas B. says:

    I hope ‘since whenever’ is not trying to imply: since 1945 …
    the last rightwing coalition government (same parties as today) in Austria was from 2000 until 2007 under chancellor Schüssel.

    and I have another question:
    what exactly are the political views of CT and how are they objectionable?

    having played under his direction and having followed his career loosely, I’m not aware of anything other than him claiming to be a fan of Friedrich II. and a comment in “Die Zeit”:


    is there any more – verifiable! – information? anything more damming than his call for “respecting differing opinions and solving conflicts peacefully” ?

    one doesn’t have to be impressed with his choice of idol; one can find his remarks to be rather naive; one can even not like his music making – but is that enough to paint him as some sort of dangerous person?

    I’m genuinely puzzled …

    • Sue says:

      There’s a simple answer to that: CT doesn’t follow the herd. He thinks for himself.

      • Christopher Madden says:

        Ha! I made a point of mentioning the origins of the NYE concerts yesterday to someone who had watched it for the first time.

        Theodor and Sue, your ad hominem comments about poor old lefties are strange and inevitably – erm – reactionary. What makes you think right wing people don’t follow herds? That they somehow occupy the ‘truth’ ‘when all’s said and done’ about political and social life is an expression of the herd. It is absurd to suggest that the left wing politics of musicians and artists cloud their ability to think for themselves. Disagreeing with the hand-wringing of the right winger is a gesture that separates the wheat from the chaff, in other words involving a process by which someone thinks for themselves. When CT made those remarks about Pegida, wasn’t he expressing support for just one particular herd amongst many? That lot are especially herd-like, so it’s a bit of a cheek to imply that the left is incapable of independent thought.

        The nastiness and invidiousness of certain right wing herds like Pegida is, in any case, inimical to the aims and objectives of music making and creativity generally.

        Riccardo Muti was great. I especially liked the Suppe overture.

      • Andreas B. says:

        if you’re saying the critics of Thielemann just follow the herd and don’t think for themselves – I’m sorry, but that would seem to be just another generalizing and simplistic talking point.

        I’d really like to understand what makes people say things like

        “his modern day national socialist views” and “his repulsive political orientation”

        in the comments of yesterday’s post.

        • Petros Linardos says:

          You are spot on. I am sick and tired of people discussing Thielemann’s right wing views on the basis of rumors and still waiting to see the evidence (and I am politically liberal).

          As for his German centered repertoire, more power to him. Let him do what he does best.

          Nobody accused Czech conductors for doing Czech music.

          • John Borstlap says:

            There is still a tremorous taboo around the German classical tradition, as Alex Ross says: ‘The great German tradition, with all its grandeurs and sorrows, is cordoned-off, like a crime scene under investigation’. Which is crazy, since almost ALL music written in this tradition stems from BEFORE the 20C brown period, with only Richard Strauss getting into trouble with politics, more as a result of blind opportunism than conviction. The central performance culture in Germany is treated as a museum culture, of which CT is one of the important guardians (although he also sometimes does other things like a marvellous Jeux / Debussy I heard, which is entirely different). Full dedication to the German classical repertoire still raises suspicions of rightwing extremism but that is because of the reluctance, from a German point of view, to look over the historical hurdle of 20C history deeper into the past as it really was. It is crazy, because that tradition is an embodiment of humanistic values – even Wagner, with all his political flaws, tried to build a humanistic art with a meaning far beyond national boundaries. The thoroughly European nature of German classical music is still not fully understood in its own country, hence the cultivation of subsidized modernism. The entirely criminal annexation by the nazis of the classical tradition has, in German eyes, stained the victim – make it culpable through association. Hence the political suspicions of CT.



    • John Borstlap says:

      What CT says in that article is just common sense and a defence of civilized values – hardly a political opinion. His enthusiasm for Friedrich II forms a stark contrast to such values, apparently CT is not aware of Friedrich’s mobilization and channelling of the dormant barbarism in Prussia, which has tried to dominate Germany since: the notorious German militarism is a Prussian invention, going back to the underdeveloped Germanic lands east of the Elbe who were never in contact with the Roman empire, as were the western lands which accepted a very different mentality. (The founding of the Reich in 1871, which led to the disaster of 1914, was a forced Prussian intervention under threat of violence.) Prussia has given Germany as a whole a very bad name in European history, so any admiration for people like F II is totally misplaced and reveals either ignorance of history or sympathy for barbarism and inhumanity.

      (Source: James Hawes, ‘The Shortest History of Germany’, 2017.)

      • Andreas B. says:

        if I remember correctly Thielemann was criticised at the time for his remarks in Die Zeit as they were understood to be supportive of the pegida demonstrations.
        reading the article, I can’t find evidence for that claim – although it might be possible to misunderstand his remarks, along the lines of ‘they have a right to express their views and we should be listening to their demands’ .

        regarding Friedrich II. :
        rather than about military history and European politics I would hope and assume that CT’s enthusiasm is about Fritz’s support and patronage for the arts (CPE / JS Bach, his flute playing, the Hofoper unter den Linden, Sanssouci, …) and perhaps also his positive interior political reforms (education, freedom of the press, abolition of torture, religious tolerance).
        of course, one could speculate whether Friedrich’s alleged homosexuality might be fascinating as well.

        • John Borstlap says:

          ….. ‘they have a right to express their views and we should be listening to their demands’ – isan’t that the normal democratic formula to make the gesture of treating all parties equally? And after listening, one can reject these demands if they are unacceptable. CT’s sayings merely express such democratic respects, although it can be argued that it is rather misplaced since the Wutbürger are, as a whole, apparently entirely ignorant about the type of society they live in. Possibly CT was arther concerned that the Wutbürger would focus on the opera if he had said something negative about them and then, getting into the building could have become physically dangerous.


          Re Friedrich: I think you will be right: musicians observe almost always the complete cultural ignorance of politicians around them, so they seize upon the interest of historical figures as a sign that it can also be otherwise. Unfortunately, the barbarian side of such figures is then overlooked. But history is full of such anomalies – like Louis XIV who first built-up his country to only seriously damage it again later-on in endless and futile wars, laying the foundation of the revolution, or Goethe’s enthusiasm and admiration for the first dictatorial mass killer Napoleon.

  • Rob says:

    Here’s the perfect solution to the exclusive New Years Day concert, and the audience can sit and smile as they always do.


  • Nik says:

    Thielemann has views about politics and life and diverge slightly from the prevailing groupthink within the German arts world. Get over it.

    • Nik says:

      *that* diverge
      Can we please have an edit button for the New Year. Everyone makes typos occasionally and we should be able to correct them without looking like fools.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Disagreed. The strictness of SD’s comments section forces clumsy and confused minds to focus and to realize that what they say will be there for quite a long time. In these twitter times with careless utterances, a welcome compensation for so much internet debris.

        • Nik says:

          The Times online has a good compromise solution: you can edit your comment within the first five minutes of posting, then it becomes permanent.
          On a different note, since last week I’m suddenly inundated with emails from Slipped Disc notifying me of other people’s comments, even though I never tick the “notify” box when posting. Has this happened to anyone else, and is there a way of stopping it?

          • Bruce says:

            It happens to me once in awhile. As I recall, you have to click on one of those notifications, and when it takes you to the comment there’s a place that says “You received this because you have subscribed to received comments [whether that’s true or not]. Click here to unsubscribe.” Clicking there to unsubscribe works.

            I disagree with the “edit” button (although I make my share of typos) because it enables people to go back and change what they said — or rather, what it looks like they said — rendering the subsequent discussion meaningless. If someone says something bigoted, mean-spirited, or untrue, they should be held to the record as having said that. There’s always the option of adding another comment to apologize for your typo/ mistake/ horribleness as a human being.

    • Christopher Madden says:

      Would you mind if I parked the option of getting over it?

      That many people in the German arts world converge to the point of collective agreement on fundamental principles of political and social life does not necessarily constitute ‘groupthink’. The individuals concerned are just as entitled to agree with each other as CT is entitled to diverge from them.

      My only wish is that there was more divergence on the question of which edition of Bruckner should be used for performances of his Third Symphony. (CT tows the line by not using the much more preferable and streamlined Nowak edition [to my mind at least[. In this at least he is in agreement with his colleagues.)

      • Andreas B. says:

        in an act of brazen self promotion I’d like to recommend the 1874 version of Bruckner III in the world premiere recording of Gerd Schaller – although I don’t think the sometimes extravagant versions in Schaller’s complete Bruckner cycle will be performed very often, they are very interesting as well as superbly recorded.

  • John Borstlap says:

    I think it should not be forgotten that the city of Vienna did NOT vote for rightwing parties, it were the country people who thus protested against the modern world. The same in most other countries of the West: it’s the countryside which sees its losses both economically, mentally, culturally and in terms of intelligence, and thus they choose a brexit, a Trump, a Wilders, a Le Penn, a Kurz.

    CT does not seem to be a ‘rightwing type’ but a traditionalist, and that is something quite different. Tradition is not left- or rightwing, it is a thing in itself. It is not something political, although it can easily be annexed for the interests of political parties. In this aspect, it is comparable with religion.

    • mr oakmountain says:

      Actually, Vienna votes Socialist because Herr Häupl, mayor of Vienna is better at populism than his conservative, freedomite and other rivals. Häupl actually wanted a socialist-freedomite government. Left meets Right wherever populism brings them together.

    • mr oakmountain says:

      I’m not a fan of Mr Kurz, but equating him with Trump, Wilders and Le Penn is far off the mark. He is a staunch European and has made it a precondition for accepting the Freedomites into government that there will be no discussion or referendum on leaving the EU.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Yes, but that rather seemed to be a safety valve to not loose international credibility. What is always amazing, is that politicians claiming to feel committed to the EU, don’t seem to understand the European spirit when they focus on anti-immigrant measures and neglect the integration trajectory. Imigrants have to become European but that is only possible where there is some clear idea what that means.

        Vienna’s history, political and cultural, is filled to the brim with immigration issues, providing lots of experience and examples of what to do and what better be avoided.

  • harold braun says:


  • Edgar says:

    Let’s all take a deep breath (especially you, Norman, as you seem to obsess so much over things happening in Austria since whenever – I assume you mean 1945, 1934, or 1815, maybe 1555, or even earlier. Whatever.). Let’s live through 2018 and wait until late December and January 1, 2019, also to allow Austria’s new chancellor to show whether he and his government are able to accomplish something : then opinions, not Norman’s insufferable innuendos, about the quality of the music making by the VPO and CT, as well as about the Kurz Government, will be welcome. Maybe, Norman, you will want to re-introduce the term “Winterhilfswerkkonzert”, which you just stopped short of doing this time?

    • John Borstlap says:

      I am still grateful for Vienna’s resistance against the Ottomans in 1529 and 1683, as I am for Charles Martel for his defensive battles against the Arabs in 732 and 737. I had hoped, however, that the Romans got further than the Elbe and forced the preprussian tribes into freudian instinct suppression and getting used to Roman bathing.

  • Frank Jaeger says:

    Once more, the poison is in the little detail. Of course it is innuendo of Mr. Lebrecht and anything but based in facts. Why? Because wether or not CT has “the most right wing political views” amongst the conductors of our time depends on wether or not Mr. Lebrecht has evaluated the political views of all others. Which he has of course not. Well, it would suffice to evaluate the political views of the, let’s say, imaginary top twenty conductors. But still I very much doubt Mr. Lebrecht did even that or anything like it.

    Far more important it seems to me that one of Mr. Lebrecht’s close chums and colleagues, the German critic Manuel Brug, harvested quite a blow in his personal feud with Mr. Thielemann, when he prematurely used some “ondit” for a lambasting piece in Germany’s broadsheet “DIE WELT” ( https://www.welt.de/kultur/buehne-konzert/article171888079/Ufa-und-SS-Das-Dresdner-Silvesterkonzert.html ). The story is short and simple: Brug took offence in that Thielemann dared to present to the audience of the nationwide telecasted New Year’s Eve concert of the Sächsische Staatskapelle – with the leitmotiv of “100 years of UFA film music” – amongst others, two pieces by the composer Michael Jary from the 1942 movie “Die große Liebe” (“The great love”), an undeniable film of exhortation, which each had been smashing hits in Germany. The culprits were “Davon geht die Welt nicht unter” and “Ich weiss, es wird einmal ein Wunder geschehen”, both then sung by Zarah Leander. What Mr. Brug did NOT know or wouldn’t give a damn s… about it was the fact, that CT, Mrs. Kuhlman the casted mezzo and the Sächsische Staatskapelle used an extremely wide reaching re-arrangement, solely made for the purpose to get rid of the propaganda patina and reveal the ambiguity of that super-smashing hit to get people think twice about the seductiveness of propaganda and the janiform use of music. Well, I assume EVERYBODY who saw and listened to the broadcast knowing about some of the historic background had similar views that this had been achieved as intended. And the end of story is Mr. Brug now looking like a donkey because he couldn’t resist to light his long lasting feud and antipathy with what looked like a cheap win at first.

    Is it far fetched to assume that one chum gave some supporting flak to smother the burning wound of the other? For me that little innuendo made me laugh real hard knowing about the oh-so-unbiased view of both of them regarding a leading conductor of our times…

  • Player says:

    This is a non-story due to the chronology, as several have pointed out.

    I doubt collusion between Mr Lebrecht and Herr Brug; That is rather fanciful.

    They may however share something with regard to Thielemann: deep suspicion.

  • Martin says:

    I am amazed how someone can think this is a good idea. Thielemann has demonstrated his inability to conduct this repertorie more than once. Remember the awful execution of zje Kalmann operetta from Dresden some years ago? The disaster of CT’s New Year’s concert in Dresden this year is only the tip of the iceberg. Just read this review:
    or better: listen to the link of this concert (see end of review)

    Let’s get to the point: this whole New Year’s concert bussiness has become more and more a vehicle to make money, music and art do not matter anymore. It is one of the last possibilities for major labels to milk some money. There are of course a lot of great conductors who are more than capable of doing this repertoire, but their names don’t sell. The charlatans are coming, and we can be sure that someone like the self-styled redeemer of the classical music world, Currentzis, will follow soon in Vienna.

  • Player says:

    Here is the programme for the Dresden new year’s concert, for those who fondly believe Thielemann connects little 20th century music.


    • John Borstlap says:

      That’s all German entertainment music, not serious concert music. Including, for instance, some serious German establishment new music, would have thrown-up serious hindrances in the audience’s digestion trajectory:


    • fred says:

      LOVE it!!!!!!!
      Thielemann conducted the best fanciulla since mitropoulos…he should be at the met and norman should stop his pathetic crusade against him…wish theilemann conducted more italian and french music

  • Patrick says:

    If he has to wait 30 seconds before allowing the audience to applaud, God knows how he’ll react when they “interrupt” the opening of Blue Danube waltz….

    By the way, did anyone else think Muti was not feeling well for this year’s concert? He looked miserable….

  • Sue says:

    It would take such an AWFUL LOT to be better than this!


    • Frank Jaeger says:

      The 1989 Kleiber run is amazing and will set the standard for a long time to come. Not least because the enigmatic Kleiber had then almost disappeared from public life, his rare appearances regularly caused some hysteria. If CT comes anywhere near it, it is going to be a memorable New Year’s concert. And if he is tossing in a marching tune or two (why not “Hoch Heidecksburg”, better known in England as “The Watchtower”) forgive him – rest assured the quality of the music will be more than ok…

    • Player says:

      Extraordinary control AND freedom!

      By comparison, Thielemann is not much to look at when conducting, but the results are very fine…

      • Frank Jaeger says:

        Indeed his way of conducting might not be everybodies cup of tea. That’s a matter of taste. And I agree that the results are mostly very fine. But also Thielemann’s style in conducting has changend in the last decade quite remarkably. And in contrast to many others he also throws a lot of weight and tension into communicating with his orchestras in other ways than by means of baton and left arm. I know orchestra musicians who find his eye contact, facial expression and body movement far more important to generate results.

  • Gaddi says:

    I wish one day they would just do it without a useless conductor.
    They will probably play it better, and frankly these concerts are a joke nowadays.
    Goes on the podium, does nothing up there, tells the audience when to applaud in the March, although they all know when to do it, here’s you check sir.
    Playing the same old stuff every time…. This tradition is getting boring… even the audience there looked as if they are about to fall asleep.

  • Rob says:

    Thielemann’s got a Mahler disc coming out, Knaben Wunderhorn songs and the Symphony No ’10’ Andante – Adagio. Release in March.