Some reservations about Mirga

Some reservations about Mirga


norman lebrecht

May 22, 2018

The veteran, exemplary New York critic John Rockwell betook himself to Carnegie Hall for the Financial Times to hear the conducting sensation.

He writes:

Now that the all-powerful administrator Deborah Borda has returned to the New York Philharmonic from Los Angeles, and given her continued overt admiration for her protégée — along with the Metropolitan Opera’s desperate need for stars on stage and in the pit — one suspects a continued presence for Gražinytė-Tyla. On Friday, the audience response was boisterously enthusiastic. I had some reservations.

Read on here.

photo (c) Chris Lee




  • Mark says:


  • Caravaggio says:


  • David K. Nelson says:

    Also paywalled for me.

  • Michael says:

    As in everything in life, all professions and all undertakings…a person has to earn their stripes. She hasn’t yet earned them. It’s way too soon. 5 years? 10? 20? Who knows? But there is a high level of hyperbole for being this early in the process.

  • Thomas Roth says:

    Yes paywalled.

  • FS60103 says:

    Hardly news. Plenty of UK critics have commented on both her (undoubted) strengths and her(unsurprising) weaknesses.

    And comments about “hype” prove nothing, just as hype itself proves nothing. This is supposed to be a musical forum. If you’ve heard her perform live, let’s hear some considered musical appraisals. If you haven’t – perhaps maybe wait until you have? She’s not exactly some mysterious untried quantity; she’s been performing substantial programmes regularly in the UK all season.

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    The FT is always paywalled Norman.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      That’s odd. I’m not subscribed, but I receive it unwalled.

      • norman lebrecht says:

        Oops, maybe not: it just got walled again.

        • Max Grimm says:

          If I click on the link here on SD, the article is paywalled. If I, as Anon pointed out above, search for the review on Google and click the (exact same) link on Google, it takes me to the article and I can read the it without the paywall prompting.
          No idea why.

        • Nick2 says:

          Paywalled in Asia. Since more and more media outlets are either erecting a paywall or permitting only a small number of views per month, can it not become a policy of the blog that all media articles are reprinted in full – unless they are especially long?

          • Saxon Broken says:

            First, the FT allows a small number of free views per month and then blocks you. Second, the article can not be reproduced in full since this would breach the copyright, and Norman would have to find a lot of money when he gets sued. You are only allowed to quote a small part of the original article.

  • Tom says:

    Google financial times mirga

  • RClaeys says:

    The New York Times review by Zachary Woolfe was lukewarm at best, describing her Debussy as “opaque”, the Mussorgsky songs as just OK and the Tchaikovsky 4 as choppy. Considerable table-setting around the Levine lawsuit and the incoming roster of male conductors for the new season. His impression was that the orchestra sounded tired and perhaps stressed as season’s end.

  • Ben says:

    Mirga is no doubt very gifted and has given great gigs. However, she’s nowhere near the hype IMHO. Her Mahler 4th w/ Philadephia was under-whelming.

    Give her benefit of the doubt, nevertheless: She may not be in the driver seat on this media hype machine, after all.

    • John Borstlap says:

      … and NY critics have a name to uphold as the Best Critics in the World. So they don’t want to miss a flaw, however tiny.

    • Petros LInardos says:

      The media machine should have mercy upon her. Many of us are inundated by hype, and underwhelmed by first (recorded) impressions. All this doesn’t serve Mirga well.

      Conductors used to go through their learning curves and develop a repertoire in provincial opera houses and orchestras, away from their limelight.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Very interesting. Performances are not about the music but about the performers.

  • Pedro says:

    Tempo fluctuations and overt accelerandos? That’s a mix of Furtwängler and Carlos Kleiber. Great!

    • John Kelly says:

      ………….Or even Mravinsky…………..let alone Stokowski……….

    • Tamino says:

      Ahh, ok. Now if I wear the same suit as Furtwängler and the same shoes as Kleiber (jun.), am I then like a mix of them too? Never mind.

  • Kundry says:

    It is an old trick – conduct a work everyone knows really well with some wild, unpredictable and musically unsustainable tempo and dynamic changes and people will call it creative interpretation, go straight to Furtwangler comparisons and predict wonderful things to come. Here is my prediction – she will fade and fizzle away and new fresh faces with wavy hair will take her place in the limelight.

  • Anon says:

    As someone who played recently with her as a guest conductor, I find her technique in setting tempos seriously lacking for someone with her status. That’s just 1st item of my long list of complaints. So, next time when, or if, she comes, I hopefully will be on a floating vacation week.

  • Rich C. says:

    Strange that the article did not mention her being in a delicate condition.

  • Andrew Beer says:

    “Rarely in this day and age has there been a performance more given to tempo fluctuations and overt accelerandos.”…. why is that a bad thing? Which composer, particularly of the Romantic era, ever said that music must remain in strict pulse? Music lives and breathes, with a fluctuating heartbeat as its mood changes, does it not?

    • Bruce says:

      I agree, but I also think the music shouldn’t sound like the tempo is being fussed with all the time.

      There are different tempo indications for different parts of the first movement (for example), but I’ve had conductors mess with the tempo within each section, to baffling effect.

      Sorry to go down this rabbit hole, but I did:

      There’s a long ritardando starting at m. 107 leading into the “Moderato assai, quasi Andante” section at 116. Well and good. At 134 it says “Ben sostenuto il tempo precedente,” i.e. maintain the same speed. I’ve had conductors ask for two fast measures (strings) alternating with two slow measures (woodwinds) from there until the poco stringendo at 144. I can sort of understand the idea behind it, but the problem is that the two-measure sections dovetail, so the winds have to rush the end of their phrases, and the strings have to drag the end of theirs. The overall effect is kind of twitchy, in my opinion, and while there are plenty of indications for tempo changes throughout the movement, there are none there. (The same music comes back at m. 295/ 313-320)

      ( in case anyone wants to look it up)

      So yes: tempo shouldn’t be rigid, but must it be constantly changing even when there’s no reason for it?

      P.S. I have no idea if this is what Mirga did. This example is from my personal experience. It came to mind when I read the part about the “refusal to maintain a strong rhythmic integrity.”

      • Bestrides says:

        There’s the line from an old movie about how it’s best to know either a lot about something, or very little, the implication being that knowing only a moderate amount can lead you to believe you can handle things that are at that moment beyond your reach, with poor results.

        The section you mention in the first movement has so many traditions encrusted upon it that if a truly inexperienced conductor stayed out of the orchestra’s way, they would most likely be able to render it decently.

        A fine conductor would have clear convictions regarding the way the sections should be played, could make their ideas clear through gesture and verbal description in rehearsals, and rely on their experiences of rendering the section successfully.

        The conductor who is gifted but still gaining experience can find themselves knowing just enough to put sand in the gears, but not enough to make the machinery respond to their will.

      • The Ghost of Karlos Cleiber says:

        Cracking post – and goodness me, what kind of conductor thinks it’s a good idea to do something like that? I’d never even contemplate ‘two bars on, two bars off’ like that.

        Tchaikovsky is an interesting litmus test for both conductors and critics. Too many of the former gleefully ignore his (very careful and, especially in the Pathetique Symphony, subtly graded) markings in favour of full-on Romantic hysteria which the music doesn’t need added, because it’s there already. Critics then get their knickers in a twist praising the ‘passion’ of the performance, rather than calling out the series of cheap tricks deployed to make an audience whoop.

        It’s really not very often that you see a conductor who really tries to do what Tchaikovsky asks for – and it sounds as though, in this repertoire at least, MGT is no different. Given the issues raised here, I’m not sure I’d like to see her take on a Bruckner symphony where rock-steady propulsion and careful tempo relationships are king.

      • Andrew Beer says:

        Interesting, thanks for the thoughtful response.

  • Gus says:

    My son who went to this concert thought Mirga was mesmerising, so a fan there.

    When I went to St David’s Hall, Cardiff to see her and the CBSO, and what all the hype was about, she had cancelled due to illness. Friends who were there had travelled also to Symphony Hall to see her and she had cancelled that too. Is she a known no show or only whilst she has a pregnancy associated illness which would be understandable.

    The CBSO without her were very good, but they are a good orchestra.

  • collin says:

    Mirga is the best thing to happen to New York since the Brooklyn Bridge.

    By the way, Borda has one to sell you.

  • Pedro says:

    I have only heard once live what Mirga can do with an orchestra. That was in Antwerp a few months ago. Beethoven is for me the real thing to judge if a conductor is good or not and MGT passed the test with honours in the best Pastorale I have heard live since Karajan, Sanderling, Maazel and Günther Herbig a long time ago. The orchestra played superbly and her conception had charm and strength where needed. Look forward for her Brahms 2 in Paris exactly a year from now.

  • Mark says:

    The NY Times review was fairly negative as well.

  • MacroV says:

    I take issue with the premise of Rockwell’s intro. However much Deborah Borda may admire Mirga, she does not, to my knowledge, run the MET, and therefore did not book her for this engagement. Furthermore, I don’t think the MET Orchestra is likely to have trouble booking an A-list conductor for its Carnegie Hall concerts. I assume they booked Mirga as a noteworthy new conductor, but I doubt they were desperate for star power. I must say I find this program a little underwhelming; back in the day the orchestra’s Carnegie concerts were big events.

  • Bruce says:

    The most unusual aspect of the interpretation of the symphony was a refusal to maintain a strong rhythmic integrity.

    Hmm. I’ve never seen/heard her conduct, but that worries me. I know there’s a school of thought that the passionate bits have to speed up and the lyrical bits have to slow down, but (it seems to me) it shouldn’t seem like the tempo is being messed with all the time. Tchaikovsky’s music can so easily start to sound gimmicky and superficial if not handled with care.

    • Derek says:


      I have seen her conduct a number of times and she was very good with classics like Mozart and Haydn.

      However, some time ago, with the Tchaikovsky 4th she did vary tempo and I thought the 1st movement was meandering and lost shape because she got tied up in detail.
      Further, she had a tendency to “take a run at” the big tunes and finale for dramatic effect which as you said sounds superficial and diminishes the piece.

      Mirga has a lot of good points and she is developing with experience, so time will tell.

  • Jerome Hoberman says:

    I was there. Rockwell’s review is recognizable to me as in general representing what I heard. The first movement’s second theme at a different tempo in the recapitulation from what it had been in the exposition was just one indication of a lack of secure long-term concentration, and while the orchestra played beautifully (especially the solos), its diffuse attack — lacking the tensile strength of the way they played under He-Who-Can-No-Longer-Be-Named — was a disappointment, as was the sudden jacking-up of the tempo at the end of the finale after a generally underplayed movement. I am also not a fan of conducting styles that seem designed to describe the music rather than give clear signals to the players about what they should do. But there were musical ideas, a definite point of view that sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t, and some real communication with the players — this was no charlatan, no manufactured star. I hope people recognize that she’s young and will develop, and to measure her against mature veterans (most, if not all of whom had similar weaknesses when they were young) is unfair and unrealistic. I suspect that in 20 years or so the view will be very different, and very positive.

  • Kundry says:

    JvZ as Music Director and Mirga and some other light weights conducting “regularly” at the NY Phil. Let’s compare with Mahler, Toscanini and Bernstein, who also conducted “regularly” at the NY Phil. and we are on another planet.

    • MacroV says:

      They weren’t all conducting there at the same time.

      Meanwhile, I suspect Mirga still needs the Philharmonic more than they need her. And I really doubt the MET booked her because they sought her star power.

  • Father Hennepin says:

    One can never trust hype, especially when there is too much of it. Obviously, she was chosen to be the flavor of the day by managements and publicists, to cram her down people’s throats, regardless of being ready, sufficiently talented, or appropriate. I loathe and detest the music industry, which murders the art of music over and over again. They are capitalizing on the witch hunt, and social politics to promote women beyond that which they are (individually) capable of. I refuse to accept a conductor who does not rise beyond her gender to communicate great music, just as I would for an instrumentalist. There is nothing more depressing than a woman playing music with feminine taste, instinct, mindset, and self-centeredness. Feminism is antithetical to musicmaking. Men, too, must rise above their gender. You cannot play music as a macho man. But women seem incapable of recognizing that men do that. When a man plays the flute with gentle expression, it is beautiful. When a woman does it, it is just soft and negligible. They do not have enough force, in most cases. The balance is off.
    And any conductor who does not balance the voices of the orchestra well, who does not have an ear for color, a sense of style, is basically worthless.