When an orchestra splits down the middle, the conductor must be wrong

When an orchestra splits down the middle, the conductor must be wrong


norman lebrecht

May 23, 2018

Some readers have complained that we reported protests in the Tenerife Symphony Orchestra over the imposition of a new music director, Antonio Mendez.

Mendez, they say, is a young conductor whose career could be damaged by such revelations. And a symphony orchestra is like Las Vegas – what goes on in Vegas, should stay in Vegas.

Nothing, in our view, could be more wrong-headed.

Players in the Tenerife orchestra contacted Slipped Disc with a genuine grievance. Preposterous as it may seem in this day and age, they were not given a chance to vote on the new music director. The last time they voted, 52 percent said they never wanted to work again with this conductor. That ballot was ignored.  The appointment was fixed by an ambitious manager and an aggressive agent. The players will now have to go to work with a boss they neither like nor respect.

This kind of thing should not happen in 2018 and any damage to the young conductor will arise from the manner of his appointment, not from the players’ reaction.

More concerning is the fact that opinion within the orchestra was evenly divided. Some will argue that if almost half the players are happy to work with the new guy, the appointment should go ahead. But that’s the worst course of action. If democracy teaches us one lesson it is that a decision that is split evenly down the middle needs urgently to be reconsidered. A majority of one is no majority.

The best thing Tenerife can do is revoke the appointment and resume the search for a music director who is acceptable to a large part of the orchestra. The best orchestras benefit from a


UPDATE: A statement by the orchestra management.


  • Dominic Stafford says:

    52% to 48%, eh? Can’t think what that reminds me of.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Indeed – mad cow disease.

    • Music Student says:

      Except it was 52% to 48% and 52% won.

      • Furzwängler says:

        That incontrovertible fact is entirely lost on the sad cohorts of frustrated and grieving Remaniacs and thwarted Rewhiners who are to be found even here.

        • Valentin says:

          The orchestra (52 percentage)voted against the return of Mr. Mendez to the post of guest conductor. Moreover ,87 percentage of musicians voted against the appointment of Mr .Mendez as chief conductor .

        • Martin Atherton says:

          Go and pick that fight somewhere else, “Furzwängler”.

        • Martin Atherton says:

          Atherton is my name, not a pseudonym like “Furzwängler”, so it doesn’t require inverted commas. However, engaging with you is clearly a waste of time and adrenalin – broadly typical of the point of view you represent. Bye bye.

  • Bystander says:

    If the orchestra really wanted to change things they have the possibility to go on strike. Publishing in a tabloid like Slippedisc is nothing but a smear campaign.
    ALSO: why on earth would orchestra musicians know themselves, what’s best for them? They can often behave like children and like children they will not always want what’s best for them. Do you think a mediocre orchestra will vote for someone who arrives with an agenda, who wants to change things for the better, who wants to create an artistic atmosphere of discipline and passion? I doubt it.
    I’m sure that Szell, Reiner and Solti wouldn’t have gotten more than 50% of the votes…they created legendary orchestras nevertheless.
    All the Tenerife orchestra does, is dividing themselves and being ridiculous in my opinion. [redacted: abuse]

    • Mike Schachter says:

      Hilarious. How would they know what’s best for them? Confronted with these patronising attitudes it is no wonder so-called “populists” are doing well.

    • Rodrigo says:

      I also find this pretty amusing. How exactly do you know that this music director is arriving “with an agenda” wanting to “create an artistic atmosphere of discipline and passion”? If you’d ever met him, you’d know that is quite a stretch.

      So you think that this orch.’s general manager, a non-musician, whose qualifications are questionable, who’s under fire for not being remotely qualifed for his own job and for having acquired his own position under dubious circumstances, and judging from his photo, who looks to be about 25 – is a better judge of music directors than approx. 80 well trained professional musicians who spent the better part of their careers playing in this orchestra? GIve me a break, Bystander. In what world is that logical?

    • Bruce says:

      “Do you think a mediocre orchestra will vote for someone who arrives with an agenda, who wants to change things for the better, who wants to create an artistic atmosphere of discipline and passion?”

      Yes. I play in a mediocre orchestra, and that’s exactly what we want.

    • David says:

      Tell that to Berlin Phil or the LSO for example. Two orchestras entirely managed by musicians.

  • Concerned orchestra member says:

    I am a member of this orchestra. I was not the one that came forward about all of this information, but it is all true. The OST is actually a very good orchestra so please stop with the mediocre comments. Fantastic well known conductors enjoy working with us. People must understand that the 52% to 48% was not about being our principal conductor. That vote would have been quite different! I’d say that less than 10% were convinced that he would be good for our orchestra. We have had a handful of amazing conductors this year, and a few of those were very interested in the job. This orchestra needs a passionate conductor that most of us are happy with, one that can create magic. Mendez is not that guy. I hope I am wrong. Having said that, I was in the 48% that would not mind him coming as a guest conductor once a year. Coming 9 times a year for the next several years is a different story. Most of us feel manipulated by what has happened and are very upset. The problem with our orchestra is that we have not had a manager for a very long time. And the one we got stuck with is not qualified. Another serious problem, is that every time we are in the need of a new conductor, there is a big rush to find one, then we are sorry. And it has happened again. None of the conductors that we love have been invited back next season. This is truly a sad situation. Our orchestra has a lot of potential. We love, and deserve inspiring conductors.

    • Orchestra Player says:

      Bravisimo! Well said! Besides defending yourselves, you are also standing up for players in other orchestras who are facing similar situations.

      Managers in other Spanish orchestras are hopefully taking note and won’t try this themselves. Make a a lot of noise about this, please. Make it as difficult as possible for management and the politicians to impose on you a music director you were not in favor of. Identify your manager who made this decision. Thrust him into the public eye. This isn’t Mendez’ fault, it the manager’s.

      Fight a good fight for all of us, please. Speak out. You’re doing just the right thing and players in many other orchestras are silently thanking you. Animo!

      • concerned orchestra member says:

        Gracias Orchestra player!

        • Prof. Steve Leisring says:

          As a former member of this orchestra employed for more than a decade and having left to take a position in the US 15 yrs ago, I am saddened to see this divide. This is not a mediocre orchestra- this is a fantastic group of musicians from about 20 countries assembled over the last 25 years whom have represented Tenerife admirably at home and abroad for the last 3 decades. Besides a core of terrific Spanish players, this orchestra has wind and string players from Britain, Eastern and Western Europe, Israel, South America and the US. It is a mix of excellence from many countries that is quite unique. World class soloists and conductors come and expectations are always exceeded, (because of the location of the ensemble,) making for a generally great vibe when fine musicians visit. I played under Maestros Lopes Cobos, Noseda, Osmo Vanska, Varga, Entremont, and many more while there. This eclectic mix of players have moved there to play great music but in a way this has given the management over the years to have more say than is typical today in many orchestras. These are people whom have come to Tenerife, (many arriving in the 90s and still there) that are about the music first. I have no first hand knowledge of this current situation, but I know many of the players in the orchestra and can attest they would have no reason to report these things if they were not true. My guess is they have reported it because the conductor’s musicianship was not the main factor in the decision and are worried. On the other hand, I am not surprised by the fact the majority of musicians were passed over completely by questionable management in these decisions. Perhaps the worst moments in the 90s were when guest conductors or soloists we’re chosen for political reasons, not artistic ones. But when artistry was first, there were magical performances in Tenerife. I wish them the best in the next three years and hope they are allowed to be the musicians they truly are.

  • Good-idea-important says:

    Eric Jacobsen
    Eric Jacobsen
    Eric Jacobsen

    This guy will elavate the artistic standards, morale and community engagement as a music director!
    Better than Cannelakis, Mirga, Gafigan, Solti, Harth-Bedoya and the rest of the bunch.

  • Valentin says:

    . Mr.Mendez does not have a musical qualification allowng him to occupy the position of chief conductor..It seems that the conductor can not find an understending with the orchestra . The orchestra (52 percentage)voted against the return of Mr. Mendez to the post of guest conductor. Moreover ,87 percentage of musicians voted against the appointment of Mr .Mendez as chief conductor .
    The rules that govern the engagement of the musicians in the orchestra requires the holding of contest.Why in this case the conductor was put on this position with salary of many thousands euros without a contest ? By the way , Mr .Parera is promoting his personal friends and Mr Mendez to the orchestra for the strengthening his office position (abuse of office power ).It seems this is the worst managers in the history of the orchestra.