Teodor Currentzis: I’m not interested in pretty music

Teodor Currentzis: I’m not interested in pretty music


norman lebrecht

August 20, 2018

The Bad Boy of the Baton has been sounding off in Salzburg about his Beethoven cycle:

‘It is never my intention to provoke. Yet some people find what I do extreme. – I think that is a question of psychology. My goal is not for people to attend a concert, to find it pretty and then be unable to remember it the very next day…. I am deeply convinced that the role of the musician is to pose ever-new questions to the audience.’


  • Tamino says:

    I agree with him on that. The irony, or hypocrisy, in this is, that artists are free to chose their audience.
    Performing in Salzburg means knowing that you perform for an audience, that has no questions in the first place. They have no answers either. But they have money.
    So, artists like Currenzis have a choice. Stay curious, ask questions, or go where they pay you the best. Unfortunately the two paths rarely join.
    I have doubts the classical music biz as it is reality in Salzburg and other such Hi-Society-champagne-in-intermission festivals, can muster much relevance anymore to ask questions, or even find solutions to the problems of our days.
    It’s become prostituted entertainment for the upper class there.

    • Pedro says:

      Don’t agree. I am just returning from Salzburg where I attended seven performances in five days. Some ( Bassarids, Salome, Italiana, Trifonov, Blomstedt/VPO) were quite or very good. Others ( Muti/ VPO, Zauberflöte ) were disappointing. In Salzburg you can get relatively cheap tickets if you book in advance and the program is always an example of diversity. I have attended 35 of the last 41 Summer festivals and hope to go back in the future.

      • Nik says:

        Exactly, there is a good mixture of moneyed Adabeis and serious music lovers at Salzburg, and possibly a decent contingent that falls into both categories. It has always been that way. As you say, there are reasonably priced tickets available, and the venues are all laid out in a way that there isn’t a dramatic difference in quality between the price ranges (nothing as remote as the top of the ROH amphi, for example).
        I’m neither rich nor upper class. I save up each year for a Salzburg trip and never regret it. I can’t think of any festival in Europe I’d rather go to.

      • Nik says:

        Also, I actually find it quite funny how everything in Salzburg is set up in a way that extracts the maximum revenue from the show-off brigade whilst offering reasonably priced alternatives to everyone else who knows where to look.
        For example, in the break you can go to the outdoor bar opposite the Festspielhaus and pay €10 for 0.1l of Sekt. Or you can walk through the door of the café immediately behind the bar and they will sell you 0.125l of an agreeable Grüner Veltliner for €4.50.
        Needless to say, the outdoor bar has a queue. The indoor one doesn’t.
        The same principle applies to accommodation, restaurants etc.

        • Alan O'Connor says:

          Agree completely. I’m not loaded but I always have a good time. In fact Salzburg can be quite cheap f you shop around in terms of hotels, shops and restaurants. And you can get very cheap tickets for very good concerts. People with money will always find ways to spend it. But in Salzburg you don’t have to be loaded to have a really good time.

        • Tamino says:

          now I want to go again to Salzburg.

      • Petros Linardos says:

        When I first attended the Salzburg Festival, in 1979, I was delighted at the long pauses before the applause, even at fast and loud endings. Is it still that way?

        • Pedro says:

          Not always unfortunately. For instance, last Saturday and despite Blomstedt’s apparent wishes, frenetic applause started right after the last chords of Bruckner’s Fourth. Of course, the exceptionally fine playing of the VPO deserved it but I personally hoped for some silence after the music.

          • Nik says:

            The majority of the audience is still sensitive to this, which makes it even worse because often there are five people bashing and whooping away while everyone else is trying to hold the silence.


      Congratulations for having the courage to tell the bitter truth !
      You have all my respect !


      Dear Tamino ,
      Congratulations for having the courage to tell the truth . You have my deepest respect !

      • Mela says:

        That may be the case, but it’s also the Salzburg of “Jedermann” – a play calling into question the value of money and evoking the higher purpose of doing good deeds.

        So okay it’s the upper class, but the upper class trying to develop a conscience. Let the Ode to Joy sound to that!

        And let it be Teodor Currentzis hammering it in as sensationally as possible so that nobody can go home unchanged.

  • Olassus says:

    “It is never my intention to provoke.”


  • Caravaggio says:

    An abomination of a “conductor” and “musician”. Musical perversion for perversion’s sake.

  • Alan O’Connor says:

    Whatever about his comments it seems an act of pure foolishness to have put four of th five concerts in the Mozarteum. I’d like to have gone to a couple to make up my own mind but tickets were like gold dust. On the other hand I did get to see a concert instead by the West Eastern Divan that was excellent.

    I enjoy Salzburg. Obviously I’m not well informed enough for some on this site!

  • Sue says:

    Are those large pecks he has there or are these just the product of intensive conducting?

    • Max Grimm says:

      You must have quite the keen eye if you can see his pectoral muscles in that picture, considering distance/angle from which it was taken and that Currentzis is wearing black.

      • Sue says:

        Well my muscle identification is sloppy; it’s not his chest but his arms – I presume that if the arms are so huge the chest also has to be!! What the?

        • Max Grimm says:

          The truly “huge” thing about Currentzis aren’t his pecs, deltoids or biceps, it’s his self-opinion.

    • Player says:


  • Rob says:

    His recording of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto is very interesting and my favourite of that piece.

    • will says:

      Please, let’s give the Tchaikovsky credit to the amazing ‘Pat Kop’ not to this narcissistic and self-opinionated nonentity…!

      • ADC says:

        Most great artists are “narcissistic & self-opinionated” personalities. The point is whether or not one is attracted to their art. Currentzi’s, apparently, is not ignored.

    • John Borstlap says:

      That is just VERY good.

    • Tamino says:

      pornographic. intention to impress with cheap effects. a pig with lipstick.
      sloppy execution. tempo impossible to realize for the horns apparently.
      music? maybe if you are into sado-masochism. but who knows, maybe Beethoven would like it.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Any pair of musical ears can hear that this rendering of a worn-out piece is very expressive and captures the fresh spirit of the classical, revolutionary era very well. My only caveat would be the acoustic quality of the fortes which are a bit too ‘hard-edged’. But surely the composer would not have complained about that, considering what we know about his temperament.

  • musician says:

    Who cares what he says?
    A musician, Like a composer should be held accountable for what he/she does and creates. the rest is dust.

    • Mela says:

      Although I agree that a piece of art should be able to speak for itself sometimes it is necessary to explain some things. For example if he wouldn’t have told about the Metronome markings originally by Beethoven his interpretation would still be regarded as merely some sort of provocation or trying to impress by shallow means – which it isn’t if you care enough to learn about the facts. So I am thankful for his explanation, it is opening up another level of understanding I wouldn’t otherwise have had.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Beethoven’s metronome markings are always on the fast side which is probably partly due to a) his tendency to exaggerate things, b) the small orchestras of his time who could play quite fast and c) B’s struggle with physical practicality: ink pots faling into the piano, chairs breaking under his touch, cutlery falling, pens and pencils getting mislaid, glasses being dropped, forgeting to empty the chamberpot, etc. etc. So why should we trust something so precise and unambiguous as metronome markings? How do we know that he did not read the numbers on the downside of the little block instead of the upside? They can only be an indication, not a fixed requirement. The main thing is the spirit of the music.

      • Musician says:

        My point precisely. Art speaks for itself, when you need an explanation, it’s failing. As for metronome markings I’d like to offer 3 points. 1) by the time the metronome became known to Beethoven he’d written most of his symphonies and was completely deaf!
        2) often composers, even the most precise ones get the markings wrong: e.g. Bartok – he was completely perdantic about markings but his timing for a movement and the metronome marking never corrolate.
        3) metronome markings, as well as notes are a guide, what you do with them should reflect an idea, a genre, a mood. Blind religious following of any prescription isn’t an artistic choice.

        • Mela says:

          It is, if the resulting interpretation leads to a different apprehension of the piece, which gives priority to larger streaks rather than details. Currentzis showed how such an interpretation sounds like, and I would say the result can indeed speak for itself.

          I won’t dive into a discussion about metronome markings, because they are irrelevant for the point that his explanation added a meaning to his interpretation it wouldn’t otherwise have had.

          • Mela says:

            Okay now read like this it sounds totally contradictory, I need to differentiate:

            1. The interpretation speaks for itself, being as tempestuous as Beethoven might have intended with his original Metronome markings. This needs no explanation, it just sweeps you off your feet.

            2. Nevertheless the explanation is necessary because of the prevailing preconceptions about how those symphonies should be performed, with all the discussion about possible errors in the metronome markings to be considered. It is necessary because in regards to those preconceptions an interpretation following the metronome markings is actually apprehended as a deviation and a provocation and insofar NOT taken as a piece of art that speaks for itself but as something to be weighed against the contemporary taste and debate about freedom of interpretation. Teodor Currentzis position is a historically sound one. Everybody who doesn’t follow the original metronome markings needs to resort to some aesthetic idea that Beethoven wanted to express but failed to nail down in writing. One can do that and have good reasons for it (for example the horns actually being able to play their parts without toppling over the fast notes), and it opens up a variety of interpretations, a richness one can say, where the piece awakes to a different light each time it’s getting played by different people. Following this reasoning there is no grounds to regard Teodor Currentzis’ interpretation any less sound, with regards to the metronome markings maybe a little bit more sound, but this I cannot decide. What it is not is pure sensationalism. And as I have seen other postings here it was very necessary for Currentzis’ to point that out, because people would be blinded by their preconceptions and not be able to view his interpretation as a piece of art in itself, which would be a shame.

        • John Borstlap says:

          Indeed Beethoven was deaf by the time he marked his symphonies. So, he merely saw the thing wagging, and that is not a very precise way to get a tempo indication. Also, if he had not put the metronome in a correct horizontal position, the wagging gets imprecise as well. Then there is the point of acoustics which have an influence on any tempo an orchestra is playing in. So, the conductor has to follow his own thoughts on the matter.

          Because of all these elements affecting tempo in performance, composers who got aware of them, only gave quite general tempo indications, as in Brahms’ music which is sprinkled with insecure and ambiguous ‘ma non troppo’ advices, or Wagner’s operas which only give the most general indications (and he got it sometimes wrong nonetheless, as in the Meistersinger prelude which is played much too slowly because of W’s ‘Very moderately moving’ – Sehr massig bewegt), leading to unbearable pomposity. Etc. etc….