The Concertgebouw’s peremptory dismissal of its music director, Daniele Gatti, has sent historians scurrying for incidents of previous executions.
They are few and far between.
Apart from June 1945, when Wilhelm Furtwängler and others were suspended from conducting pending denazification – and nobody ever lost his job permanently for having been a Nazi – the next major maestro chop does not occur until 1988 when Pierre Bergé fired Daniel Barenboim from the Opéra de Paris over a difference of repertoire opinion.
When relationships break down, the convention is for the maestro to be allowed to resign with mutual regret, a handsome payoff and sometimes an emeritus title. It is OK for a maestro to huff off – as Muti did at La Scala, for instance – but not the other way round.
The sacking of a maestro with immediate effect is practically unknown until Peter Gelb fired James Levine at the Met over alleged sexual misconduct and several orchestras followed suit with Charles Dutoit. With the Gatti precedent, convention appears to have been buried. In future, a maestro who fails to fulfil moral standards and musical expectations can expect to be given the bum’s rush.
Whether this constitutes an advance for civilisation, time will tell.