So who’s the real Vienna Phil conductor?

So who’s the real Vienna Phil conductor?


norman lebrecht

December 30, 2018

Rehearsal photo from the Vienna Philharmonic’s New Year’s Concert, conducted for the first time by Christian Thielemann.

(c) Benedikt Dinkhauser — at Wiener Musikverein.


  • Caravaggio says:

    The question that will soon get answered is, will he or will he not? This is not about him showing up or not; rather, about reviving from extinction the distinct Vienna sound, style and charm of yore. I am not holding my breath.

    • Anke says:

      He surely will ! He loves VPO and they like him.

      • Caravaggio says:

        So? Here’s another question mark that will soon get answered: Those Strauss family waltzes and overtures (and not just by the Strausses) can’t be micromanaged lest they fast devolve into something very uninteresting. Will he? Will he not?

    • Sixtus says:

      At this point in the 21st century revival of the ‘distinct Vienna sound’ would be an exercise in historically informed performance practice. This would be unlikely with the orchestra itself. I myself would like to wind its performance clock back to around 1910 to hear how Mahler and Strauss originally sounded.

      But least one valuable tradition will likely be retained at the New Year’s concert: the 1910-authentic layout of the strings. Split violins, cellos on the left and basses at the rear wall. I hope the envelopment-by-violins effect in unison and octave passages will come through over the broadcast.

    • Cynical Bystander says:

      How old does one have to be to remember the distinct Vienna sound? Just as it is fair to ask the same question about the great operatic voices. For many of us we have to make do with what we have unlike an ever diminishing number of crepuscular pedants for whom the past is the only thing with which to measure the present and to always to find the present as wanting.

    • Doug says:

      What, you actually admit to pining for the vestiges of a colonial, patriarchal, homophobic, Islamophobic, Christocentric, cis-gendered, capitalist hegemony? Prepare to denounce yourself to your Red Guard comrades or face the leftist rage mob Gulag.

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        Absolutely. So much of ‘progressivism’ and the Left these days is terrifyingly reminiscent of Stalinist Russia. God, it’s awful. Horrible, talent-less ideologues bringing about change – purely because they have no other way of succeeding without upending the hourglass.

        • Petros Linardos says:

          I live in a very liberal area in the US. When I hear a banging sound in the night, my first guess is that some yard gate is loose.

  • Player says:

    Isn’t that photo taken from behind a player holding up a triangle, if you care to look closely…

    What else are you suggesting?

    • David K. Nelson says:

      Most percussionists fancy themselves the “real” conductor.

      • Cubs Fan says:

        That’s because most percussionists have a better sense of rhythm and can maintain a steady tempo better than most every conductor.

        • Player says:

          Good God – the one thing one does NOT need in this music is an entirely steady tempo! Zzzz….

        • M2N2K says:

          It may also be so because best conductors have at least as good a “sense of rhythm” as most percussionists but, unlike the latter, the former are true musicians who know that there is much more to music than merely “maintain[ing] a steady tempo”.

        • anon says:

          It is no more the job of the conductor to be able to keep a steady beat than it is the job of a composer to have neat handwriting. It is the ideas that count (no pun intended).

    • Garry Humphreys says:

      Now there’s a thought: does a left-handed percussionist hold the triangle with his right hand and (therefore) the beater with his left, as suggested here? (And does the VPO have a left-handed percussionist?) I think we should be told!

      • Bill Gross says:

        You could see people’s “handedness(?)” change with film cameras when the negative was flipped. Can the same happen with electronic cameras?

      • Bill says:

        Watch the broadcast and report back 🙂

      • Paul says:

        We may not know if that percussionist is left-handed, but in the video it was clear that he held the triangle up with his right hand (which seems like the more demanding task) and held the beater in his left.

      • Garry Humphreys says:

        In the broadcast I believe I saw a triangle held by the right hand and the beater in the left (very briefly); also (in the Gypsy Baron overture) jingles held in the left hand. So maybe there is a left-handed pecussionist in the VPO after all! As to the original photo being flipped, Thielemann is still shown holding his stick right-handed, and hair parted on the left, both of which are correct, so flipping is unlikely. Prosit Neujahr, everyone!

  • Petros Linardos says:

    Easy: the conductor is Christian Thielemann.

    • Player says:

      He is certainly the real deal. Whether he can dissolve the years and re-programme the VPO overnight in to what it ‘was’ in this repertoire is expecting a miracle – even if one thought that would actually be desirable.

      Their lack of a permanent conductor means that the orchestra is a more organic thing than anywhere else. Changes are less perceptible – but thus more difficult to influence by the conductors who come and go…

      • Petros Linardos says:

        For what it’s worth, in the early 80s the VPO’s standards varied wildly. Back then I studied in Vienna and had the privilege of hearing them live many times, both in concert and at the opera.

        While there was always its distinctive sound, and while the best performances were fully up to its reputation, they often sounded like they were coasting. Visiting orchestras often sounded more disciplined (the LSO under Abbado instantly comes to mind). I believe conductors did make a great difference with the VPO, at least back then.

        I also believe in Thielemann and am optimistic the concert may stand out, at least in relation to those of the last two decades.

        I don’t believe in miracles either. Even with Kleiber’s magnificent 1990 and 1992 concerts, I am not convinced the VPO sounded as idiomatic as it did under Clemens Krauss. (I wouldn’t be surprised if Kleiber himself would have thought so too.)

        • Caravaggio says:

          Clemens Krauss and Carlos Kleiber. Now we are talking.

        • Sue Sonata Form says:

          Carlos Kleiber; you’ve brought up that name and reminded us all again about this wonderful man – so very much missed.

        • Robert Groen says:

          Could it be that, never mind the Krausses, Kleibers et al, the VPO never sounded so echt-Viennese lilting as it did under its own Stehgeiger Willi Boskowski?

          • Petros Linardos says:

            I haven’t directly compared any Krauss, Kleiber or Boskosky recordings, never mind measured them with a liltometer, but to my ears it should be a tie between the best of Krauss and Boskovsky. After all, Boskovsky was a VPO concertmaster when Krauss led the first new year’s day concerts.
            In Alexander Werner’s biography of Carlos Kleiber, there is a story about Carlos recommending a Clemens Krauss recording to his friend Riccardo Muti for his preparation for a new year’s day concert.
            Off topic, to my ears the Clemens Krauss recordings of Richard Strauss music are exceptionally good and very worth listening to, as is his 1951 Bayreuth Ring. If only he had lived more than 61 years…

          • Petros Linardos says:

            Oops, Krauss’ recorded Bayreuth Ring is from 1953.

          • martain smith says:

            Certainly in this repertoire, without question!

        • Pedro says:

          And with Karajan!

  • Player says:

    Norm has rightly if a little quietly changed the title of this piece now to remove any suggestion that the deeply rhythmic triangle player is *in fact* the evil secret of CT’s success, or indeed his demonic rival for the attention of the players. Fake news on the last day of 2018: whatever next? Time for some Lebrechtian resolutions…?!

  • Nathan says:

    Does anyone know how one can watch the Neujahrskonzert with Wiener Philharmoniker online?

    • Paul says:

      try the “tvthek” at

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        It says on that website that on NY Eve ‘people will not be allowed to detonate themselves’. They’re talking about the fireworks, presumably, and not one sector of the immigrant population!

        • Petros Linardos says:

          Where on earth do they state that? Could it be a mistranslation from German?

        • Tamino says:

          For semantic’s sake: those who detonated themselves in NY were not immigrants but Saudi citizens. Those lovely most backward Wahabist Saudi allies of the US, which the US never wants to sanction but anybody else.

          Question: how many people with box cutters does it take to destroy the WTC?
          a) a whole “sector of the immigrant population”
          b) a handful

    • Patrick says:

      Only PBS on TV in the US. Not sure globally. Perhaps check their Facebook page.

  • Stuart Donaldson says:

    To my mind, this is the real thing. I grant you the unexpected orchestra…

  • barry guerrero says:

    The News Year’s concerts sound pretty much the same, regardless of who’s wagging the stick. For me, the only real stand-out one in recent times was George Pretre. He appeared to be truly enjoying himself. Many of them just look dutiful.

  • Ben says:

    What’s all the hate all about CT? The photo implies somebody wanna hang him!

    I think it would be an interesting concert.

  • barry guerrero says:

    Yes, triangle. And the player should be applauded for holding it up, rather than just playing one that’s clipped on to a music stand (necessary when jumping around to different percussion instruments).

  • Stuard Young says:

    So how did Christian Thielemann do this New Year’s Day? I thought the playing was beautiful (Would it ever be otherwise?), but felt many a musical line stretching to the breaking point. I kept wanting to crank the handle on the old Victrola.

    • Mark Mortimer says:

      Stuard. In my humble opinion Thielemann is a fine conductor with considerable technical command over the orchestra. But this is the wrong repertoire for him. He lacks the charisma to bring off what a really amounts to second rate music- not to say that the Strauss family didn’t produce delightful stuff. I’ve seldom heard the Blue Danube done with less panache by the VPO- who could play it in their sleep. The magic was somewhere missing in a performance which seemed to hurtle forwards with little grace. Thielemann in Wagner & Richard Strauss certainly yes but the Strauss clan- certainly no. There have been only be several conductors who really brought this occasion off- Kleiber, Maazel- who always put on a good show & Abbado & Karajan on their one outing.