Salzburg says no conductor will ever dictate again

Salzburg says no conductor will ever dictate again


norman lebrecht

September 18, 2019

The Easter Festival parted company yesterday with Christian Thielemann and his Dresden orchestra after a dispute over who rules. Thielemann had objected to the installation of former Munich Opera boss Nikolaus Bachler as artistic director.

Bachler won.

After Thielemann’s contract ends in 2022, the festival now says, conductors and orchestras will be engaged on an annual basis.

No more Mr Big Guy.

The Easter Festival was founded in 1967 by Herbert von Karajan and is still partly funded by his foundtion.

You couldn’t make it up.



  • sam says:

    CT always presented himself as the primus inter pares protégé of HvK… So maybe he’s got some pull yet at the Foundation.

    A lot can happen in 2 years. Look at Los Angeles.

  • Olassus says:


    “Bachler sei an der ‘Geballtheit’ der Osterwoche interessiert — und auch geistliche Musik und Tanz bzw. Ballett oder Jazz könne Teil des künftigen Konzepts sein. Auch Die Toten Hosen sind denkbar.”

  • RW2013 says:

    Bachler wants ballet, jazz and the Toten Hosen (a punk band), for those of who couldn’t read the link.

    • Gustavo says:

      A kind of Edinburgh Festival?

      What’s wrong about that?

      Thielemann should start his own festival.

      He could use the run-down musical theater near Neuschwanstein.

      Wagner, Bruckner, R. Strauss only;
      no experiments!

      • John Rook says:

        It’s a beautiful theatre, actually, the Festspielhaus Füssen. It was built for an excellent musical about twenty years ago, Ludwig. Not sure they’ve hosted anything that good since, though…

  • Olassus says:

    Bachler imagines himself as a fundraiser. Ha! Small donors giving just €10,000 will subsidize acts like Die Toten Hosen.

    Dream on, Landeshauptmann Haslauer!

    “Neben der Neukonzeptionierung soll Bachler auch wirtschaftlich einen Umschwung einleiten und vor allem im Bereich der Sponsoren für neue Einnahmen sorgen. Hier setzt er auch auf „Kleinsponsoren“, das sind nach seinem Verständnis Geldgeber mit Beträgen von vielleicht 10.000 Euro. Damit könne man in Summe viel Geld aufbringen. Die Osterfestspiele sind nach wie vor ein frei finanziertes Festival.”

    • Tamino says:

      Bachler needs money, because Elliette is pulling the rug under him, after people reported spinning noises down in Karajan‘s grave in Anif?

      • Sue Sonata Form says:


      • Olassus says:

        Tamino, if in fact Eliette is pulling the rug from under the Salzburg Easter Festival, or trying to pass the torch to civic authorities, which would not be unreasonable at this stage, then the hiring of Bachler by Haslauer is foolish for two reasons:

        — he has no taste

        — he has never had to raise money

        By the way, Bachler claims, contrary to NL, that there has been no battle of the titans because he himself is no titan and he and Thielemann have not fought.

  • SalzburgBachlerFestival says:

    Huge loss for the Salzburg Easter Festival now Salzburg Bachler Festival. The hat trick which lead to Thielemann was genius. It ticked all of the boxes. The Salzburg Festival (er, summer festival) now has an opening to invite Thielemann back. Love him or hate him, he is the greatest conductor of Strauss and Wagner. Period. As for Bachler, he overplayed his hand and the Easter Festival will be as relevant as Aix.

  • kundry says:

    Congrats Salzburg! You kicked out the ( very important) artist and kept (the mediocre , even inept) bureaucrat. I give the Board one year to realize they made a huge mistake and another year to desperately trying to cover it up.

    • Gustavo says:

      Only if Kirill & Co don’t ink contracts for 2023 onwards.

      The boldness of the Salzburg-move suggest that Bachler has something fixed already.

      • Tristan says:

        let’s hope as in the last years one could witness tons of empty seats eben wehn CT has conducted – he is no draw for the international audience that comes to Salzburg expecting a level they see on other stages, often in Munich. Time has changed and I think they very much know that this fabulous festival is ready for change

  • Wimsey says:

    Does anyone go to a concert because of the artistic director?

  • erich says:

    There are no winners in this sorry tale. The only totally innocent party – collateral damage – are the unfortunate Dresden Staatskapelle who saved the Festival when the Berliners defected and have covered themselves in glory ever since.

    The rest of the story is a perfect example of what happens when an incompetent Board of regional politicians regards itself as qualified to decide on artistic matters, and is now left with broken porcelain and the desperate attempt to shift the blame elsewhere (elections loom in ten days).

    Let us examine the facts. Anyone in the music world who has ever had dealings with Thielemann knows that he is an unbelievably difficult human being. Most unpleasant. BUT – and it’s a big but – he is virtually without equal in ‘his’ repertoire and tends to attract a public willing and able to afford the price of tickets.
    He and the Dresdeners provide music making of the highest quality.

    That those idiotic politicians then decided to bring in Bachler, who is another very difficult Alpha Male, without recourse first of all to clarification with Thielemann (and then lying about a supposed agreement with him) was bound to lead to a huge row, and can only be seen as an intrigue to get rid of Thielemann – that result they have now ‘achieved’. Bravo.

    And now what? Do they seriously imagine that Thielemann (who so far has not commented on his firing) and Bachler can nevertheless still work together until and including 2022? The Festival has to run smoothly and this is a recipe for disaster.

    As for Bachler’s apparent plans to completely alter the image of the Festival with different orchestras annually and incorporating jazz, pop and ballet, is all fine and dandy, but one wonders about the financing of it.

    One wonders also how an annual opera premiere can then be managed, given that hitherto Dresden had organised all the pre-Salzburg rehearsals and also many of the coproductions thereafter.

    It is theoretically possible that an annual change of conductor and orchestra can be arranged (one has heard rumours of Welser-Möst Cleveland, Pappano Santa Cecilia, Gergiev Kirov etc) but this runs the danger of losing the Festival’s exclusivity and making it less interesting, because the same artists tend to do the rounds of the summer festivals with much cheaper seat prices.

    It seems to me that this plan has not been thought through and that the words ‘baby’ and ‘bathwater’ might be appropriate.
    A mess caused by the politicians.

    • Tristan says:

      it seems you are not attending the Easter Festival as he only conducted three Wagner operas there and hardly any repertoire you are mentioning. Time for change!

    • Alan says:

      You may be right. I comment only to make the point that I really don’t like Thielemann’s conducting. I thought his Beethoven set with the Vienna PO was dreadful. Ponderous and sllllooooowwwwwwww. Don’t like his Bruckner either.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      “The rest of the story is a perfect example of what happens when an incompetent Board of regional politicians regards itself as qualified to decide on artistic matters”

      Think Johann Sebastian Bach!!

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Finding a new orchestra each season at Easter is going to be hard work.

  • Pedro says:

    What matters to me is the quality of the performances and, in this context, Thielemann has very few pars in his core repertoire. From what I have heard live – and I have heard a lot – only Barenboim, Gatti and Salonen can be put at the same level as CT.

    Moreover, CT is an excellent conductor of other composers. For instance, his Mozart’s Requiem and Tosca were in my view, really exceptional.

    As I wrote in another post a few weeks ago, what Dresden should do is create its own festival in Easter with top singers, conductors and producers. They already have a top opera house, a top conductor and a top orchestra.

    Dresden is just two hours from Berlin by train and less that that from Prague. We can also drive easily from both cities and the airport is very practical.

    With all the outstanding museums, churches, monuments and buildings in the town and in the vicinity, it should be a big success.

    I am a big fan of Salzburg, having been there more than 50 times since 1978, for the Summer, Easter and Whitsun festivals, as well as for the Mozartwochen, but I would gladly skip Easter in Salzburg for a festival in Dresden under Thielemann.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      These kind of festivals should really be located in places that don’t otherwise have top orchestras playing in them. Salzburg really is that kind of place, Dresden isn’t.

  • Gustavo says:

    Off to Baden-Baden with him.

    • Tristan says:

      yes and in return Petrenko and the Berliner to Salzburg! Great change and apparently what many of the patrons in Salzburg hope to get

      • thomas says:

        Thielemann for all his behavioral issues far superior to Petrenko as conductor in my opinion, been going to Easter Festival for 20 years, sorry to see it become like every other, next clown acts and Beyonce

  • MJA says:

    I first attended the Salzburg Easter Festival as a lucky student in 1977 and continued until 1981. I went back for Abbado’s ‘Tristan’ in 1999 and have subscribed ever since. So I’ve seen Abbado, Rattle and Thielemann. I found the behaviour of the BPO in departing quite shameful and craven and I would certainly not welcome them back. Perhaps I am one of those whom Herr Bachler needs to clear out. I wish him luck.

  • Patrick says:

    Well, these over expensive Salzburg tribe were happy to hire Due Staatskapelle when the Berliner abandoned them. What are they going to do now? Do you think any important orchestra will be be happy with a one year contract? Fools!

  • Thomas Silverbörg says:

    Where Bachler goes, misery is his companion.