140 batons apply for minor German post

140 batons apply for minor German post


norman lebrecht

December 03, 2019

Staatstheater Cottbus has appointed a music director to succeed the turbulent American, Evan-Alexis Christ.

The new man, Alexander Merzyn, has been holding the fort as interim chief since Christ departed 16 months ago.


The interesting statistic is that 140 conductors from all over the world applied for this not very significant vacancy.

It’s tough out there.


  • Gustavo says:

    BRSO vacancy statistic will be interesting if ever made public.

    • Leonardo Bautista says:

      Rest assured it will never be made public, those prestigious posts are rotated within a very closed circle of artist management agencies. My take is it will probably be taken up by Andris Nelsons.

      • Tamino says:

        Haha. Why should he do that? Gewandhaus is arguably the better band. A concert hall in Munich still years away. BR just killed its inhouse recording and rehearsal facilities. Bureaucratic Radio structures always frustrate the creative man. What would he gain?

      • fflambeau says:

        No way. Boston is one of the richest symphony orchestras in the world with terrific facilities and he has the Gewandhaus relationship too.

  • Paul says:

    The interesting part for me is not that 140 conductors applied for the position but that they chose to simply stay with their interim chief. Could they really not discern if a better conductor was available out 140 others? Perhaps Merzyn is indeed OK, but too often I see this particularly in German operas where applicants are invited to audition for a position which ends up being given to someone internally.

  • A conductor says:

    Seeing as 200 people apply for the Aspen Conducting Academy every year and over 100 for the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music’s conducting fellowship, this is not so many people…….

  • FrauGeigerin says:

    There are too many conductors, too many places to study conducting, too many people applying for the few free openings to study conducting, too many people wanting to conduct without going through proper training, too many people wanting to conduct for the wrong reasons… and too few orchestras.

    Unfortunately, very often those who are on the podium are those who want to conduct for the wrong reasons, and those without proper training but who have the contacts, resources, and the ability to sell themselves to have a professional career.

    • John Rook says:

      Post of the Year. Brilliant.

      • MusicBear88 says:

        Or people who have the proper training on paper but should never be allowed in front of a group of musicians. The absolute worst conductor I’ve ever played under as a professional had a DMA from a prestigious program and couldn’t conduct two consecutive bars in the same tempo (and it was Bach, not Mahler, so there were no excuses).

        • FrauGeigerin says:

          MusicBear88, at least those who study professional doctorate programs (which don’t exist in Europe) have the understanding that they need training to be able to do it… the fact that they cannot conduct and they still graduated only means – in my view – that there is a business going on in training conductors at university level in the US.

  • Doug says:

    Too many crypto-sociopaths and not enough hiding places is a problem?

  • Sabrinensis says:

    The truth of the conducting profession is that the big business lies not in actual engagements and positions but rather in the teaching of conducting. There are countless seminars and retreats that are offered for aspiring and even partially established conductors that cost thousands of dollars to attend. They are placed with minor or ad hoc orchestras and helmed by teachers of varying reputations and accomplishments who are paid very well. Hopeful executants snap these up in the hope of making useful contacts that will lead to the exposure necessary for career furtherance. While I do not doubt the sincerity of the teachers in wishing to improve the skills of their charges, in reality, these assemblies amount to a scam. Nothing happens and that discovery comes at a dear cost.

    • Greg Tiwidichitch says:

      I agree. Might I add that aside from these teaching places, there are virtually NO places to further a conducting career unless you know someone in the business with any degree of influence.

      • FrauGeigerin says:

        Too many people think conducting is EASY because they believe it just requires knowing the music and some idea of pattern-beating (which is the essence of the technical communication, but not all of it). Plus conducting is a terrific way for those who want to serve themselves and not the music, getting a spa-treatment for the ego, dance in front of the orchestra and let the orchestra “do the job”. Too many people like the feeling of having all the eyes on them while 70 musicians play that glorious music, and after the concert be the center of all the patrons appreciation. Not so many of them really want to learn to do it properly because 1) it is time consuming (conductors need masters + some post-master training to be capable of really knowing what they are doing) 2) the “industry” is now too concerned with youthness, attractiveness, minorities, looking right in the photo etc.

        That is why too many musicians just pilgrim from wokshop to workshop, from conducting clinic to conducting clinic, from masterclass to masterclass paying a small fortune in all of them, getting to meet many conducting teachers and conductors (some with good careers as teachers and/or performers and some just making a living by doing these workshops, many of them true conducting mediocrities themselfes) in the hope they would find a career-making partner for them, conducting workshop-orchestras mostly in East Europe – where hiring a decent workshop orchestra costs less than 33% of the cost of hiring one in UK, Austria, Germany, USA, Austria, Spain, The Netherlands or France – , returning to their home countries and listing these workshop-orchestras in their biographies as if they had been actual performances or just saying “I studied in Bulgaria/Austria/England” when they actually just did a course there in the hope they would make their biography sound more ‘international’… in other words, trying to take shortcuts to avoid really investing time in learning this difficult craft.

        Small univiersities in the US take advantage of those who have really understood that they need training, but are not good enough to be accepted in one of the major conservatoires in the east coast of the US, England, Austria, Germany, Finland etc. Many workshops and masterclasses take advantage of the aspiring conductors. No-one is doing these aspiring conductors the favor of saying: it is hard our there, if you want to succeed you need to really go learn, and even if you go to the major conservatoires in the US/England/Germany/Austria/Finland you will find atrocious competition…

        … 140 applicants for one spot.

      • Sabrinensis says:

        Can’t hurt to have a father already established in the conducting business.

  • Ben says:

    We’re talking about the music directorship of an opera house that has staged productions of the complete Ring cycle and Elektra. It’s highly regarded among critics and attracts thousands of operagoers from Berlin every year, so it’s not exactly what I would call a “minor German post”.

    Merzyn was a competent interim conductor and I can see why the musicians decided to appoint someone who is the complete opposite of his choleric predecessor. However, I wish they had picked someone more ambitious who would raise standards to a higher level again. The orchestral playing in the new production of “The Flying Dutchman” was rather disappointing and recent performances of “Don Giovanni” sounded quite sloppy as well. It seemed to me that standards had slipped since Evan Alexis Christ’s sudden departure. The Cottbus orchestra is definitely capable of much more. I wonder if another one of those 140 candidates would have been able to realise the orchestra’s full potential without having to resort to the previous music director’s questionable methods.

    • Paul says:

      “attracts thousands of operagoers from Berlin every year” – dream on. I’d say, if it is a hundred it is much.

      • Ben says:

        No, it is actually thousands. There are about 600 seats in the auditorium. If you consider the number of opera performances per year and the fact that sometimes about half of the audience comes from Berlin (especially for the flagship productions of late-romantic repertoire), the figures add up very quickly.

  • Leonardo Bautista says:

    Well, it is not such a “minor” post; first and foremost, it is in Germany, second, it is a German orchestra and as such it sounds decent, with the added bonus of the potential that an unknown really brilliant conductor could realise, and third, the theatre is a German institution with all the perks of efficiency it carries.

  • Greg Tiwidichitch says:

    When I began in the conducting field, 200-300 batons applied for even smaller posts with US community orchestras and that has not changed. This interesting statistic is not new in the US.