Where are the French conductors? Not in France

Where are the French conductors? Not in France


norman lebrecht

December 05, 2019

There is a clutch of French conductors who are making fine careers around the world.

Louis Langrée in Cincinnati

Philippe Auguin at Washington National Opera

Emmanuel Vuillaume at Dallas Opera

Francois-Xavier Roth in Cologne

Stéphane Deneve in St Louis

Alain Altinoglu in Brussels and Frankfurt

Sylvain Cambreling, ex-Frankfurt now at Yomiuri Nippon Symphony

Ludovic Morlot formerly in Seattle

Lionel Bringuier formerly in Zurich

Yan-Pasal Tortelier in Iceland

Natalie Stutzmann in Dublin and Norway

Fabien Gabel at the Quebec Symphony

Ariane Matiakh in Halle.

None of them is in France.

Why is that?


  • BP says:

    Nul n’est prophète en son pays, Monsieur Lebrecht. (especially when that country is France)

  • Adam Stern says:

    (Maestro Morlot’s Seattle Symphony music directorship came to a close at the end of the 2018-19 season; his successor is the Danish Thomas Dausgaard.)

  • Guest 123 says:

    Well. Ludovic and Lionel are not with either orchestra mentioned.

  • Patrick Gillot says:

    “Nul n’est prophete en son pays”. Even Boulez was recognized in New York, Cleveland and Bayreuth before he got top billing in France! Charles Munch in Boston, Pierre Monteux in London…. To be honest they may be fleeing the traditional Franch State bureaucracy!

    • Ruben Greenberg says:

      Patrick: I think in those days, France hadn’t orchestras to offer of the quality of Boston, New York, Chicago (Martinon’s tenure there was more successful than is generally thought) London or even Detroit, that had Paul Paray as chief conductor for a long time. Nor could French orchestras offer the fees these top conductors demanded.

      • Novagerio says:

        Ruben, great conductors train orchestras. They don’t just fly high over a great orchestras greatness, like getting a “free ride”.
        The main french orchestras were mainly in Paris; they were the Lamoureux, the Colonne, the Société des Concerts du Conservatoire Orchestra, and those orchestras were good, but undisciplined (like most french and italian orchestras still are). Monteux, Cluytens, Münch, Paray and later Martinon, Fournet and Fremaux conducted them frequently, despite having their careers with foreign top orchestras.
        The Orchestre de Paris was founded in 1968 by the then cultural minister Malraux and the director of music Landowski, with the purpose of creating a first class orchestra that should be among the top european orchestras. For that matter they chose Karajan and later Solti to trim the orchestra. originally it had been created for Münch, but he died that year. Karajan managed to record three fabulous albums with them (Franck Symphony in D, some Ravel works and Berlioz’s Fantastique. Malgoire plays in fact the English horn in those recordings). The working load was to heavy, so Karajan quit and later Solti quit having achieved nothing with the orchestra. Solti stated publicly that he would only conduct first class orchestras (so much for being a great “orchestral trainer”!), and then they got Bareinboim, who brought the orchestra a Deutsche Grammophon contract (Karajan recorded them for EMI).

        But the political intrigues and the insane bureaucracy is quiet an ordeal in Paris, maybe even in the rest of France.
        Boulez and the socialist minister Malraux were very tight and that’s how the Ircam got started. I still believe Boulez had power enough to keep people he disliked away, such as the great composer Dutilleux (for me personally a superior composer compared with Boulez).

        And then there was the Myung whun Chung incident in 1991 with the Bastille orchestra, wich is proof of how wrong things can go in France when politics are mixed with the arts. Chung had also brought them a DGG contract, wich the orchestra lost immediately as soon as Chung left. They haven’t basically record at all ever since. The same happened recently with the Seoul Philharmonic once a corrupt “political lackey” of an intendant fired Chung.
        And I don’t need to mention the Helga Schmidt incident in Valencia, a scandalous political wreck that basically cost Frau Schmidt her life.

        • Ruben Greenberg says:

          Colonne, Pasdeloup, OSC deC, and Lamoreux were also not full-time orchestras, which was a major drawback. Many of their musicians came from the Paris Opera and the Garde Républicaine (as far as the winds are concerned). They put on their concerts with very few rehearsals; low budgets obligent. Undisciplined? …yes, by and large.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Boulez & New York is a peculiar story and not a successful one: as he introduced the 20C modernist classics, audience attendance dwindled, and controversy bloomed. And his dry and dull rendering of classical repertoire could not stand comparison with what audiences were accustomed to.

      • Novagerio says:

        Mr. Bitchslap has apparently never heard the wonderful Debussy, Ravel, Bartók and Stravinsky recordings Boulez made with the NY Phil…

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    This is not surprising.It is said that they don’t even play much French music in France. It is primarily the British & American orchestras that play more French music & often with greater distinction.

  • Pianomaster says:

    I think I know the answer – French orchestras’ management still thinks that women aren’t capable of making music in front of the orchestra. They are trying to minimize women’s podium time. Maybe there are some strong and powerful sexists in upper management. Anyway the problem is quietly the same as it was 10 years ago

  • Karl says:

    Bringuier left Zuerich. He did not do well at all.

  • WJM says:

    Lionel Bringuier is no longer chief conductor in Zurich, Paavo Järvi has taken over this summer.

  • Annoyed says:

    Could you be a little more careful, Mr. Lebrecht? Bringuier and Morlot—- both OUT, for better or for worse.

  • Nice says:

    François-Xavier Roth in Tourcoing + Lionel Bringuier “artiste en résidence” of the Orchestre Philharmonique de Nice at Opéra Nice Côte d’Azur.

  • Andreas B. says:

    Slippedisc seemed unimpressed with FXR’s appointment as artistic director of ALT Tourcoing as far as I can remember:


    So he’s in France, albeit part time …

  • sam says:

    The Orchestre de paris can remedy that once Harding leaves to work for Air France.

    • anon says:

      Seems that Air France doesn’t hire French pilots either…

      Though to be fair, Air France’s ad did read: “Seeking licensed pilot for Airbus A380, must be fluent in French, and minimum of 25 years of experience in conducting the major orchestras of the world, and ideally as music director of a French orchestra”

  • Nathalie says:

    Emmanuel Vuillaume au Dallas Opera (depuis 2013)
    c’est une “tradition” française, si je peux dire : Pierre Monteux, Paul Paray, Georges Prêtre, Pierre Boulez n’ont pas fait leur carrière en France. On peut les comprendre (le niveau des orchestres…)

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Vous avez raison.

    • John Borstlap says:

      The french radio orchestra, the Orchestre National, the Orchestre de Paris, the Orchestre de Chambre de Paris, are all more than excellent orchestras. My own experience with the Orchestre National de Montpellier was very good as well – a quick-witted, very musical ensemble. This whole story seems to me quite unlikely.

  • Meal says:

    François Xavier Roth travaille également comme chef d’orchestre en France. “Les Siècles” sont basés en France.

    • pjl says:

      and for me the most inspiring orchestra & conductor in the world; their recent RAVEL Kandinsky/Pictures concert in Paris was truly wonderful

  • EricB says:

    Emmanuel Leducq-Barome in Saint-Petersburg and other orchestras in Russia….

  • stanley cohen says:

    Why is that?

    Ask Berlioz.

  • Tim says:

    Fabien Gabel not mentioned here but is one of the best of the lot…

  • Michel says:

    It’s the same with the big orchestras in London for instance ! All their conductors are foreign born at the exception of Simon Rattle (but it’s quite recent). Surely with the Brexit, a wave of english jingoism will prevail at the expense of good music.

  • Ruben Greenberg says:

    Why is Bertrand de Billy always forgotten? He’s very successful in Vienna: not the world’s most unmusical place. He looks like a bank clerk or a chartered accountant, but is a fine, inspired musician. These days it’s more important to look the part than be it.

  • Petros Linardos says:

    Emmanuelle Haïm, Marc Minkowski and Jérémie Rhorer are well known French conductors based in France. All have their local period ensembles but guest conduct top mainstream orchestras in other countries too.

  • cym says:

    Considering that French public transportation ‘conductors’ are often on strike (one going on right now…) conducting outside France seems safer ……

  • Niasba says:

    Hey Norman; keep cool! After Furtbashing last weeks, now Frenchbashing? There are probably more french than british conductors working overseas, not only for the level of the orchestras but also for of their level as conductors .
    Fortunately we have Krivine.

  • carlos2bass says:

    also French conductor Martin Lebel wiill start next month as music director of orquesta sinfonica de Xalapa in Mexico.

  • Andreas B. says:

    Sylvain Cambreling,
    perhaps more up-to- date:
    ex SWR Baden-Baden, ex Stuttgart and ex Yomiuri Nippon, now Hamburg

  • Frenchie in NYC says:

    Auguin is gone from Washington…

  • Philippe says:

    And Alexandre Bloch, French conductor, in Orchestre National de Lille?
    Orchestra rising up at the moment in the French Landscape with some great new recordings!!!