If Birmingham can do it, why not Amsterdam?

If Birmingham can do it, why not Amsterdam?


norman lebrecht

January 31, 2020

From my Spectator review today of Richard Bratby’s new centennial history of the CBSO:

Those who conduct the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra may not be aware that musicians fill in a form after they leave marking them out of ten, sometimes with an acerbic comment on their performance. Industrial democracy is alive and well in the West Midlands, along with a Red Robbo urge to biff the bosses, as Richard Bratby’s centennial history of the CBSO entertainingly reveals.

Democracy can foster great leaders and, in this sphere, the CBSO is the envy of the world. Three of its last four chief conductors, chosen by the players, have gone on to the highest peaks — Simon Rattle to the Berlin Philharmonic, Andris Nelsons to Boston and Leipzig, and Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla to the forefront of a new wave of women conductors who are wresting the baton away from male grip….

Read on here.

PLUS: What Amsterdam needs to do.


  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    Amsterdam’s orchestra is too major to appoint a relatively untested talent. Birmingham was very lucky with its choices, but things could have turned out differently. I cannot believe though that the name of Gergiev is still mentioned as a possible contender in a major Western ensemble.

  • MPhil musician says:

    Such a list existed in the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra for some years. Unfortunately the results were mostly ignored by the people who are responsible for future invitations of conductors. Maybe in Birmingham it’s different. 😉

  • pageturner says:

    From yourheadline I thought, for one dreadful second, that you thought the Concertgebouw should have Mirga inflicted on them. Hopefully not and never. In competence we trust.

    • IC225 says:

      Ooh, the lovely tangy taste of misogyny! Feel good now you’ve said that? Feel big? Got to be some compensation for being a tone-deaf bigot, I suppose.

  • Gustavo says:

    Why Amsterdam?

    Why not Royal Phil, Philharmonia?

  • Pedro says:

    Good agents were certainly helpful. Mirga is for me the best of the three Oramo was excellent when I heard the VPO with him replacing Maazel in a Sibelius concert in Copenhagen.

  • Finn says:

    I have heard Thomas Sondergard many times in London with LSO, LPO, at
    the Proms and with the Concertgebouw and Gewandhaus. He’s up there
    among the very best.

  • John Borstlap says:

    I wonder why a ‘democratic selection process’ would be better for finding a MD than the usual way of management staff taking responsibility. It is not certain that what the players prefer, is the best for them, and when staff make the decision, the same uncertainly is paramount. But in the latter case, responsibility is shared by only a couple of people at most, who will be seen accountable; in the former, it is shared by almost 100 people, so nobody is accountable. And then, a conductor being chosen by the players influences the working relationship and the authority the conductor may have, and this influences the playing. So, in the end it is the question, who is responsible for the quality and nature of the performance: the conductor or the players, or better said: what is the balance between the two parties in terms of rendering the score.

    I think the answer is, that it is entirely dependent upon the character of the personalities involved. Imagine an orchestra consisting of fierce, stubborn personalities needing strict discipline, or a lazy bunch of arrogant nitwits: their choices would differ considerably and the latter ensemble would surely prefer a selfdestructive choice. We know from group psychology that a group of people working intensily together, form a certain shared character with its own dynamics (the member who does not fit in, works him/herself out of the group); in a symphony orchestra, such dynamics are probably more intense than anywhere else.

    We know of stories of horn players who, in their insecurity and cracked tones during the last performance, go complaining about the conductor’s strictness behind his back to management staff or the union, and create disturbances within the orchestra far beyond the initial cause, or of players who smuggle-in substitutes at rehearsels because they had something else to do, or quarrels between players about seating positions or salary differences, etc. etc. Democracy is not always and everywhere the best solution for group choices, as isn’t a total power of the ‘tyrant conductor’ who feels perfectly at ease chasing the pretty ladies in the string sections.