What the Concertgebouw must do next

What the Concertgebouw must do next


norman lebrecht

January 30, 2020

It is clear from yesterday’s vote that the Concertgebouw musicians were given a limited choice of conductors by their previous management, and came up with the worst possible outcome – one maestro who’s unavailabe, a second who’s unsuitable and a third whom they know all too well to bring any great leap of renewal.

So what now?

Picking a music director is not that hard, especially for an institution with the Concertgebouw’s pedigree. The pay may be below par, but the prestige is high.

So, they either look for an established maestro who’s doing brilliant things somewhere else, or for blazing young talent.

Category A yields:

Antonio Pappano

Osmo Vänskä

Manfred Honeck

Fabio Luisi

Franz Welser-Möst

Gustav Dudamel

Category B would include:

Omer Meir Wellber

Joana Mallwitz

Speranza Scapucci

Robin Ticciati

Jakub Hrůša

Not that difficult, really.


It must be so galling for Amsterdam that Rotterdam has got it right every time for the past 20 years, and they keep getting it wrong.

UPDATE: Not to mention Birmingham.


  • Louy says:

    Beaucoup de catégorie A sont de catégorie C

  • Peter says:

    With all do respect, Herr Pappano is not a category A conductor, he is a conductor mostly (99%) traveling between London (the ROH) and Rome (Santa Cecilia) and that’s about it!
    I have always found his arrogance unbearable, he is always trying to look as the greatest but he is really one of the less prominent ones today!
    One cannot forget his Met debut in 1997 when the critics were unforgiving and boos were heard at his curtain call:

    “ Antonio Pappano has conducted several fine opera recordings lately, but his Met bow was a sore disappointment. Not only did he fail to find much color or lyricism in the score, but he also never succeeded in establishing smooth rapport between stage and orchestra pit. There’s more to this new “Eugene Onegin” than the present musical team can show us, and perhaps its qualities will come more clearly into view when the production can be revived with a truly distinctive cast and conductor”
    (New York Magazine)

    • Has-been says:

      Ridiculous to quote a review from 23 years ago. Pappano is a highly desirable conductor and London and Rome, where is repeatedly reengaged, are lucky to have him.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        I agree that Pappano is one of the best, particularly in opera. However, he was almost no profile in the US, and is not well regarded there (their loss). He also isn’t really being asked to guest conduct at the top orchestras.

    • Pappano it’s a possibility. He made the famous concert in he street of Amsterdam in 2013 for the 125th anniversary. But if he comes he will have to leave Santa Cecilia.

    • Music lover says:

      Sorry Peter but I disagree. I heard him live a couple months ago, and his concert was more memorable and inspiring than many other big names. You are the one who’s arrogant and unbearable here.

    • Emil says:

      I think Pappano would be more than suitable, coming in the line of versatile conductors at the Concertgebouw (Haitink, Jansons, Chailly, even Gatti). But I don’t think he’d be interested. He’d certainly have to give up Santa Cecilia, and even running a top 3 European opera house and a top 3 European orchestra with very busy seasons might be too much.

      In my mind, Lebrecht’s lists are good starting points. However, I would see Honeck and Hrusa as clear frontrunners in each category, partly because Dudamel seems to solidify his base in LA, which is very time consuming. Vänskä could have been a possibility, but Honeck seems ahead in stature.

      • Karl says:

        OMG – I agree with Emil! Honeck and Hrusa.

      • V.Lind says:

        I think Hrusa has well established himself, but is still young enough and fresh enough to bring a new dynamism. It would be a bold and inspiring choice, and they would be lucky to have him.

    • Stuart says:

      I always love when people start a sentence “With all due respect” because they mean just the opposite.

    • Larry D says:

      It’s “with all DUE respect”, but either way that is a hypocritical opening, since you go out of your way to show him none.

    • Rob says:

      Papoono is an opera man, he’s never transferred well to the concert hall. The Concertgebouw would do well to avoid him. They should choose somebody young, somebody they can grow with.

  • Brian Cooper says:

    “It must be so galling for Amsterdam that Rotterdam has got it right every time for the past 20 years, and they keep getting it wrong.”

    Mariss Jansons, Chief Conductor, 2004-2015

    No further comment.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Shared in the same repertoire with Munich, which he preferred.

      • PHF says:

        But the orchestra living in the shadows of “prestige” in the past decade is not Concertgebouw, he preferring the other one does not make it more important or prestigious in the music scenario.

    • Gustavo says:

      Rotterdams Philharmonisch Orkest (past 20 years):

      Valery Gergiev (1995–2008)
      Yannick Nézet-Séguin (2008–2018)
      Lahav Shani (2018-

      No comment.

  • Where’s Chung??????? It’s not normal and fair to not thinking about him. He will make several concerts in February with Gebouw’. Chung is not a C choice!

  • Rob says:

    Teodor Currentzis !

  • dorset dick says:

    semyon Bychkov ?

    • MacroV says:

      I think he said a while ago he didn’t want to have another music directorship. He did take on the Czech Philharmonic after the death of Jiri Belohlavek but I don’t think that takes a lot of his time and he probably did it in part because of his supposedly great relationship with the orchestra. But the Concertgebouw is an important gig.

      Vanska would be interesting; he’s hugely loved in Minnesota (which he’s leaving soon), which Euro snobs may not consider to be on the Concertgebouw’s level but may well be (America does have more than five great orchestras, you know).

  • Terence says:

    Paavo Jarvi. And for a more traditional conductor, Thielemann.

    • At slipedic there s a strong community of fans of Honeck and Jarvi son! I saw the gebouw’ archives Jarvi son didn’t play a lot with gebouw’ only 6 times… 1 in 2015 and 5 times before 2008. he’s out but of course it’s a marvelous director.

    • Pedro says:

      Thielemann is my first coice. He will conduct them in Bruckner 5 next June and everyone will be able to judge. I would also like to have Gatti back and Malkki as a surprise choice. The same for Chicago.

      • erich says:

        He is one of the laziest conductors on earth. Hates touring, hates rehearsing and falls out with nearly everybody. Very talented, of course, but a nasty individual.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        Why on earth would Thielemann leave Dresden for Amsterdam? He has a nice arrangement at the moment.

    • PHF says:

      Thielemann is a great choice… to sink the orchestra in a couple of years with his lifelong “mind in a box” performances.

  • John Rook says:

    Category ‘B’ is, largely, a very, er, generous list…

  • H Rosen says:

    Ivan Fischer would be a good choice, (he speaks Dutch, lives in Amsterdam) even if you think he knows the orchestra too well. But as music director he could instigate a new feeling and new initiatives. Dudamel is going to Paris Opéra so he’s out and the others not good enough..

  • Johnny van Grinsven says:

    This article is just so full of misinformation I don’t even know where to start.

    The previous admin did NOT give ANY list to choose from. The process is ALL in hands of the musicians. It is a unique process in which the top choices enjoy a big support in the orchestra. That is what you want: a chief that has a big support by the musicians. For this fact a lot of names on your lists make no sense since the orchestra has no or a minimal relationship with them.

    Other orchestra’s simply get presented a chief without any consent of the musicians with mostly no good results.

    The Concertgebouw musicians choose their own.

    And what does ‘unavailable’ even mean when someone has a contract till 2022, 2023 or even 2024? In terms of future season planning that’s a short period of time.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      The previous administration invited the conductors from whom the musicians made their choice. Some were invited at the suggestion of the musicians, some not. In any event, the outcome is a poor one. The orchestra needs to make connections with a wider range of conductors. QED.

      • Edgar says:

        Quod Erat Demonstrandum, indeed. In Nornisch: “Weisst du, wie das wird? …”

      • Johnny van Grinsven says:

        You can say that in your opinion it is a poor one since we are entitled to our own opinions. You can’t say it IS a poor one since all of these three are top conductors and the orchestra has a great relationship with these three candidates.

        Over the years the orchestra played the best concerts probably with these three conductors.

        Pappano, Möst, Dudamel, Honeck and Luisi have all conducted the orchestra over the last years and because of the sudden departure of a chief conductor and the necesity of choosing a new one it seems logical that the orchestra falls back on the ones they worked the most and the best with.

        The question is: we as an audience would love Dudamel to come more often but why it’s 8 years ago?

    • SVM says:

      This player democracy may be unusual, but it is certainly not “unique”. Does not the Berlin Phil have a similar process for appointing a new director?

  • Jon H says:

    Back in the days of orchestra recording contracts – I really would’ve cared more who was directing in Amsterdam or Chicago – but since I don’t live in Amsterdam or New York (or Chicago), I just don’t hear them very much anymore. It would be different if they had something like Berlin’s Digital Concert Hall. [The CSO has radio broadcasts, but there seems to be a lot of rebroadcasting in the mix.] This is more a decision for the people who listen to that orchestra all the time and the players who have to deal with them on a daily basis. I just hope they choose someone they enjoy working with.

    • Ilio says:

      This is not the 20th Century. Concertgebouw broadcasts can be heard almost every Sunday on Netherlands Radio 4 on-line. Live most of the time.

      • MWnyc says:

        And Netherlands Radio 4 keeps its concert broadcasts available for on-demand streaming for something like two years — and brings older ones in and out of rotation on separate pages besides.

  • Edgar says:

    The Dutch daily “de Volkskrant”, which received the leak with the top three candicates’ names, ends its article with a paragraph which Norman did not point out and which, in my opinion, is the most important:

    “The Concertgebouw Orchestra is traditionally considered one of the best symphony orchestras in the world, but has to be creative to maintain that status: many orchestras have more money at their disposal. That is one of the reasons – the other most important is time – that one of the remaining candidates has yet to say yes to the KCO.” [translated using deepl.com]

    The savage cuts in Dutch cultural life and institutions which is the hallmark of the terrible neoliberal regime of Prime Minister Rutte (who is in power far too long) is certainly one of the most responsible factors here.

    Under these dire circumstances I join Wagner’s norns: “Weisst du, wie [und wer] das wird?…”

  • Musiclover says:

    Honestly, all 3 conductors on the list got great results from the Concertgebouw, judging from broadcasts/recordings. Even Gergiev’s concerts with them are thrilling, with a wide range of repertoire (just listened to some of the radio broadcasts and the new Rach 3 recording), consider how slapdash he can be at times.

    Apparently Nelsons is a (close to) ideal choice. I personally think his sound fit the Concertgebouw better than the Gewandhausorchester. Contrary to his mentor Mariss Jansons who love big sound, his intelligent approach may suit the Concertgebouw even more.

    Just my personal opinion though.

    • fflambeau says:

      He also is the conductor of one of the wealthiest groups in the world: the Boston Symphony Orchestra. It’s in a major, innovative city (Harvard and MIT are in the area.) It is at least as good as the Concertgebouw. I doubt very much he will leave.

  • Karajon says:

    Scapucci? Seriously?

  • Michael Landman-Karny says:

    Joana Mallwitz is spelled with one “N” and she would be a great choice.

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    There are so many guest conductors employed these days, that I’m surprised more orchestras haven’t gone the Vienna Phil. route. Whomever they pick, they’ll need to have decent Mahler credentials. If a conductor genuinely doesn’t like Mahler (few these days), they’ll be miserable in Amsterdam. Personally, I think we’re getting to a point in time where it almost doesn’t matter who’s up in front of these incredible orchestras.

  • Evan Tucker says:

    Not a bad list, but a number of great ones who have the time in their schedules and deserve much better than they get are missing:

    Markus Stenz
    Thomas Hengelbrock
    Juanjo Mena
    John Storgards
    Andrey Boreyko
    Hannu Lintu
    Mikko Franck
    David Robertson
    Ingo Metzmacher
    Jukka-Pekka Saraste
    Lodivic Morlot
    I’m sure there are some I’m forgetting… and how is nobody mentioning Francois-Xavier Roth???

    I suspect that the names I just mentioned are ‘too good’ for the Concertgebouw. Certainly not ‘too good’ in the sense that the Concertgebouw doesn’t deserve greatness, and not in the sense that Jansons and Gatti weren’t quite good in their differing ways, but some conductors are too challenging, too demanding of change, to not upset the powers that be in an orchestra that is so part of the establishment that all the main product they sell technical excellence in established repertoire. It’s really a shame, the Concertgebouw has the clout to create paradigm shifts in the way people hear classical music. Whomever took on that challenge would find it as rough-going as Rattle did Berlin, but the alternative is irrelevance to the world, an irrelevance that increases every year until the long-term structural problems of classical music’s mass extinction are solved.

  • Victor Medem Maier says:

    Shows it was a major mistake to sack Gatti

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    The last four names in category A are the more plausible candidates. It would be good to have Franz Welster M. in Amsterdam & Simon Rattle in Munich.

  • Wise Guy says:

    Why not Alsop? This site has her an an A-lister for everything…

  • Karl says:

    Nagano is leaving Montreal. He has done excellent work there. He definitely has the best hair. Give the Berkley Boy a chance!

  • Joker says:

    It must be MTT (Michael Tilson Thomas).

  • Axl says:

    Andris Nelsons would be prapably the best for them. But I’m also supporting Paavo Järvi who could be potential candidate. Also Gustavo Gimeno (their former principal percussion) would be great choice because he’s their own and he’s version of Die Fledermaus Overture with C’bouw was fasinating and fantastic! And Pablo Heras-Casado who conducts their own Youth orchestra

  • George says:

    How about zaking a young, talented one. e.g. Lorenzo Viotti?

  • fflambeau says:

    I find it fascinating that all the Category A choices work in the USA except the first one. I suspect Osmo Vänskä and
    Manfred Honeck are the first two choices for the CSO position after Muti retires. Honeck might be in line at the New York Philharmonic, as well. I very much doubt that Dudamel is going to leave his position too.

    Maybe Marin Alsop (if she doesn’t get the CSO top job?).

    I don’t think the Category B conductors are any improvement on the list already provided.

  • fflambeau says:

    I think I have it.

    Marin Alsop to Amsterdam (she’s good; she’s a female in a progressive country; she’s a big name; she can sell records). She’s well known in the UK (think the Proms) and the USA already. Simon Rattle might be a good choice here. It would be a huge win for feminists.

    Chicago is a bit too conservative for her, and also perhaps for Vänskä. I think they will select Honeck, especially since the German-American, Ken-David Masur, is pressing them to the North. Honeck would be an excellent fit. They are supreme in the Italian repertoire, now it’s time to go on to the German masters. Honeck can do that with them. Easy for him to take over guest conducting gigs in Vienna too.

    Vänskä to Korea and perhaps Japan and/or China too. He seems an adventurous soul. He’s very talented and could also end up in Amsterdam but I sense he wants to go Asian. He’s a bit older but that is no obstacle in Asia.

    That leaves Pittsburgh open (it’s a good group and a good city, so I think they will have lots of choices). Kristina Canellakis would be good but perhaps too much of an extreme for Pittsburgh? Perhaps the young but talented Joshua Weilerstein?

    The Dude and Essa stay put where they are.

  • fflambeau says:

    My choices:

    Marin Alsop to Amsterdam (with another contender in Simon Rattle)
    Honeck to Chicago;
    Joshua Weilerstein to Pittsburgh;
    Osmo V. to Korea and the Far East;
    Noseda to Minnesota.
    Cannelakis to Washington, D.C.
    The Dude and Essa stand pat (they’re in heaven already).

  • Ilio says:

    Vanska is a light weight.

  • Strada says:

    Wouldn’t it be refreshing for the RCO to work together with an upcoming young conductor like Rouvali, Petrenko (Vasily) or Heras-Casado? Last night Rouvali made his début with the orchestra in a challenging program: overture La forza del destino – Verdi, Ariadne – Verbey (world première) and opera-oratorio Oedipus Rex – Stravinsky. It was fantastic. The orchestra sounded very bright and colourful. His direction was graceful and clear. He should be on the list.

  • Adi says:

    Vladimir Jurowski would be an apt choice. What wonderful work he has done both at the LPO and Glyndebourne. A major talent, as many of his superb recordings on LPO label so resoundingly confirm.

  • Karl says:

    Donald Runnicles has the class and the profile for Amsterdam. He is an A – lister. The same holds for Myung-whun Chung.

  • Grabenassel says:

    …good there are so many who can tell Concertgebouw what to do…..

  • Gerard says:

    too bad that Sir Mark Elder is not on the list..he would be the perfect candidate…always interesting programmes and his talks before a concert is always a joy to hear, he really has something to say, and he is a great orchestra builder and very reliable

  • Ger says:

    Nelsons will be the next conducteur.. …

  • ylu says:

    Jonathan Nott or Vasily Petrenko!

  • EJM says:

    Take Franz Welser-Möst, please! We’ve had enough of his mediocrity in Cleveland already.

  • Gerard says:

    Santtu-Matias Rouvali made a very good impression, the newspapers were very positive..but seems he’s not on the list. He could make a chance
    … the article says: why chose safe and dull Rolex maestro’s ? https://www.trouw.nl/cultuur-media/waarom-kiezen-voor-veilige-en-saaie-rolex-maestro-s~b696c950/