Vienna Phil puts on 80th birthday old pal’s show

Vienna Phil puts on 80th birthday old pal’s show


norman lebrecht

February 20, 2020

Christoph Eschenbach is 80 today.

The Vienna Philharmonic is giving him a concert tonight.

The Konzerthaus in Berlin will put on a small festival next week with best mates Lang Lang, Midori and Tzimon Barto.

Celebrations are muted at his serial US orchestras in Houston, Philadelphia and Washington DC.



  • Eschenbach deserves something special. He made a very good carrer as pianist and as conductor in Germany and in Paris. I realy like his Sommernachtskonzert at Schönbrunn with winer also.

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    I have not heard him conduct any of the American orchestras, but he is probably at his best when conducting Vienna Philharmonic. This very individual orchestra tends to bring out the best in conductors who tend towards mannerism in their work with other orchestras. This was certainly the case with Karajan ( he had less power over them than his Berlin orchestra), Solti and Bernstein.

  • Jon H says:

    Well Eschenbach is like Thielemann, Welsor Most, or Honeck – and really every conductor – if you buy in to what they’re doing, you will find enjoyment in what they do – and if you don’t, you won’t.

    • Jon H says:

      I just remember when he was conducting the Mahler 5, there was a youngish couple next to me, and for the adagietto there were not enough Kleenexes for the girl next to me. Maybe the reviews are mixed, but if people are getting emotional anyway… I should’ve reached over and told her this conductor sucks!

      • Jon H says:

        Seriously though, if my least favorite conductor turns someone onto a favorite piece of music, I think something good has been achieved – and then they’ll go on to discover the other versions.

    • Monsoon says:

      The other side of this is the behind the scenes. The musicians of the Philadelphia Orchestra were pretty open in their loathing for him, and I don’t recall the NSO musicians ever being particular enthusiastic about him. It’s pretty uncommon for musicians to be so open about their dislike of a conductor.

      Having heard Eschenbach a number of times, I think he accidentally falls into good performances. He spends too much time focusing on tempo and not enough on phrasing and balance.

      • Barry says:

        I was initially very excited when his hiring was announced in Philadelphia based on a couple previous guest appearances I had attended. While, as you say, there were some good performances mixed in, there is no denying his five-year tenure in Philly was a disaster for the Orchestra. It was impossible not to notice the extent to which their level of play dropped off from the Sawallisch years (or that they’ve sounded better again since he left).

      • Jim says:

        The Houston Symphony musicians adored him. He rebuilt had the orchestra playing very well. His Mahler and Bruckner are wonderful; there is tremendous depth and creativity in those performances. He has his weak points, but in that repertory he is elite.

      • Hilary says:

        You don’t just accidentally turn out a good performance of Messiaen’s 80 minute “Canyons aux Étoiles”. This is a very complex score and CE was completely in command of the structural arch of a piece which can easily be rather wearisome in the wrong hands.

      • Not a CE Admirer says:

        And his tempi are invariably wrong.

      • NYMike says:

        Focusing on tempo?? My impression backed up by Philly Orch. friends was that he lacked pulse among other faults.

  • Do they pay your bills? says:

    He is aging well. He’s looked 80 for the past 30 years.

  • RW2013 says:

    Is it acceptable just to say Happy Birthday?

  • Evan Tucker says:

    I just don’t understand the Eschenbach-hatred. . I have never heard a better live Mahler 2 than I heard him give in the second-last week of his tenure at the NSO. He has a mammoth repertoire and he brings genuine insight to all of it. So his performances can be dirty, there are so many musicians out there who can play perfectly while bringing to the music no heart or brain. So he gets paid too much money, is he the real problem with the inflation of performer payment

    It’s true. The Philadelphia Orchestra seemed to hate him, but they hated him partially because he was imposed by management, and even if they ran him out of town, he still came back pretty often as a guest so his ego clearly wasn’t so enormous that the experience could truly bruise it. His departure from the Houston Symphony was a love fest. One longtime Houston Symphony member said that Eschenbach was the very best of all the directors he’d played under: which included Fricsay and Stokowski – apparently the only director who could even compete in his estimation with Eschenbach was Barbirolli! Soloists love to work with him, he gives enormous amounts of time to younger musicians, he’s clearly enormously well-read and cultured, he seems to be nice and generous to 99% of the people he meets. Except for his baton technique and a little too much money, he’s everything we say we want out of our conductors, but apparently it’s not enough….

  • Brian from DC. says:

    Happy Birthday, Eschi!
    The Chicago Symphony has posted a nice tribute and will celebrate his 80th this summer. Bamberg, Paris and Schleswig Holstein are also celebrating his birthday. Not bad for a conductor who is trashed by many on SD.

  • Edgar Self says:

    “The Vienna Philharmonic is the easiest orchestra in the world to conduct as long as I do nothing to disturb them … I give the downbeat, and they start playing the middle of next week.”
    — Pierre Boulez

  • Chris says:

    A mediocre conductor with the right political connections and friends

  • Richard Zencker says:

    I always wondered what became of John Smith, I mean Tzimon Barto.

    • Edgar Self says:

      Richard Zencker == Barto always re0surfaces wherever Eschenbach appears. They are old, ah, friends. Barto is still a considerable pianist, has written novels, mastered languages, and recorded two of the best Scott Joplin pieces and Schubert “Moments musicaux” I’ve heard. When he’s good, he’s very good.

      I finally got to see him play live a few years ago, a recital at ravinia with Brahms’s Paganini variations complete and Liszt’s Paganini etudes and a modern work he played with glasses from a miniature score teetering on the rack. Very worthwhile, and only the second time in my life that I’ve seen the Brahms played live.

      The reputations of Horowitz, Werner Baertschi, Michelangeli, Schnabel, and Edwin Fischer are safe, but Barto was in their class. Unlike Horowitz, Barto unfortunately did not play Busoni’s charming edition of Liszt’s octaves etude.