Where’s Maestro?

Where’s Maestro?


norman lebrecht

June 22, 2020

One of the salient features of the Covid crisis has been the distance that has been drawn between orchestras and their music directors. Very few orchestras these days have conductors who live in the same city, or even the same country.

With the singular exceptions of the LA Phil and the SanFran Symphony, no major US orchestra had its maestro close at hand during the tragedies, anxieties and isolation of the first Covid quarter. Chicago’s chief is in Italy, Boston’s in Germany, Cleveland’s in Austria, the Met’s and Philadelphia’s in Canada.

The situation was slightly different in the UK where the London Symphony Orchestra, for instance, was in close Zoom contact with Simon Rattle, but he lives in Berlin and may not be seen in quarantine-zone London any time soon (though he has conducted this month in Munich and Prague). By contrast, Tony Pappano stayed close to Covent Garden and Liverpool’s Vasily Petrenko and the Halle’s Mark Elder were also local and at hand.

The situation varied across Europe. Most international Finns stayed home in Finland. Alan Gilbert was round the corner from the Royal Swedish Opera. Valery Gergiev was in St Petersburg, far from his Munich orchestra, Paavo Järvi was not in Zurich, where he heads the Tonhalle orchestra. Fabio Luisi, who heads the opera, was. He also held private and impromptu Zoom recitals with his Dallas musicians.

Gergiev is expected to fly to Munich this week for two concerts for 100 people, tested before departure and again on arrival.

Many orchestras will look back on this period as one when the bonds with chief conductors loosened. It could be a defining moment.




  • Fiddlist says:

    All don’t hail the chief.

  • marcus says:

    Surely they have been long regarded as guns for hire with about as much loyalty (whatever that is these days) as premier league footballers-always looking for the next step up the greasy pole.The days of the likes of Mravinsky or Ormandy are very long gone.

    • The View from America says:

      There are a few out there, but they’re the exception, unfortunately — at least among the leading orchestras.

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        One famous conductor is as far away from the orchestra as you can get – 35,000 feet.

        • M2N2K says:

          Your reference to DH is obvious and maybe even justified, but the distance you cited is not more than just a little over 10 km which would be within limits of any large city – hardly “as far away from the orchestra as you can get”.

    • Peter Phillips says:

      Not sure that Mravinski and Ormandy are useful examples. A couple of Leningrad Phil players told me in the early 80s that they were fed up with him and that he should have gone years earlier. Let’s not forget that Rattle stayed at Birmingham for 18 years and Berlin for 15 years. Also, Vladimir Jurowski has been with the LPO for 15 years. Salonen was with the Philharmonia for a fair while too.

  • MacroV says:

    Some enhanced. Kirill Petrenko has conducted BPO ensembles in several terrific concerts, and they talk about how one upside to the COVID shutdown has been that he’s been able to work on a more intimate basis with the musicians at the start of his tenure.

  • Even more important will be what happens when the regular seasons are due to begin in September. What if the music directors cannot get to the cities where they lead due to the two-week quarantine that might still be in place in the States? Even today, one cannot fly between Florida and New York.

    • Gus says:

      Not such a problem in Europe. My daughter who had been in France was able 2 weeks ago to travel from Grenoble to the UK by train with minimal inconvenience. Paris was back to normal, people in shops and cafes, but London was a ghost town.

      Let’s start up soon and get back to normal.

    • CarlD says:

      I’m set to fly from Atlantic City to Tampa next month, and I know Spirit started flying that route a couple of weeks ago. So maybe JFK & Newark are back on line, too, or will be soon, Leonard?

    • NYMike says:

      Nothing in NY will begin in September. As of now, January ’21 is the current starting date but absent a vaccine that can be pushed back. It’s possible that the entire ’20-’21 season can be lost.

  • CanuckPlayer says:

    Close ties between the players and orchestra are, in America basically fictional and have been for some time. These people are “music directors” in name only. They are onstage for high profile projects and appear for fundraising but the artistic program for the institution is created by administrators and consultants.

  • fflambeau says:

    Not surprising since many conductors have gigs in multiple cities and also with covid cancellations.

  • Musician at Home says:

    This is one of the stupidest, most ill informed, irrelevant posts I’ve seen on this site.

    You want the conductor to be physically present for what?

    I am teleconsulting my doctors. If I don’t need my doctors to be physically present, I certainly don’t need my conductor to be physically present in an empty hall where all the musicians and administrators are at home furloughed and the season cancelled until next year.