Franz Welser-Möst: I have 7 more years in Cleveland

The Austrian music director, who turns 60 next month, has been talking about his future, ahead of the publication of an autoiography.

He has some acerbic comments about certain opera managers and is bleakly realistic about the post-Covid future.

His one firm intention is to remain at the head of the Cleveland Orchestra until 2027, when he will be 67.

After that, who knows?

 

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  • I lived in the vicinity of Cleveland 2005-2014, so I attended many of his performances. Nothing too shabby, but nothing too brilliant either. Puzzled as to how he got such a prestigious job. His candour about opera managers and post-Covid-19 will be interesting. Will he be equally candid about his marriage?

    • Is his marriage of any concern to you or anyone else, as opposed to the world of opera or classical music?

    • I’ve been listening to several CO broadcasts via streaming, and most of them were conducted by FWM. There was a Mahler 9th from several years back. On its own terms, I thought it was excellent. No need to make comparisons. However, so many of the other broadcast performances seemed inconsequential to me. I’ve stopped listening unless someone else is conducting.

    • Looking backwards is rarely helpful but I can’t help recalling that in the 1950’s when George Szell was both Music Director in Cleveland and Co-Director of the now RCO he was debating whether to make Amsterdam his full-time residence. Since then the RCO has become a less and less appealing position and the CO is led by a conductor who is generally regarded as competent at best. For all the talk about the “maestro myth” imo the question of the future of the symphony orchestra, post-COVID, requires a return to exceptional/inspired leadership.

      • Well I am not convinced. I think that it will be possible for the next RCO musical director to work in another orchestra the same year. Haitink dis that with th LPO and Mariss with the Runkfund

  • I love the Cleveland Orchestra, but I’m so disappointed in so many things that happened under FWM’s tenure. I really wish the orchestra would have done a better job planning and promoting its 100th season. It was just more of the same. Across the country, the LA Philharmonic also turned 100 and their season was brilliant, poignant and thoughtful. It’s time to breathe new life into the world of classical music. Let’s see more representation from women, and people of color. I mean I love the New World Symphony, but I’ve seen them perform it a bazillion times. Don’t underestimate your audience!

    • The truth is that the most exciting things happening in classical music in the USA are happening in the West: Seattle, San Francisco, and LA.

      • Oh, there’s* very exciting stuff happening in New York City and Philadelphia. Much of it is not happening at the most famous institutions.

        *Well, there was very exciting stuff before you-know-what.

  • He was that cosa rara, an actual Austrian in charge of the Vienna State Opera. Who was th last before him, Karajan, briefly? Then bacck to the 1930s, Mahler (I think an Austro-Hungarian Bohemian) and names even I barely remember.

    I like Welser-Moest and wish him happiness and continued success. I want to read that book. He brought the Clevelanders to Orchestra Hall for a gem of a concert, at the conclusion of which he turned to us, spread his arms wide to retro-embrace the warm applause, smiled broadly and said, “I l o v e Chicago. But now we would like to play you music from my country,”an encore by Johann Strauss II, than which nothing could be finer.

    • Before FWM, Karajan was the last Austrian conductor to be general manager of the Vienna State Opera.

      In between, there were several Austrian general managers:
      Egon Hilbert (1964–68)
      Heinrich Reif-Gintl (1968–72)
      Rudolf Gamsjäger (1972–76)
      Egon Seefehlner (first term, 1976–82 & 1984–86)
      Eberhard Wächter (1991–92)

      Wächter was the only musician from this list.

      • 0
        Many thanks, Petros Linardus, for this information. I remember Hilbert, and Waechter, a good bariton who was named G.M. and then died while walking in the park as I recccall.

        I’m rteying to remember the chief conducctor rom cc. 1930, something like FranzShuh, who recorded a delightful Pastoral Symphony with the very woodsy winds of the VPO around that time.

    • Karl Böhm was as Austrian as they come, and did two terms as director, one during the latter years of the war (43-45) and one immediately before Karajan (54-56).

  • When he was conducting in London, the critics referred to him as ‘Frankly Worse than Most’. I once sat in at the recording sessions for Mahler 4 with the LPO where he seemed extremely competent – hard for him to shake off the Cleveland = Szell tag, like Elder vs Barbirolli at the Hallé.

  • I look forward to his departure. I have attended TCO concerts since 1999. FWM’s concerts are consistently uninspired and pedestrian.

    He has even managed, as of late, to blur the sound of an orchestra renowned for its clarity. One must ask oneself, how does one make one of the finest ensembles in the world sound mediocre.

    And what about the programming? Half of the music programmed is experimental and you can see the annoyance in the faces of patrons at having to sit through it. Such music belongs in a university setting, not in one of the finest concert halls in America.

    We have been sold FWM as a brilliant foreign conductor who is fiercely promoting new music. The only person who lives up to that title is Gianandrea Noseda, who incidentally, conducted the finest concert I have ever experienced in Severance Hall.

    • The moment you used the attribute „foreign“, in regard to a musician and his qualities, you lost me.
      Who cares?

      • It’s still used as a selling point, regardless of whether one cares or not (if you read carefully, E.M. didn’t actually offer an opinion). Not so blatant as “he’s foreign so he must be good,” but rather “he has a native’s understanding of the music of his native country,” leaving the audience to infer that he’s got an advantage Americans don’t have.

    • I agree with you that Gianandrea Noseda is really, really good. I don’t know about Cleveland under FWM, but Noseda is the real deal.

    • E.M.
      I agree with you but it’s not fair to compare him to Noseda. Noseda is probably one of the Top 5 conductors in the world.

  • It’s heresy, and I respect Szell as pianist wit, arranger. and conductor, but under him the Cleveland Orchestra sounded both hard-driven and under strength. Szell sounds like a different man in Prague, Berlin, Amsterdam, or Vienna. Cleveland was lucky to have him, and San Francisco benefied from one of the eagerly awaited Georg Szell’s Annual Fits that rid us of the hapless Enrique Jorda and sent him racking to South Africa and the Spanish bull-fighting arenas.

    His piano records of Mozart’s piano quartets and Brahms quintet with Budapest Quartet, and accompanying violin sonatas are masterly. Capping it is the story of rehearsing a Brahms concerto with Clifford Curzon, who repeatedly fluffed a passage, threw up his hands and went out for a smoke. Szell watched him leave, went to the piano and played the passage perfectly from memory. What’s so hard about that?” he said. Hs work at the Met is another chapter.

    His Strauss Lieder with Schwarzkopf and Beethoven concerto with Bronislaw Hubermann reveal a different man. He recorded Strauss waltzes with the VPO before the war. The Hubermann is 1934; the Strauss Lieder from his last year.

    So many Hungarian conductors: Ormandy, Dorati, Reiner, Solti. Sandor Salgo, Szell, Dohnanyi. Then the flood of pianists– Sari Biro, Erno Daniel, and strange Ervin Nyiregyhazi all of whom I knew; Geza Anda, Cziffra, Istvan Nadas, Gyorgy Sandor, Edward Kilenyi; violinists Frederic Balazs I knew, Emil Yelmanyi and his Vega bow, Joseph Szigeti, Sandor Vegh, Barnabs Geczy and his Gypsy ensemble accompanying Miliza “Gorgeous” Korjus; cellist Janos Starker.

    At one time the Vienna night train didn’t leave Budapest without at least one defecting musician aboard.

    • Sorry but I’m sick of reading about Szell in Europe as steel wrapped in velvet; it is nonsense. Similarly, I’m not sure what “under strength” means but I would urge you to search the web for the tape of the 1965 concert Szell led in Amsterdam with the CO of Wagner, Barber and Schubert and tell me if it is anything short of a force of nature. The orchestra was recorded poorly by Columbia but if you sample any of the re-mastered recordings on You Tube the results are superb. I wish Mr. Bloom was still with us for many reasons, in this case, to succinctly address your critique. Last, the incident with SFSO which led to Jorda’s being relaced by Krips was not due to an annual Szell Fit but rather the meddling of then local critic and program annotator Alfred Frankenstein. Szell was prepared to leave quietly after a week of unsatisfactory performances until AF told him he should apologize to Jorda and to make amends invite him to lead the CO. That led to the subsequent uproar and ultimate dismissal of Jorda.

    • You should also mention Laszlo Varga– soloist, recording artist, authoritative cello teacher, and principal cellist of the New York Philharmonic.

    • Fellow heretic here. Totally willing to acknowledge the amazing precision of the CO under Szell, but never heard a recording that touched me.

      The only recording I’ve heard of him with another orchestra is the Dvorak Cello Concerto with Fournier. It’s fantastic (the cello playing too, but I mean the conducting).

  • I’ve never really been much of a fan or understood how he has kept that job so long. Obviously there must be a good deal of satisfaction with him from the musicians and management, but it’s hard for me to think of a less interesting conductor. He conducts the music accurately.

    I’ve seen him and Cleveland live three times. There actually was one very good concert that features Mozart’s 25th and Shostakovich’s 7th symphonies. But I was far less taken with performances of Bruckner’s 5th and Mahler’s 7th.

    • The answer is simple: money. Unfortunately, a major part of music director searches in the US is the capacity to bring in money, and Frankly Worse than Most brings in a lot of overseas cash. Musicians aren’t satisfied with him to say the least, but everyone is satisfied that he is keeping them afloat financially.

    • He is solid but boring, never exciting but decent and well connected within certain circles – in German one would call him ‚Oberlehrer‘ – just thinking of fascinating Kiril Petrenko instead….
      FWM perfectly fits into the Salzburg Summer Festival Circus and it’s boring audience

      • Maestro Franz Welser Möst is a great and very successful conductor. I find his Bruckner, Brahms, Strauss and Wagner particularly exciting. Welser Möst career is mega and he conducts all major orchestras…. He has been chief conductor in Clevelnd since 2002. He’s also a regular guest in München, Wien, Dresden, Salzburg, Zürich, Milano and New York!

  • FWM is no Furtwangler or even a Szell, but Cleveland could have done worse and many orchestras do. Even if he’s not particularly inspired, he always seems competent and prepared, he has a mammoth repertoire and always manages programs interesting music. There are nights when he can truly surprise you, and he really gets the music of his countrymen and in Austrian music can really be quite something. They never should have given him Cleveland – but if he were the same level of conductor in St. Louis or Cincinnati everybody who hates him would be singing his praises. It’s an Ormandy-like partnership, overrated and oversold for business reasons, but competent, reliable, and occasionally inspired.

    They could have done much better in their search for a new director, but they wanted the smoothest possible transition away from Dohnanyi, and they got it. If they had waited two more years, they might have gotten Riccardo Chailly, and Chailly would have been an ideal fit for Cleveland and I think would have been happy enough to stick around much longer than he did in Leipzig. But they also might have been stuck in the lurch without a director for years in the way Boston and Chicago were, and that wouldn’t have been good for anybody.

    So two cheers for a thoroughly decent partnership where nobody embarrassed themselves. It wasn’t great, but FWM saved them from much worse problems, and the Cleveland Orchestra still fundamentally sounds like the Cleveland Orchestra

    On to Hrusa….

    • Aside from your comment ” or even Szell” I think your analysis is accurate. That said it is artistically criminal that an orchestra which many regarded as second to none was entrusted to someone with decidedly mediocre credentials. Immediately after Szell’s passing entrusting the orchestra to someone like Louis Lane to serve as a “caretaker” would have been appropriate but not as a long-term solution. Given that CvD had given adequate notice of his intention to leave those in charge should have done much better for both the orchestra and the community.

  • He conducted one heck of a Mahler 8 in Vienna. But that was with the V.P.O. and a very solid cast of soloists, performed in the correct concert hall for such a huge work (Das Konzerthaus), complete with a huge and refurbished pipe organ. It was a win/win situation. I wish the C-Major label would issue it on DVD.

  • The news is that Franz Welser-Moest will have seven more years in Cleveland. The question is, will they be lean years or fat years after a famine.

    Siegmund’s two octave cries of “”Waelse! Waelse” [n Act I of “Die Walkuere” were not a plea for more Moest. They almost threw Lauritz Melchior’s segue to a quasi-remote pitch immediately following on ‘Wo ist mein Schwert, proving he was human after all in an otherwise stupendous performance with Lotte Lehmann, Bruno Walter and the VPO, never even approached in my experience.

    Melchior’s under-rated poetic word-sense, inflexion, tonal variety, elocution, clear German, and stentorian brawn are heroic, his finest role, undiminished by time or later buffonery. And Walter is a little better than Furtwaengler, who makes his Siegmund sound really tired with a slow opening tempo.

    Walter has one the best casts ever assembled though splayed over two cities, three years, two onductors (Bruno Seidler-Winkler), two orchestras and newcast for Act II’s final scene, and some of the best singers, including as Wotan-Wanderer 28-year-old Hans Hotter in magnificent voice; he had yet to essay it on any stage. A Great Recording worthy of the name.

    My Furtwaengler references are to his last recording with the VPO for HMV, finished three months before his death at 68 in 1954. I was in Heidelberg that year and witnessed part o his funeral there, and saw Hotter, Moedl, and Windgassen in the Bayreuth “Ring” that August, one of the signal events of my life.

  • Cheers Edgar Self: Earlier you named a whole plethora of Hungarian Conductors and Pianists. You forgot one of the most acclaimed ones: Ferenc Fricsay (1914/63) and Annie Fischer (1914/95). Just a thought!

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