Maestros are starting to lose it in lockdown

Maestros are starting to lose it in lockdown


norman lebrecht

February 12, 2021

Riccardo Muti has appealed to Italy’s incoming Prime Minister Mario Draghi to reopen the opera houses, despite dangerously high levels of Covid infections and deaths.

Muti, 80 this year, said: ‘I appeal to Draghi, an extraordinary person, so that he can restore the dignity to culture in Italy that it deserves.’

In Dresden, Christian Thielemann is having a very public falling out with intendant Peter Theiler, who cancelled an impossibly large rehearsal for Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben. ‘You can’t believe how disappointed I am that an orchestra like the Staatskapelle is not allowed to play and that we haven’t made more efforts to make something possible,’ said Thielemann.


  • Alexander says:

    of course all operas and concert halls should be opened. it’s evident.
    PS by the way, speaking of Italy, why didn’t you mention that “Salome” with Elina Stikhina ( the best Salome these days) is onstage at Scala on the 20th of February? Mr. Mehta conducts. I think RAI will be streaming it, hopefully for free 😉

  • John Borstlap says:

    Well, they get impatient, and don’t think of the sick and the deaths. They should take their collegue Van Zweden as an example, who kept quiet, used his extra time to study scores, and play the violin again, and who donated half a million to the NY Phil and carefully prepares for season 21/22.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      Way to go.

    • Fake David Letterman says:


      10) Only US major city where he can take people out to a haughty tier-two “authentic” Italian restaurant and credibly boast that the pretentious pizza served is superior to the local American version (i)

      9) He can blame the dreadful Orchestra Hall acoustics if the Orchestra plays Bruckner or Brahms with a Rossini sound. Or, he can spin the ridiculous sound as proof of Italian composers’ enduring cultural dominance on European music (Naïve fans and clueless critics will give him credence all the same)

      8) Early morning, post-breakfast, mid-morning, pre-rehearsal, pre-lunch, early afternoon, post-rehearsal, middle afternoon, pre-concert 6-hour naps. (“And when I tell the local papers that MD is a most demanding job, the morons print it every time!”)

      7) CSO Management is maso-submissive and rewards his photo-ops on the musicians’ picket lines with a multi-million $ contract extension (ii)

      6) He can institute a hostile work environment where extremely-hard-to-replace, world-class wind and brass principals pack up their bags and leave for greener pastures; he can replace the same principals with complete rookies, and still get praised by the Chicago Tribune for improving the level of the Orchestra (iii)

      5) Having held for his entire life the belief that Americans are ignorant, arrogant, stupid and (unforgivable sin) don’t understand a word of Italian, Maestro calculates that he can outsmart them all with ease by using Italian at the office as a secret code (iv)

      4) By trash talking Mahler as a composer on the Tribune, he can hide his own inability to make sense of the Austrian’s epic symphonies while throwing mud on Chicago’s Abbado memories (that’s killing two birds with one stone)


      3) People at the CSO are Midwestern-nice: frequently, they tell him that he looks much more handsome now than when he was a 30-something stud (v). More importantly, deep in his guts, he knows that soon enough they’ll let him conduct without a mask

      2) Belfort-style fringe benefits available to him both in town and on tour

      1) Wise guy bragging rights for his summer vacation in Southern Italy: in the city of Al Capone, HE is the Big Boy now!!!

      Have a Great Day everyone!


      i) Ouch, sorry Chicago’s deep dish lovers, this one is admittedly below the belt 😉 but it’s for a good cause!

      ii) Let’s clear one point once and for all: that was not, as cynics say, a most lame negotiating tactic to appease the Orchestra and reap the craved MD extension (and put the nail to the coffin of Salonen’s concerts at the same time). Oh no, folks: it was all part of the noble battle for Culture, Beauty, Mind and Soul!

      iii) Don’t believe it? Check out “Italian Masterworks”, Cavalleria Intermezzo, 1:30 for a hilarious oboe blunder captured for posterity (as well as for a sample of the exhausted Muti-signature orchestral sound)

      iv) Recorded in the chronicles as a textbook case of unreservedly reckless calculation

      v) A foolproof method to pump up Muti’s pride and energy levels and have his heart rate reach the 75% zone at 35 bpm, particularly before important concerts. Works every time.

      • Greg Bottini says:

        “Chicago style deep-dish pizza” isn’t pizza at all.
        It’s a casserole.

      • Old Man in the Midwest says:

        Good List.

        Any you never once had him on your show before you retired.

      • Former David Letterman Fan says:

        Wow… I think you are just a bitter person venting, but at least you do it with some class, and good spelling. There are some merits to what you rant on about. However, you let slip your personal bitter feelings when you say things about deep dish pizzas and “Rossini orchestra”, not to mention resentment for afternoon naps for an octogenarian…

        The whole world has known Muti’s gargantuan ego and his obsession with his looks. Also well known are his sense of rival with Abbado, as well as his farcical claims of superiority of Italian music over German. No need to make fun of these, as a part of bitter attack on the man, for no apparent reason. This article is about him and others feeling frustrated about the pandemic. Talk about that!

        Has he done any harm to you personally? The reason for your sophomoric attack, as well done as it was, is lost on all of us… Are you a member of the orchestra, with your close knowledge of some of these things? You’ll never acknowledge it if you are, of course…

    • Theodor Adorno says:

      a more likely explanation is that van zweden and borda strong-armed a NYP board member into coughing up the 500k donation to make it in his name. he is legendarily greedy…

      • John Borstlap says:

        Someone who sets-up a entire foundation – including a large building staffed with teachers – for autistic youngsters, with extensive music programs (because it appears that music greatly helps development in autistic children), plus a national network of music programs for autistic children, cannot quite be stamped as greedy. All of this was not to provide the best service for his own autistic child, but to share his experience with others. And it all costs a lot of money. Compare that with Karajan, for instance.

  • Stephen Diviani says:

    There’s no evidence that attending a concert or any other cultural event with a socially distanced audience wearing masks is somehow dangerous. I went to a number of indoor cultural events last year and felt safer than I do when shopping in supermarkets. After almost a year since the first lockdown in the UK I haven’t contracted Covid – I have had two antigen tests both were negative – because I exercised some common sense. Muti is right.

    • Greg Bottini says:

      “After almost a year since the first lockdown in the UK I haven’t contracted Covid”.
      Well, then: the evidence is in, folks. Everything’s OK now. Stephen hasn’t contracted COVID, therefore everything is safe. Safer than supermarkets, even!
      Let’s all go to concerts!

    • Maria says:

      Just because you didn’t get it, and we have had a thousand a day die of it or at least with it, means it’s all okay! Since when did you become the chief medical officer for the United Kingdom and Ireland?

    • Bill says:

      You felt safer…well, that clinches it, doesn’t it? No way you could be wrong about something like that!

  • Jan says:

    Thielemann is the greatest of the greatest.
    We all love him.

  • Player says:

    In Thielemann’s case, he has seen what can be done in Austria, where he has conducted Bruckner 4 etc, and finds the comparison with back home in Germany to be rather negative. His beef is with the attitude of the theatre manager/artistic director in Dresden, Peter Theiler, ie “computer says no”.

    If the band is back together, his view is let it be in substantial works, not arrangements for flute and harp.

    Meanwhile, Salzburg at Easter will be carrying on, with proper works albeit in a shortened season. He will be conducting his Dresden orchestra there. Of course, he is Artistic Director at Salzburg, and the Dresden Staatskapelle is the resident orchestra, so what he says goes, unlike back home.

    Thielemann has said re. the festival: ‘Our top priority was to defy the virus and to use our music to send out a powerful signal to the world’. This is what he and Muti are trying to do. It is to be applauded.

    • Amos says:

      The uniformed comments of 2 people who understand nothing about virology or public health. Viruses are indifferent to culture or the wishes of people in positions of authority.

    • Been there, done that says:

      I think that Thielemann is trying to find out what kind of music the virus can’t stand. When he does, he will program a work by that composer (at least 15 minutes) at the start of every concert. The virus will flee (they will leave a small window open with arrows pointing the way), and both the musicians and public will feel safe in a covid free hall. This will be Thielemann”s legacy, and he will go down in history as being the one director not to cower in the face of covid.

  • Kaspar says:

    Muti is a 100% right! If we wait any longer there might not be any orchestras left…

  • Brian says:

    So, the people urging a return to sanity are apparently the ones who are “losing it?” Noted.

  • George says:

    Apparently there’s no right way to go. Vienna is criticized for rehearsing, the Met for shutting down entirely and not paying its musicians. I read a lot of criticism on this site, but not one solution or suggestion to solve the situation. I personally think there will be a lot more victims of depression among artists than of Covid, especially since this situation has been going on for almost one year now and the arts will be one of the last spaces to restart again.

    • Petros LInardos says:

      Covid-19 aside, the MET is criticized here by default; Vienna too, to some extent.

    • John Borstlap says:

      The solutions for the performing arts are obvious: until there has been massive vaccination, state support for the institutions to keep afloat, state support for the artists to bridge the gap, and after this period a gradual restarting. But I see only some serious state support in Germany and France. The underlying problem is the indifference of Western societies for their own cultural assets. Like with other problems, the corona crisis brings this glaringly to the surface.

      With the need of state support, also an awareness of the meaning and value of culture needs to be stimulated. And this value is not a material one but a psychological one, a common good for the whole of society – entirely independent of the numbers of people with an interest in it.

  • says:

    How many deaths? How many have contacted Covid and “recovered?” How many are in hospitals as we speak. The ignorance is unbelievable. This is a once in a century pandemic. The last comparable pandemic was the Spanish Flu of 1918-19. At least we have vaccines and now light at the end of the tunnel. This idea that the major orchestras,at least, will all day away and that musical arts(which has been around and developing since the 12-13th Centuries will just completely disappear is ludicrous. Many individuals and organizations have sought alternatives and these alternatives borne of this may pandemic may actually continue and improve all the arts. This idea of the “concert” as some kind of holy event needs to be discarded. A concert should be a celebration of music and not some kind of duty or a place to be seenfor people of a certain age and income. Concerts should have more of the feel of the London Proms. We need to hear clapping between movements,not snoring. As for the two mentioned conductors(and there are probably more) Muti and Thielemann live in their own privileged bubble and I think they feel that audiences need to see their presence on stage. Per the comment on SD off less Mahler, less Thielemann would be good. His past political beliefs are not exactly exemplary of his concern for culture-unless it was for only one certain culture. The greatest indictment of these selfish two-and others- is the absence disregard of the health of the members of the orchestra,audience,staff. They should be called out and condemned and maybe they will realize that they are regular human beings and not the “Masters of the Universe “ as they see themselves to be.

  • jt says:

    Maybe now is the time for these maestros to finally join the rest of us in reality.

  • IntBaritone says:

    Conductors are (generally speaking) the most self-centered people in a rehearsal hall, opera theater, or concert hall, and these two are cut from that cloth. They cannot imagine that 1) COVID could possibly affect them and 2) their desires are less important than the health of others. They are used to being praised endlessly, attending lavish dinners with donors, and generally getting whatever they want – and COVID has stopped that in almost every way. So, this is not about saving culture. It’s not about the music. It’s about them, plain and simple. Are they amazing musicians? Yes, absolutely. But their egos are also suffering and it’s showing.

    • John Borstlap says:

      “When the cart is put in front of the horse, and the driver sits on the cart looking backwards, heaven withdraws its support and progress is halted.” Li To-Fu, 9th century China, Tang Dynasty.

  • Wannaplayguitar says:

    Classical musicians are like roof thatchers….. highly skilled artisans in a dying art…..there are still a few wealthy folk who want their roofs thatched, but most people are happy with any old tiles if it keeps the rain out. Classical music concerts are in serious danger of becoming an expensive irrelevance, stragglers from the bowels of history. This Covid debacle gives cash strapped Public funds the holiday break from subsidy dependent classical music they always dreamed of.

  • JussiB says:

    I don’t think William Shakespeare complained much during the 1592-1593 plague lockdown.

    • Ashu says:

      Why don’t you think so? His letters haven’t been preserved, so how would we know? We do know that it must have brought him financially to his knees, and ruined countless artists who weren’t stars in their fields, not to mention other working people, as it is doing now.

  • Alberto says:

    There are orchestras in Italy continuing to work uninterrupted. Here in Milano the very good Orchestra i Pomeriggi Musicali continue to play like normal original concert plan free livestream every week full season. Yesterday was excellent concert with direttore principale Maestro James Feddeck, next week Maestro Pietari Inkinen.

  • Peter San Diego says:

    Once all orchestral musicians are vaccinated, they ought to be able to play unhindered. Audience members who can prove vaccination ought to be allowed in the halls to listen. Of course, distancing and masking protocols should continue (among audiences) as a precaution, but it seems to me that we may be able to approach the beginning of a return to normal.

  • sas says:

    Many small theaters in the USA are able to have a small amount of people come see opera. There are actually other companies besides the Met! Who knew!?