Was Pappano a panic measure?

Was Pappano a panic measure?


norman lebrecht

March 31, 2021

The supine music press has hailed the LSO’s swift replacement of Simon Rattle with Antonio Pappano as ‘exciting’, ‘inspired’ and all the usual dross. Almost as if the transition had been strategically planned.

The LSO’s shill in the Times, Richard Morrison: ‘The appointment is a riposte to commentators who predicted the loss of Rattle and the decision not to proceed with a new concert hall would signal a decline in the LSO’s status as Britain’s pre-eminent orchestra.’

In fact, it is a panicked response to Rattle’s defection to Munich, a move every reader of this site had anticipated for a year but which the LSO leadership had stubbornly blindsided.

No sooner had Rattle made his announcement than red buttons were hit and the top one pinged loud. Pappano, who has been music director at Covent Garden for just under 20 years, is British born and resident and extremely well liked by the world’s best singers, needed to leave his longterm job and had developed a good rapport over several seasons with the LSO players. He’s a tremendous conductor of a wide repertoire and a gifted trainer of stable ensembles, as he has shown both at Covent Garden and at Santa Cecilia in Rome. He is also an extremely convivial, outgoing, intelligent and concerned man.

The downsides, unmentioned elsewhere, are these:

1 There has been no rush for his services. He is not favoured by the Berlin and Vienna Phils nor by the US Big Five.

2 He’s 61, a known commodity, no suprises expected. The LSO will glitter with recitals by the Kaufmann-Netrebko set.

3 He’s not a mentor of young conductors, as Rattle was.

4 He lacks Rattle’s international touring profile, beyond the UK and western Europe.

5 The appointment was so hasty it had to be announced while Pappano was in Italy, could not wait until he was home.

He’s the best choice in very bad circumstances, but why did the LSO ignore his availability when they appointed Rattle?




  • Leonids Vigners says:

    With regard to the negatives:
    1. Who cares?
    2. Who cares?
    3. He has been a tremendous mentor to young singers through his masterclasses, and one could expect him to easily do the same for young conductors should he choose.
    4. Surely you view this as a bonus given all you’ve written about the moral imperative for orchestras to stop touring.
    5. It might bear noting that it’s not exactly easy to get from Italy to London at the moment.

    All things considered, certainly the best possible result for the orchestra and the audience.

    • IP says:

      To dismiss the danger of countless Kaufmann-Netrebko recitals with a mere “Who cares?” verges on cynicism.

  • Anon says:

    Probably because when they appointed Rattle no-one expected Brexit and Covid.

    If the whole world knew that Rattle was likely to leave the LSO, I’m sure that the LSO knew that Rattle was likely to leave the LSO. Were they going to say that in public? Of course not. This latest appointment is no doubt one that’s been under negotiation for a year at least.

    • Saxon says:

      Pappano claims he was only approached in the last month, and was surprised how quickly the decision was made.

  • Patrick says:

    Gave an interesting interview yesterday to Rafferty on Radio 3 where he pitched himself as the pragmatic leader of classical music in beleaguered London, basically saying we are where we are with Brexit and Covid and let’s get on with it and try and make things work…

  • Musiclover says:

    What about seeing the biggest upside of this: he seems to really love the LSO (judging by his statement and BBC In Tune interview). His two predecessors, Gergiev and Rattle, jumped ship when something better (paid) came up. Maybe the LSO can finally have someone taking care of them. Pappano have had long relationships with the ROH and Santa Cecilia. If this trend is to continue, it will only do the LSO enormous good.

    And talking about being loved by Berlin and Vienna, Gergiev isn’t invited to Berlin often, and Rattle hasn’t been invited to Vienna / Concertgebouw for some time as well. Does this diminish their star power? No.

    All in all, good for the LSO. At least they could move on and find a new principal conductor so quickly (although this title will be obsolete for some time .. lol). The same cannot be said about the Concertgebouw.

  • Rob says:

    He needs to make the LSO his own in some way. Maybe in his first concert, be the soloist in a Mozart or Haydn concerto and direct from the keyboard.

    Congrats on the new look website btw.

  • Amos says:

    If the future of orchestral music in the UK is dependent on the presence of SR and MG-T then all concerned should move on to other careers. The former quickly grew tiresome to the members of the BPO and the latter is more concerned with securing the next position rather than making a significant contribution to the one she currently occupies.

    • Saxon says:

      Er…Rattle was renewed several times in Berlin and it was very much his decision to leave.

    • MacroV says:

      So tiresome that he stayed there for 16 years. Sure, some probably liked him more than others, but you don’t stay 16 years at an orchestra whose members choose the director unless you’re generally getting on well.

      What’s tiresome is this “Rattle wasn’t liked in Berlin” trope that people keep recycling.

  • Anonymous says:

    An excellent appointment who has a great rapport with the LSO players and doesn’t suffer from an overload of BS.

  • Madeleine Richardson says:

    I attended many operas and concerts during his ten-year tenure at La Monnaie in Brussels.
    The LSO is very lucky to have him.
    I also remember when he honoured a commitment in 2016 to conduct a concert at Antwerp’s deSingel the day after the bomb attacks in Brussels. It was chaos, no planes, trains with border checks and the military everywhere.
    Some how Pappano and the Paris orchestra made it to Antwerp in defiance of the terrorists who only months before had bombed the Bataclan in Paris.
    They gave a very moving performance and played to a packed house. Nobody, including myself, thought to cancel.

  • Edgar says:

    If Sir Anthony can ensure top-quality music making to be enjoyed by as many as people as possible, in London and beyond, then there is a glimmer of hope for the Tory-, Brexit-, and Covid-blighted Island of Albion….;-)

    • christopher storey says:

      Edgar : if the only thing you can contribute to this discussion is thoroughly offensive to, and about, our nation, then take your puerile and immature little mind somewhere else

  • Don Ciccio says:

    Of course he’s not favored by Berlin / Vienna or any of the US Big Five. His guest conducting duties were limited – and that’s for the best in my book.

    That said, in one of these rare guest conducting gigs, he gave a stunning performance of Saint Saens’ 3rd Symphony with the NY Phil.

    Plus we’ll see more of him in the US. He’s scheduled for Meistersinger at the Met in October – hopefully enough people will be vaccinated by then. Plus the LSO tours New York every year (never understood why, but that’s another question). So finally some of these LSO concerts may be actually worth attending.

  • Shalom Rackovsky says:

    He brought the Santa Cecilia to Rochester [NY] a couple of seasons ago, and the concert was absolutely outstanding.

  • Barry says:

    I’ve thought he’s been over-due for an appointment with an orchestra of that level for a while and look forward to hearing what he and the LSO do together.

    With regard to the first point, when Philadelphia was going through one of its music director searches (probably seeking someone to take Eschenbach’s place), Pappano was invited to guest conduct. As a subscriber who was very interested in who they picked, I was very excited about the prospect of Pappano making a big splash and being in the running after hearing some of his performances online. But he was never invited back after that one appearance. I recall reading back then that his personality was the issue. At least some of the musicians didn’t like him in rehearsal. They could be a pretty difficult orchestra with conductors back in those days, but I am just saying I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that his way of interacting with orchestras in rehearsal could have had something to do with him not getting an appointment by now, as that may have at least been part of the reason why he didn’t get a further look here.

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    I think you might be wrong in one respect. Assuming that things eventually go back to ‘normal’, I believe American audiences would be just as likely to go see a touring Pappano/L.S.O. show, as they would a Rattle/L.S.O. show. Perhaps even more so. For me, it greatly depends on what it is they’re actually playing.

  • Mary Roberts says:

    Congratulations a well deserved appointment we are so lucky to have such a wonderful conductor who always
    brings us such joy with his dedication and expertise.

  • M McAlpine says:

    There is a small point that Pappano happens to be one of the finest conductors in the world. But don’t let that stop the criticism.

  • Evan Tucker says:

    If Pappano was a panic measure, what a panic measure! It’s about as good a consolation prize as the LSO was ever going to get, and I’m inclined to think the expectations are sufficiently low that LSO and Pappano are going to vastly overdeliver, whereas the pressure on Rattle and the BRSO is sufficiently enormous that they can’t possibly deliver on all of it.

  • Tony says:

    Who believes the LSO is currently “Britain’s pre-eminent orchestra” apart from R. Morrison? This is an unjustifiable claim I do not believe even the LSO would make.

    “Primus inter pares” possibly arguably because it has access to enabling City funding as a booster, but not artistically so special at present and less than special throughout Gergiev’s tenure. The recent socially distanced recordings from St. Luke’s have been unimpressive and not world class.

    We have other ’eminent’ orchestras in London and elsewhere in the UK every bit as deserving of being respected for their excellence. They just lack an insider at the Murdoch Times to puff them up.

    Pappano is a great artist and the LSO is very fortunate in signing him up.

  • Lady Weidenfeld says:

    I cannot think of a better choice from every point of view! A truly great musician and conductor, in fact a musician’s musician. A man totally dedicated to what he does and with great integrity! Yes the LSO hit the jackpot this time, a true silver lining, and long may it last.

  • Ian S says:

    Having heard an LSO orchestra member sing Pappano’s praises (another not so favoured) in a pre-concert talk, attended two top-notch performances with him conducting the LSO and his Rome orchestra and spoken to him briefly at a CD signing event after a Birmingham concert, I would say that the LSO are extremely fortunate to have him lined up to be their main conductor. Best Wishes to him in the post.

  • sam says:

    THE LSO is in survival mode, not in Messianic mode, it’s looking for a true and tried helmsman to bring it to shore , not a visionary explorer to discover new lands.

    (Plus, Rattle proved that messiahs more often than not turn out to be selfish, unreliable, traitorous self-promoters.)

    • Bone says:

      I’m no big fan of Rattle, but he left for pretty good reasons: he was promised a hall and the gov’t didn’t follow thru; he hates the Brexit problems for musicians; and he and his family love in Germany.
      Nice prose in your first sentence, btw

  • Kun says:

    In the land of the blind, the one eye person wins. Pappano is good, no doubt, but the modern role of the music director require much more than an inspired conductor.

  • Peter B says:

    As good (or great) musician Pappano might be, his very high ego and arrogance made me ignore him in the past years.
    And his “obsession” with singers like Netrebko or Kaufmann tells a lot about him – they might be good in some repertoire, but certainly not the best.
    Pappano’s greatest era, at least in opera, was the Gheorghiu-Alagna recording and performance era, and his appointment at the ROH as Music Director in 2002 was also due to the opera couple’s very strong lobbying in Covent Garden, a detail he tends to omit today…
    I was in the audience at his Met debut (he was conducting Eugene Onegin with Chernov and Gorchakova, ‘97 or ‘98) and won’t forget how strong he was booo-ed by the audience, a pretty rare/almost undone thing at the Met if one thinks about it.
    Anyhow, good luck to him and hopefully the ROH will have someone stronger and bolder as music director.

  • Paul Johnson says:

    I completely agree. I saw him conduct Mahler 1 a few years ago at The Proms. It was ok but no more than that. Nothing special.

  • Thomas M says:

    BUT, he may actually turn in fine performances, something that Mr. Big Hair rarely did. What precisely is Rattle’s legacy in the concert hall and on records? Some fine Szymanowski, a lot of mediocre ANYthing else.