Why Dresden dumped Thielemann

Why Dresden dumped Thielemann


norman lebrecht

May 11, 2021

A blanket of silence has descended on German media over Dresden’s decision yesterday to terminate its chief conductor in 2024.

Initial leaks indicated that politicians were fed up with being dragged in to frequent conflicts at the top of the Semper Oper, but that’s hardly cause enough to drop Germany’s best home-grown conductor and, by some measure, the most popular.

Why then?

The music critic Uwe Friedrich suggests on Deutschlandfunk that Corona may have been a tipping point. Thielemann was pushing for early reopening, against Government guidance and the stone wall of intendant Peter Theiler.

He goes on to say that the Semper Oper is a ‘self-satisfied company on autopilot’ and Thielemann is the ‘epitome of the conservative German conductor’.

Other views will doubtless emerge.


  • Concertgebouw79 says:

    A clever thing for the institution would be to take Chung for the next musical director. he worked several times with this prestigious orchestra during the last year and did several records.

    • Lothario Hunter says:

      … and Chicago will go back to its true German roots, after its a sordid affair with the Italian wanna-be-but-really-cant-anymore Stallion!!

      (and the city’s Viagra sales will drop by 80%)

      • John Kelly says:

        More like “true Hungarian roots” – Reiner/Solti. Still, your comment is unwarrantedly nasty and I have heard Muti with the CSO a few times and the results have been splendid

        • Greg Bottini says:

          Wrong, John Kelly.
          The Chicago Symphony has German roots: the tenures of the first two music directors, Theodore Thomas (the founder) and Frederick Stock, who were both German, totaled 51 years.

        • Lothario Hunter says:

          Theodore Thomas is the true root of the CSO. German!

          So was the CSO sound – German – before the incapable pianissimo-lover Italian Stallion 🙂

          But we LOVE Muti’s fans; if they are in other cities and they could get him out of here permanently, we would love them more :-))

          Amsterdam maybe could take him? They have a legal framework and an environment where he would feel right at home in no time 🙂

      • Concertgebouw79 says:

        Concerning Chicago I hope they will go back soon in Europe. No problem concerning the conductor Muti or another for me! I will come

        • Chicagorat says:

          A fantastic piece on Repubblica today: “Tra Riccardo Muti e Riccardo Chailly scintille in camerino”.

          Essentially a fight and a sad spectacle between the two conductors took place yesterday, based on La Scala anonymous sources.

          The gist: Muti gave a concert with the Wiener at LaScala yesterday; Chailly wanted to visit him in his “camerino” to say hello and I guess as a courtesy. An angry Muti kicked him out and an argument ensued!

          Very surprised an Italian newspaper published this, typically they are not keen on exposing Muti. But this is the real face of Muti: an envious, unethical, vindictive lowlife. He can’t forgive or forget that Chailly is now king of Milan.

          He famously runs around saying that “Chailly does not understand music.”

      • Bill Ecker says:

        Most American orchestras come from German roots; The New York Philharmonic, The Boston Symphony Orchestra, St. Louis Symphony, Dallas Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, The Minnesota Orchestra and The Philadelphia Orchestra among the many were almost all led by German conductors and staffed mainly by German and or Austrian musicians. If the Music Director wasn’t German, the bulk of the musicians within the orchestra were. Boston eventually became a largely French Orchestra for a few decades, but Germans like Theodore Thomas, Georg Henschel, Alfred Hertz etc., built orchestras in America.

    • Mark Hayes says:

      Chung is a good choice. Thielemann’s programming is simply dreadful. As an interpreter he’s ok, but the veneer of mysticism- a random diminuendo here, a sudden slackening of articulation there, doesn’t warrant repeated listening.

  • anon says:

    As an American, I always find it intriguing that in Europe, politicians choose music directors.

    Such…royal patronage still exists today!

    (Macron interviews and decides who is the head of Paris Opera, and that is that. When was the last time Macron attended an opera?)

    • Concertgebouw79 says:

      In France the worst are the “Marquis” the influancial men close to the politicians. In the 80’s and 90’s Barenboim and Chung had big troubles with them at the Opera de Paris. Concerning Dudamel there’s not a big opposition against him. He was very welcomed in the press.

      • anon says:

        Don’t even get me started on the gay male mafia that controls the tastes and direction of French culture, from Bergé to Lang to Frédéric Mitterrand to Riester to …

        • Concertgebouw79 says:

          Chung in the 90’s was fired by a man who didn’t match your description

        • Alviano says:

          That’s right. All those awful homosexuals! Something really must be done! [clutches pearls]

        • Sue Sonata Form says:

          It was like that in broadcasting when I worked for our national broadcaster back in the 1970s. Today’s it’s a politically Left mafia!!

    • The politicians don’t choose, but the cultural professionals that work for them in the state and municipal governments.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Who would need an opera to attend if one is head of state in France?

      • The View from America says:

        Rich, the entire government system there is “operatic” …

      • ruben Greenberg says:

        Mitterrand and Chirac had one thing in common: they both hated Classical music. In fact, Chirac once said he would rather hear 20 minutes of bad music than 40 minutes of good music.

        • Concertgebouw79 says:

          He said that he hated music but liked very much to be close to the musicians and chat with them

    • phf655 says:

      I am an American, but I find it troublesome that in my country plutocrats, whose loyalty to their personal and community standing comes before their loyalty and sensitivity to Art, frequently get to pick, or pass on, the hiring of music directors.
      When does Jordan’s contract expire in Vienna? I just heard his weak, small-scaled, conducting in their new, dramatically appalling production of Parsifal. And in 2024 Barenboim (Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin) will be 80.

      • Petros Linardos says:

        Thielemann as Music Director of the Vienna State Opera will be recipe for disaster. The Vienna State Opera’s venerable tradition of giving hell to its music directors goes back to at least Mahler. Thielemann is not the best diplomat, to put it mildly.
        I vividly remember how the Viennese press was attacking Maazel in 1980-82, when he was the designated head of the State Opera, before he even took office.

        • Sue Sonata Form says:

          Yes, that latter was almost the stuff of legend!! Mind you, they did much the same with the French Dominique Meyer!!

          A lot of combustible behaviour when it comes to western art music!!

      • BrianB says:

        I had exactly the same reaction to Jordan’s conducting in Parsifal. Completely lost interest in the Grail Scene, music I usually love under even merely capable dirigenten.

    • Monsoon says:

      Yep, and this is what you get when the government is the primary sponsor of the arts.

      For all of those who want the U.S. federal government providing more arts funding, the Smithsonian is a cautionary tale of that.

  • Gustavo says:

    Didn’t Bernard Haitink leave Dresden in an unfortunate manner, too?

    And he went Chicago.

    Perhaps running off in a huff is part of the myth of the “sought-after” maestro – or “male diva”?

    And those profane politicians with their woke agenda 2030 simply have no sense for the Dresden sound and repertoire tradition, which is, besides Christstollen, the only unique selling point Dresden has to offer.

    • Tamino says:

      No, AFAIK Haitink only gave in to Dresden’s request, after Sinopoli’s untimely death, by limiting his role to an interims chief conductor, until Dresden finds a successor. Which was Luisi. Haitink wanted to help Dresden to bridge the gap Sinopoli’s death had created suddenly.

      • Gustavo says:

        But Haitink himself sates in an interview that he regrets to have written a letter to manager Uecker in which he spoke out against Fabio Luisi as his successor and recommended a Teutonic alternative cut from the same cloth as Herr Thielemann.

        Apparently, the orchestra was hoping for Haitink to stay but after his letter the air was getting thinner and thinner.

        Maybe politicians want to break with this tradition completely.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      I think Thielemann does way better than this!!


  • urania says:

    Nothing will go back to normal in the next years. Classical music will be on a hold, as hard as they do pretend. Change is just starting!

    • Gustavo says:

      There will be no more room for true Wagnerites who are currently facing extinction.

      What’s left is merely a fading dream of those glorious days when Stephen Fry stood casually next to Stefan Mickisch at Richard Wagner’s Steinway in Haus Wahnfried.

      • Becker says:

        Mickich was pulled out of Bayreuth places by the management of Festspiele and he is dead now……

        • Gustavo says:

          Yes, some managers have a talent of not seing the big picture and micro-managing a Gesamtkunstwerk until nothing is left to enjoy.

  • erich says:

    Every single one of Thielemann’s previous appointments has ended with a row : Nürnberg, Berlin, Munich and now the triple whammy of Salzburg Easter, Bayreuth and Dresden. His problem is the discrepancy between his talent – huge – and his personality – ghastly.

    • Herr Doktor says:

      I can only judge Thielemann by what I’ve heard in recordings. Everyone speaks of his “immense talent.” I’m open to the fact that he is *that good*, but at least as far as his Bruckner recordings are concerned, I’m not hearing it. I find Thielemann’s Bruckner far too fussy and fixated on details at the expense of the big picture–to the point that it’s annoying. And at least in the big picture, I don’t hear the great “build” that comes in a successful performance of a Bruckner symphony, one that takes the listener to transcendence. I haven’t heard recordings of his Brahms or Beethoven, but people I know who have heard them are not blown away by those either. He seems perfectly “functional” in repertory that I love, but achieving greatness in that repertory seems an overstatement. Maybe if I heard him live I might have a different opinion, and also if I had more exposure to his music-making. But in the 3-4 Bruckner performances I’ve heard, I’m perplexed by his reputation. I can only wish his Bruckner is as fantastic as I heard it spoken of. I just haven’t had that experience myself…yet. I’m still listening.

      • Petros Linardos says:

        The best I’ve heard from Thielemann is in Wagner and R Strauss. Also in Humperdink’s Hänsel und Gretel. Far better than his Bruckner or any earlier symphonic repertoire.

      • Anton Bruckner says:

        There two new recordings of Bruckner 3. The venerable Jansons and BRSO and Thielman with VPO. As mich as I adore Jansons, the Thielman recording is so vastly superior it sometimes seems the two conductors are performing different works. Thielman is one of the rare conductors who belong to the elite of the profession and it seems to me that he is more interested in music making than the usual conductor PR hype (but I may be wrong about this). Anyway Dresden’s loss is another orchestra’s gain.

        • Sotto Voce says:

          I would agree. Having heard both conductors many times live, for me Thielemann has the upper hand in Bruckner – whichever orchestra he’s conducting. Primarily, however, he is a kapellmeister who should be conducting more opera. There’s no one who comes close in Strauss and Wagner and he’s no slouch in Italian repertoire. This is Dresden’s loss. No doubt he’s a strict taskmaster from what I’ve seen in rehearsals and, in conversation, is charming and knowledgable – but he does speak as he finds – and there’s the rub.

        • Herr Doktor says:

          A friend whose ears I completely trust also agrees that Thielemann’s latest Bruckner 3 with the VPO is a success. I’m sure if I heard it I would agree, because he and I rarely disagree on Bruckner performances. That said, Thielemann’s Bruckner 8 with the VPO was not successful. Further, the 3rd would get my vote as the least important of the Bruckner symphonies, so success in that domain is great but doesn’t carry the same weight as with 1-2, 4-5, and 7-9. I like 6 a lot, but again it’s a “lesser” symphony although incredibly beautiful and still a great work. And to me, I hear linkage between 3 and 6 in particular.

    • Barry says:

      I won’t repeat it in the absence of any supporting evidence, but the reason I heard a long time ago – from someone who knows a handful of Philadelphia Orchestra musicians – for Thielemann’s several-year relationship with that orchestra (and any talk of him eventually succeeding Sawallisch) during the mid to late 90s coming to an end was a real doozy having to do with off-podium behavior.

      • Fiddleman says:

        Thielemann should just do Bayreuth and guest conduct. He is a nightmare as a music director, too difficult to be a team player . His ego conflicts with the best interests of the institution.

    • anon says:

      “discrepancy between his talent – huge – and his personality – ghastly”

      that about describes 99% of conductors living and dead. i dare say there is a direct and proportional relationship between hugeness of talent and ghastliness of personality

      • Petros Linardos says:

        Two counterarguments:
        – mediocre conductors are not necessarily more likable
        – some great conductors like Giulini and Kubelik had a reputation as great human beings too. Maybe they were the exceptions.

      • John Borstlap says:

        A research team at the Texas Institute of Technology has investigated the relationship between conductors’ ghastliness and talent, with a newly developed contraption which can measure both talent and personality traits, due to an ingenious AI algorhythm. The team measured the relationships of three well-known conductors, being [redacted], [redacted] and [redacted] – unfortunately, Mr Thielemann refused to be subjected to ‘a deplorable piece of stupid machinery’ as he expressed it.

        Dr Hofstadter, leader of the team at TIT, reported in the American Journal of Scientific Irregularities that with the three testees the level of talent appeared to be exactly equivalent to the level of ghastliness. As Dr Hofstadter commented: ‘Although more conductors will have to be examined before any statistically valid conclusion could be drawn, the evidence thus far seems to indicate that it is the nastiness of people that causes the talent. In a former project we had already established that kind people invariably lacked any talent whatsoever.’

        Meanwhile, the Woke Liberation Front has already filed a complaint at the TIT and threatens to sue the institute for ‘defamation of the talentless’.

    • Gustavo says:

      “his talent – huge – and his personality – ghastly”

      Thielemann is Wagner.

      He needs to conduct more Verdi to become more gentlemanlike.

      Like Riccardo Muti at almost 80.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Wagner was extremely popular among his performers and greatly admired as a conductor by the players of any orchestra he conducted.

        • Gustavo says:

          I was referring to the Dresden period.

          • John Borstlap says:

            I don’t think Wagner was impopular with his players up till the uprising in 1848.

          • Maria says:


          • John Borstlap says:

            It’s a freudian slip of the finger. In the 17th century, one of my ancestors from my father’s side stayed in Granada for 3 months where he was very unpopular and the experience has embedded itself genetically ever since.

      • Becker says:

        He is not talented in italian or french repertory……

      • CSOA Insider says:

        I eye witnessed the gentleman Muti kicking the great Carol Vaness in the butt. She came to pay him homage, and he literally lifted his leg to kick her in the butt at a post concert concert meet and greet, in the hallway just outside his office; the offensive behavior triggered the hilarity of the surrounding sycophantic circle, including prominent leaders of the organization.

        Another time he essentially slapped/pushed a female French singer in rehearsal to demonstrate his anti-Me2 views. These antics generated complaints among orchestra members.

        The sad episodes perfectly capture the gentleman-like character of Muti.

        “Noi cavalieri siamo onesti e sinceri” is a line he is particularly fond of and that suits him to perfection.

        • Stickles says:

          What do you gather the mood is among the orchestra members regarding the next MD. I can’t imagine they would be happy with someone like Thielemann or Gergiev (whom the management actually invited to do a one-off Leningrad last season, which was scuttled by the pandemic). Outside of Malkki, The orchestra has kept zero connection to the next generation of conductors such as Jarvi, Deneve, Noseda. Looking further down the road, they have not yet invited Canellakis even to Ravinia. The lack of initiative from the management is alarming.

          • Vaquero357 says:

            Sorry, Deneve is a no-go! Neither Dresden nor any other place can have him – he’s OURS in St Louis now!! {;-)

          • CSOA Insider says:

            I completely agree on the management, though there is really more behind the scenes that is not visible to the general public. And that is how Muti rules the CSO with a dictatorial iron grip and does not allow any important conductor to work with the Orchestra. He wants to stay in Chicago for life and has already been extended through 2024. He does not want any serious competition showing up.

            Jeff Alexander can’t make any decision because he is vetoed by Muti. As an example, Alexander wanted to hire a new VP AP, a promising young American talent. Muti vetoed that because he had already an agreement with Cristina Rocca to bring her back to Chicago. He demands an all Italian inner circle.

            The problem is really Ms. Zell. If only she knew what Muti routinely says about her, perhaps she would find enough motivation to act.

          • Steve says:

            So you don’t consider Blomstedt, Salonen, the late Rozhdestvensky, etc. (BTW, all of whom have worked with the orchestra during Muti’s tenure) important conductors??? He even got Barenboim to return back…guess you don’t know much LOL

          • Midwestern Violin says:

            It wasn’t Muti who wanted Baremboim back, so in that sense his power is not unlimited.

            When Baremboim came, they were both physically in Chicago and RM refused to even offer a courtesy greeting.

            Baremboim is not competition because we would not want him back.

            We like Salonen.

          • Stickles says:

            Salonen would be a good choice; too bad he is no longer available. Neither is Bychkov. Counting down the days to see you guys again on stage coming May 27.

          • Midwestern Violin says:

            Thank you! We can’t wait!!! 🙂

          • Stickles says:

            These gentlemen you mentioned here are just icing on the cake. They cannot replace the main meal which the CSO is looking for. Abbado made his CSO debut in his 30’s, Barenboim in his 20’s, Giulini started visiting Chicago in his early 40’s. The CSO needs to develop meaningful relationships with younger generation of conductors. They can learn a thing or two from Cleveland.

        • steve says:

          fyi carol vaness is a close, long-time friend of his and if you have such issues with his behavior, why don’t you say something…do you actually think anonymously complaining on a blog is gonna accomplish something (or maybe its just your hobby lmaooo)

    • Alexander T says:

      Huge talent?

    • Guillaume says:

      Assez juste car énorme talent.Il semble que ce sit surtout des idées politiques qui le condamnent. ” Nazi ” disent certains .Les critiques musicaux français font rarement des éloges de Thielemann ( même si splendides concerts ) uniquement pour cette raison.

  • Gary Freer says:

    sounds like the Kevin Pietersen of the orchestral world

  • Gustavo says:

    Honourable Kapellmeister John Williams once left Boston Pops with a bang (just to make his disciplinary point clear – he eventually returned).

    I call that leadership.


    Being “dropped” in 2021 by administrators but staying on until 2024 sounds rather relaxed.

    It’s like Rattle’s way of suffering with LSO.

  • Edgar Self says:

    “Dresden drops Thielemann”. It’s a slow drop. They just say they will not renew his contract three years from now. The story is not over yet.

  • Donna Pasquale says:

    Oh who cares. He’s an incredibly dull and humourless conductor who over controls with no added value.

  • John Borstlap says:

    I hear from my fly on the wall that the real reason behind this are the deer antlers in T’s home, which were noticed by a shocked member of the City Council visiting him to discuss corona measures, and who happened to be an Animal Protection Activist.

    • Ric Muti says:

      LOL about the antlers. The small-chested / small-minded losers are in the saddle. But what else is new, really?

      He should have told that visiting City Council member: “You ought to see the heads of the bureaucrats which I have on the wall in the basement.”

    • Gustavo says:

      It is suggested that these were the antlers of the legendary “Weiße Hirsch” seen by so many “Kapellmeister” of Dresden before.

      It was believed to be invulnerable thanks to its protective corona.

  • David Spence says:

    It was about time. Man, it was really about time!!!

  • Chiara says:

    Carol Vaness once thought that Muti was the “most beautiful man in the world” – her words, I’m surprised that she didn’t kick him back.

  • RW2013 says:

    If you value anything that the frustrated dilettante U. Friedrich writes, that’s your fault.

  • Jobim75 says:

    I am not an opera fan, so I couldn’t judge Here T. in this field. But I am amazed how irregular he can be playing symphonic music. His Beethoven symphonies with VPO are a shame on disc and the ninth I attended live was one of my worse experience ever. He can be good when he lets the musician play, because he conducts only best orchestras, but his interventions on the podium can be counterintuitive and counterproductive and just have the orchestra misplay so to speak. But I must say his Bruckner 3 is a complete success, in a radiant recording, (someone says earlier that it is because the 3rd is the less significant symphony, nonsense because Bruckner wrote only 1 symphony and rewrote it 10 times) it due to him or the orchestra in a good shape, I couldn’t say. My idea is that the less he does and intervenes, the more the orchestra breathes…..

    • John Borstlap says:

      There are stories that the players of the well-known [redacted] philharmonic will suddenly play much better if, just before the rehearsel begins, the manager promises that T won’t be conducting them next season.

  • EricB says:

    I bet Serge Dorny will have his Champagne after all !!!