The wrong music director? Here we go again

The wrong music director? Here we go again


norman lebrecht

June 13, 2021

The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra has been deliberating for five years over signing a music director. The last man, Sir Andrew Davis, left in 2019.

Part of the audition process was inhibited by Covid lockdown, which made it impossible for some candidates to attend audition. There were, however, several good contenders in Australia.

This weekend Melbourne let off a fanfare and blew a puff of white smoke.

The next music director is to be the Spaniard Jaime Martin. He is 55, a former principal flute with the London Philharmonic who took to conducting late in life. He lives in London and is Chief Conductor of the RTE National Symphony Orchestra and Music Director of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.

So far, so respectable.

But Jaime Martin, decent conductor that he is, is not a billboard name nor a blazing innovator. If an orchestra has spent five years looking for a baton and comes up with nothing stronger than a mid-career auditioner, something has gone awfully wrong with the process.

And in the unending Covid pandemic when entry to Australia is likely to be complicated for then next 2-3 years, what sense does it make to instal a man who splits his time between London, Dublin and Los Angeles. Surely it would have been better to appoint a resident Australian who is present to invigorate and encourage the orchestra through coming crises.

This is a botched appointment.




  • Greg Hocking says:

    That the excellent Melbourne based Ben Northey has been overlooked is amazing.But then look at MD Galaise’s track record with the QSO appointment….

    • Petyr says:

      I believe he is effectively much of that, minus the title.

    • Marg says:

      Indeed. And with Aust’s borders as tight as they are, he will soon get very frustrated with the inability to come and go. This is unlikely to work well in the next 15 months at least.

    • Doug Grant says:

      A simple test is whether a conductor can give an inspiring account of Beethoven symphonies. Ben Northey’s recent performance of Beethoven 7 is (or was) available on You Tube. It was stodgy, and had nothing to say. Zero sense of excitement. Zero sense of the dance. That’s enough for me.

      • Susan O’Brien says:

        That’s an unfair comment Doug – I remember watching it at the time – that Beethoven 7 was the first socially distanced performance by the MSO in the first week of cancelled concerts after the Covid lockdown – put together at the very last minute. There are many excellent concerts on their online subscription platform – you should have a closer look before making such sweeping knee-jerk judgements. Ben Northey is a much loved and valued member of the Australian musical community – one of very few high profile resident musicians in this country.

        • Doug Grant says:

          Dear Susie
          Thanks for your response. I was unfair.

          I have just listened to excerpts from several performances of Beethoven 7, and reminded myself that I am fully satisfied with very few. Ben Northey’s performance, in that context, is quite satisfactory. Perhaps it was too “genial” for me, but these matters are personal presences. I also concede that I should not have generalised based on one performance.

  • Zachariah Jones says:

    We should also mention that Jaime Martìn is also Chief Conductor in Gävle, Sweden. So that makes Melbourne his 4th full-time position.

  • RW2013 says:

    “auch die Flöte hat ihre Geschichte, aber keiner kennt sie…”

  • Maria says:

    No confidence it seems to appoint one of their own very talented conductors. Not so many years ago, the Irish were even more into ‘spaghetti names’ for having an Irish name or an English accent or both, it seemed you never got much of a look in however good you were!

  • Musician. says:

    Did you even interview any of the musicians in the orchestra before publishing this dribble?

  • Doug Grant says:

    This is a horribly unfair comment. It is well known that Hrusa was a preferred candidate, but would not come. Amongst other recent guests, only Canellakis and Szeps-Znaider really excited. I presume they were not available – either would have been an excellent appointment.

    There is no suitable Australian appointee. Ben Northey is worthy, but, I’m afraid, uninspiring.

    Should one appoint a young up-and-comer? I am amazed that Oslo and Paris appointed Makela, who surely is learning just about every work he performs. Far better to encourage young conductors as guests, as they learn their craft.

    Also far better, surely, to appoint a conductor who is a very mature musician, who has rich leadership orchestral experience as a member of leading orchestras, who has played the standard repertoire time after time with leading conductors, and who knows what a conductor should and should not do when trying to lead an obstreperous orchestra.

    Jaime Martin fits that bill extremely well. Search for the comments about his appointment at the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. He has just been renewed there. The LACO is not a lightweight, irrelevant orchestra! His contact book will, I am sure, be solid. Orchestras love to play under him.

    His performances of Sibelius 3 and 5, and the Symphonie Fantastique, available on YouTube, are more than decent.They are very encouraging.

    My guess is that Melbourne have made a very good appointment. Time will tell.

  • Billy says:

    Perhaps not a billboard name, but definitely a billboard face.

    He is handsome.

    Also a creepy resemblance with Domingo (or is it just me thinking that?)

  • Herr Forkenspoon says:

    Australia has long overlooked it’s home grown talent. In the 60’s the catch word was, “world class.” Everything OZainian was labeled “world class” in order to boost their egos. Well, Australia has always had “world class” musicians, artists, actors, playwrights, composers, conductors and designers and they’ve mostly ignored them. Many went elsewhere to achieve recognition and earn a living. This is the 21st. century, time to wake up and grow up.

  • MacroV says:

    “Local” is usually a liability in any field. I confess that after Simone Young I’m not really familiar with the Australian conducting talent pool. But it’s a fine orchestra and Melbourne is one of the most beautiful spots on Earth; hard to imagine the job wouldn’t get a lot of interest.

    • Saxon says:

      Melbourne may be “one of the most beautiful spots on earth” but it is also a long way from most of the rest of the mainstream classical world. Hence it is difficult to get people to travel there.

  • Novagerio says:

    He’s excellent – period. What’s a “billboard name” by the way? A record cover-photo of some “sexy” demonic looking fella? And now the record industry basically is dead? A guy who poses with a Rolex on the back of Newsweek Magazine? What is a “blazing innovator”? An “idiosyncratic re-thinker”/destroyer like Currentzis? And since when was merchandise more important than quality and silent integrity?

  • O.K. says:

    Could be worse — could have been the over-promoted, family-moneyed Jessica Cottis, who manages to get herself everywhere without the needed credentials

    • FrauGeigerin says:

      Had to look for that name and I am not impressed at all. The fact that Ms Cottis has an international career is shocking. Yes, that would had definitely been worse.

      And here some examples of her “work”:

      • JE says:

        Recordings from 2016 for a Charity fundraiser with a mainly student orchestra are not indicative of Jessica Cottis’ work though in all honesty I don’t know what you are on about. The Wagner is sublime (a reduction by Australian composer James Ledger), and the Mozart is superb.

        This recording is more representative of her work.

      • paprika says:

        thank you for finding these examples from an Australian charity event with a student orchestra five years ago. I bet it took you some considerate effort to find them. I take it that you’re a conducting expert? to save you the hassle of looking for further videos, this concert I saw online during the lockdown was simply spectacular.

        Jessica is a phenomenal conductor. Since she became MD of CSO she’s done absolutely wonders. Read the reviews they talk for themselves…

    • JE says:

      Her bio looks very impressive to me, and her body of work signifies the opposite to your delightful summary.

    • James says:

      Jessica Cottis is a very fine conductor, and btw a tireless promoter of new music (also Australian music). I don’t know what you mean about over-promoted; her growing reputation seems to me to be entirely organic.

    • SM says:

      Jessica Cottis is a phenomenal conductor and wonderful person. O.K. sounds like a frustrated troubled person with a personal vendetta against Jessica.

    • FZ says:

      Not sure where you get this info from(O.K), family money..?! I would be very careful posting vitriolic, borderline misogynistic comments based on absolutely nothing. Plenty of credentials here from what I can see…

      • PianistW says:

        The Cottis groupies are not happy LOL
        I agree with FrauGeigerin: never heard of her and what I see I don’t like it.

  • Rustierspoon says:

    “Botched appointment”?! In whose opinion? Jaime is a musician of the highest calibre, not only is he a splendid flautist and an excellent conductor, he’s also an extremely nice bloke!

  • JJ says:

    Any excuse to have yet another snobbish dig at Australia/ns/the entire classical music scene down under that often appears on this blog

    • norman lebrecht says:

      You’re quite right. In future, let’s not point out the shortcomings of music administrators in Australia.

      • DB says:

        Mr Lebrecht, you were commenting on the appointment of Jamie as Chief conductor of the MSO, not on the administration. As one person commented, did you think to ask the musicians in the MSO? Please do not assume to know what they think!

  • MZ says:

    I find it interesting that you, one with zero ability to actually judge the efficacy of his appointment, until HE ACTUALLY STARTS HIS JOB!!!!
    You’re petty foolishness continues to astound me.

  • Alan says:

    Issue for me is not the conductor, who is great in my view. It’s that he’s spreading himself far too thin and literally all over the world. RTENCO had no chief conductor for three years before he arrived. Now they compete with three other orchestras for his attention. Not that impressed to be honest.

  • Evan Tucker says:

    Right or wrong, Martin’s a very good conductor and deserves more attention than he’s gotten. He may stun people with how good he is.

  • RW2013 says:

    It has often been claimed that Ava Gardner described Melbourne as “the perfect place to make a film about the end of the world.”

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    The MSO spends too much time accompanying pop stars. It really has become second rate.

    • MS says:

      If you don’t like these sort of performances, maybe don’t attend? They are an excellent source of income for orchestras because as we all know, arts funding is dwindling rapidly.

      • Ashu says:

        [If you don’t like these sort of performances, maybe don’t attend?]

        The one with Kiss rocked my world.

  • SMH says:

    I’ve not played under Martin, by all accounts a wonderful musician, but the fact that he holds five titled positions may go a long way in explaining the lack of diversity amongst conductors.

    Chief Conductor of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

    Music Director of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, with his appointment now extended up to 2027

    Chief Conductor of Ireland’s RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra

    Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of  Gävle  Symphony Orchestra since 2013

    Principal Guest Conductor of the Orquesta y Coro Nacionales de España (Spanish National Orchestra) for the 22/23 season.

  • Wiener says:

    Who cares about Australian orchestras seriously ? So they know anything about classical music down there ?

    • Novagerio says:

      Wiener: Oh, Sir Charles Mackerras would have agreed with you – 80 years ago, when he left to Prague and later to the UK…

  • fflambeau says:

    This is much too harsh a judgment.

  • Unknown Quantity says:

    Orchestras only hire people from out of town.