Why import an American to conduct BBC Cardiff?

Why import an American to conduct BBC Cardiff?


norman lebrecht

June 14, 2021

The opening round of the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World passed without incident in an eerily audience-free hall. Other venues are welcoming small audiences, but apparently not the BBC.

The winner of the first round, a Georgian, is a definite contender. The orchestra of Welsh National Opera gave good support.

The only jarring note was the conductor, Michael Christie, who was flown in specially from the US, presumably for his special expertise. Christie, 47, is a former music director of Minnesota Opera, where he championed new works by American composers. He now has an orchestra in California. He has no UK career.

What he is doing at Cardiff is anyone’s guess. A dozen under-employed Welsh conductors could do just as good a job.

The BBC will have its own internal reasons for importing Christie. They are unlikely to be revealed.

This is just another symptom of the BBC losing traction with its home-base paying customers.


  • Ulrich Brass says:

    Can you name one of those dozen Welsh conductors with experience as musical director of a medium size opera company?

  • RobK says:

    That’s as may be, but what wonderful playing from the WNO Orchestra – and an incredibly high standard from the singers.

  • Bean says:

    Oh dear, then you may be horrified to learn that not one but two Americans are conducting this competition…

  • simon says:

    It’s always baffled me why overseas conductors are flown in for this contest by the BBC when, as you rightly say, there are several decent conductors who are Welsh nationals or residents. Not to mention all the other main or guest conductors who draw salaries by being attached to BBC orchestras across the UK. There could easily be a contractual obligation to take these competitions on if one has such a post.

    The round winner had good diction, solid technique and rich, full tone from what I could hear on BBC4, but somewhat lacked personality when performing – perhaps a casualty of no audience to bounce off of. Should have a good, solid career though – I can envisage her being easy to cast in major roles.

  • Una says:

    Totally unnecessary and not essential travel.

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    Oh come on don’t be racist. He did a pretty good job and he is sharing the conducting over the week.

  • Jan Kaznowski says:

    He doesn’t seem very inspired in Beethoven violin concerto here


  • TOPO says:

    And what would happen if all other countries start to send british conductors home?

  • Novagerio says:

    Why do we have to have all these third-rate foreign conductors around—when we have so many second-rate ones of our own?
    – Thomas Beecham

  • Anon says:

    Oh no! Not Michael Christie! VERY bad news. This is the guy responsible for a slew of age discrimination legal issues filed against the Phoenix (Arizona) Symphony in 2009. He may still be Music Director there, albeit a much loathed one.

    Michael Christie decided, promptly on landing the job with Phoenix as a baby conductor, that he would simply fire all the older players he didn’t like. It was outrageous. He is not a particularly good conductor & he was lucky to even get the job. Somehow he thought he could get away with this.

    At last count, EIGHT veteran orch members countered with complaints of age discrimination to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. A slew of legal issues resulted against Christie and the Phoenix Symphony, including a major lawsuit filed by their longtime Principal Cellist who was abruptly fired at age 62 after years of service to the orchestra.


    Why is Michael Christie even still working? What he did was ignorant and illegal. He has no business conducting in the US or abroad. He’s not even a worthy conductor. Fire him.

    • JoshW says:

      This is ridiculous. There is WAY more to that story than what you present in your one-sided and hate-filled diatribe. I’m also guessing you had a horse in that particular race. In fact, I’m pretty sure you were one of the horses.

      • Anon #1 says:

        Nope, not even close. I just read the article. Sounds like you might actually be the main horse yourself!

        Look, there are legions of older orch players in every corner of the world. We follow the news. We’re smart, experienced players who know how to survive in a difficult profession. We observe which conductors might present a threat to our jobs.

        Personally, I’ve called out Carlos Kalmar for doing something similar in Oregon & Urbanski in Indy as well. Eschenbach pink slipped a group of veteran players in Phila & the entire orch rose up against him. He had the shortest tenure of any MD in Phila’s history.

        Conversely, when Maestro Fabio Luisi spoke out in favor of older players in this very blog, he won approval from orchestra musicians worldwide.

        It was ignorant & short sighted for Michael Christie to even attempt what he did in Phx, no matter what the full story may be.

        I have no “horses in this race”. I play in a much better orch than Phx, & I can assure you that if Christie or Urbanski or Kalmar ever come knocking on our door as guest conductor candidates, their stories will be told.

        Don’t mess with veteran players. It will always come back & bite you in the butt.

  • Anon says:

    He almost gave Rodrigo an early death in the Don Carlo with a an atrociously badly accompanied opening recit, adding beats all over the place, and had sure killed off the poor Mongolian baritone – who possesses a beautiful instrument in a better conductor’s hands – with slow, dragging tempos. Really bad, sorry.

    • Anon says:

      I fear the Mongolian baritone set his own dragging tempos – preferring to show off his undoubtedly impressive breath control rather than his musicality. The conductor was slowing the band down to match his speeds.

  • NotToneDeaf says:

    Why no comment about the OTHER American conductor involved? The real story here should be exploring why this supposedly prestigious competition would engage two mediocre conducting talents.

    • Saxon says:

      Not sure Rattle, Chailly and Muti really want to conduct a singing competition. But who knows, maybe you are right and they just weren’t asked.

  • Anon says:

    A little bit of research might remind you that the Welsh government sets its own rules. It’s certainly not the BBC which is bannning the punters – they’ve broadcast their own bands with paying audiences – but St David’s Hall and the Welsh government.

  • Anon13 says:

    This is a misleading article (as usual). It is not the fault of Michael Christie, but whoever is managing this orchestral group who wanted and hired him for this gig.

  • Observer says:

    The BBC have always famously employed the least suitable conductor for the repertoire they broadcast.
    It was ever thus, and will remain so if the muppets aka producers are left to make uninformed decisions akin to W1A – particularly in the classical music arena.

    • operacentric says:

      For most of the competitions I have watched we had Carlo Rizzi, a superb conductor of opera and a gifted accompanist (and Welsh speaker) and Richard Armstrong (likewise).

  • CLM says:

    Reading up on Michael Christie, I see that he is no longer with the Phoenix Symphony and that his contract was not renewed with his other orchestra, Brooklyn Philharmonic.

    He was in Australia before Phoenix and this scary comment about him appears in the conducting blog “All the Conducting Masterclasses”:

    “This man is terrible! People back in Australia hate him. . . He spied with binoculars during rehearsals of the Nutcracker while a guest conductor was working, to get dirt on players.”


  • Dr William A Evans says:

    I was very disappointed to see only three judges for Round One. Surely, even with restrictions, the more usual five-strong panel (even if a sub. had to be found for Dame Kiri) would have been possible and more fair?