Just in: Roger Norrington prepares his last concert

Just in: Roger Norrington prepares his last concert


norman lebrecht

November 08, 2021

The British conductor, 87, will end his podium career next week on November 18, it has just been announced.

The Royal Northern Sinfonia, in Newcastle-Gateshead have the privilege of staging his final bow.

Press release below.

UPDATE: The nicest man in classical music

In what promises to be a very special evening, Royal Northern Sinfonia is celebrating not only the music of Haydn but Sir Roger Norrington himself, as he takes to the stage for what he has decided will be his final night on the conductor’s podium. …

As a pioneer of the movement for historically informed performance for over 50 years, there is nobody better suited to lead this recreation of Dr Haydn’s London Academy. In 18th Century London, concerts were often known as academies, but despite the scholarly-sounding title these evenings were pure entertainment, comprising a mixed bill of orchestral, solo and chamber music. Stripping back modern conventions and traditions, this all-Haydn programme breaks up symphonic movements with songs and chamber music, as it would have experiences by audiences in the 1790s.

Sir Roger Norrington said “I have enjoyed every minute of over 50 years of making music with some of the most wonderful and talented musicians in the world. The time has come to step off the podium and I am thrilled to spend my last concert as conductor celebrating Haydn with Royal Northern Sinfonia.”

Thorben Dittes, Director of Royal Northern Sinfonia said “It is an honour for Royal Northern Sinfonia and Sage Gateshead to be the hosts of Sir Roger Norrington’s last performance on the podium. The music of Haydn is at the very heart of both our orchestra’s work and Sir Roger’s extremely distinguished career. To have him leading this personally curated recreation of a concert as an audience in London would have experienced it in the 1790s is the perfect culmination of 70 years of music making.

Norrington Presents: Dr Haydn’s London Academy

Haydn Symphony No.103 ‘Drumroll’, movements 1 & 2 (17 mins)
Haydn Set of English Canzonettas (15 mins)
Haydn String Quartet Op.76 No.5 (19 mins)
Haydn Symphony No.103 ‘Drumroll’, movements 3 & 4 (10 mins)


Haydn March for the Prince of Wales (5 mins)
Haydn Set of English Canzonettas (14 mins)
Haydn Symphony No.101 ‘The Clock’ (29 mins)

Sir Roger Norrington conductor
Susan Gritton soprano
Steven Devine fortepiano
Royal Northern Sinfonia


  • pjl says:

    A WONDERFUL MAN; he gave a fascinating talk on his career in 2019 in Oxford which I was lucky to attend. Great memories of the LCP Beethoven around 1988-90 and, especially, the Schubert 9 without the dreadful slowing down at the end of the 1st movement that had become a near-norm. My favourite memories are of his rehearsing the VPO in Walton’s Popular Song and desperately trying to get them to feel the ‘swing’ and nonchalance of it. Same rehearsal was a straight-through Elgar 1 which was stunning, as it was more recently in Paris where he loved getting the youngish audience at the Philharmonie to applaud after the 1st movement and in the Dvorak cello concerto before that.
    Many will hate his recent swivel round in the chair to milk the applause but for me it was a delight.

  • Frank says:

    Excellent news – good riddance to him and his awful technique and bad musicianship that sucks the life out of everything he touches. An utter charlatan!

    • John Borstlap says:

      I don’t know about this Hyadn but I’m happy to hear a dissenting voice. This classical stuff is nerve wrecking & hindering the progress we need in the world!


    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      I wouldn’t go that far but his performance of the 1st Symphony of Brahms a few years ago with a German orchestra was just dreadful. I felt sorry for those fine musicians, to be truthful.

    • Fernandel says:

      Strangely enough, his Vaughan Williams cycle with the LPO on Decca is damn good. The rest alternates hoax and pedantry.

    • Una says:

      Really? What a horrible and mean comment.

    • David Goulden says:

      ‘An utter charlatan’. I was about to type those same words. I wish him no harm. Christ, though, the most clueless high-profile musician I know of. If I could listen to only his recordings, I would choose to live without music.

  • Rob says:

    One of the GREATS! His Bruckner 6 is absolutely superb – listent to the wonderfully delineated brass at the start.

    Don’t listen to that so-called critic, you know who he is; he’s just bitter old worm who can’t bare anyone to challenge his view. Forget him!

    Listen to this:


    • Wurm says:

      Which bitter old critic?

    • La plus belle voix says:

      Right. Just listen to measure 16 onwards in the first movement and ask why the dotted rhythms in the woodwind are played as triplets, not a dotted eighth note + one sixteenth. Because he conducted it that way? Because he couldn’t hear it correctly? Because he couldn’t care? Answer on one side of the paper only.

  • David J Hyslop says:

    Worked with Roger many times here in Minneapolis with the Minnesota Orchestra. He is a fine musician and has great courage in surviving his cancer challenges.

    • Amos says:

      Absolutely agree on battling cancer. As far as approach to guest conducting an orchestra I’ve read that while he is far from oppressive that he can be somewhat dismissive. The specific example involved a first rehearsal with a top flight orchestra in which he came dressed in a t-shirt, shorts and sandals and treated the players as though they were novices. My understanding is that at the 2nd rehearsal the members came dressed in shirt and tie and he was never invited back. I wish every retirement wasn’t treated as an occasion to indulge in hagiography; longevity is admirable but doesn’t always equate with HOF talent.

      • Jack says:

        Think I’ll stick with the opinion of one who has actually worked with him.

      • Peter San Diego says:

        Was that the Cleveland, quite early in Norrington’s career? Perhaps that might be chalked up to youthful impetuosity; perhaps he evolved. I’ve enjoyed many of his recordings.

        • Amos says:

          It was. Who early in any career acts in such a presumptuous manner?

        • Maria says:

          Recordings not a patch on his live music-making. All patched together as recordings are. Obviously from the remarks on here, Roger is Marmite – adored by most of us who had the privilege to work both for him and with him, and those who are experts in armchairs with scores and recordings. Not everyone can be Bernard Haitink, a Sir Charles Macckeras, or a Sir George Solti. Roger didn’t become Sir Roger Norrington for nothing. You may not like his work but some of us worked with him right back from the early days and that can never be taken away, or the invaluable things he taught us to prepare us for the life as solo singers, resilience as well as being valued. He was a fine singer himself. People forget that.

    • Maria says:

      Yes, absolutely.

  • Michael B. says:

    Sorry, I am no fan. Norrington made the worst ever recording of Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique.” Despite Berlioz’s own commentary on the work and the fact that when Berlioz premiered the work, he had an orchestra of something like 130 players, when Norrington recorded the work, he cut the orchestra down to about 60 players on no authority other than his own. It really took something to make the last two movements, “March to the Scaffold” and “Dream of the Witches’ Sabbath,” sound boring, but Norrington managed it.

    • Peter San Diego says:

      Tastes can differ; I found that recording a thrill. It has since been displaced by Roth and Les Siecles, but in its time it was truly pioneering.

  • Pagano says:

    Wonderful memories, especially a L’Enfance du Christ with St Luke’s in Symphony Hall Boston with Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and a Beethoven “Experience” with the Missa in San Francisco including an analysis with the full orchestra, chorus and soloists and culminating in a full and thrilling performance. Wishing him all the best in retirement.

  • La plus belle voix says:

    Thank the good lord for that. Here is his appallingly discontinuous and wilfully aberrant account (twitching corpse would be a better word) of Brahms Symphony No.2:


    (Check out measure 408 in the finale, where, after the half note rest, he jumps in too early, like many an amateur conductor.)

    And here is how it should sound under a proper conductor:


    Just for the record, musicologists are pretty well united in their opinions that Norrington’s historically informed performance practice is complete fiction. But what’s not to like?

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Obviously he has done damage to two Brahms symphonies, as the First with just dreadful when I heard it.

      Saw him interviewed for the film on Beethoven (I think it was) and he looked like he was in his pyjamas.

      No Kleiber, that’s for sure.

    • John Borstlap says:

      The Brahms II in the link is simply one where the continuity has been taken-out, and everything thought in small units. This is a matter of discussion, since it is by now well-known that Brahms worked with the idea of the classical orchestra in mind, and presumably also some of the aesthetics of the classical style – Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven. So, some of the transparancy and lightness of the older composers must be part of playing Brahms. But there is so much emotional and musical continuity in the music, more in the wake of Schubert, that N’s approach is falling short. Also the thin string sound is lacking the necessary warmth – which the music clearly asks for. If orchestras in the 19th century played with such thin string sound, they did not serve the music well. I think Brahms is not something that Norrington has some real feeling for, and things like the development section counterpoint in the 1st mvt sounds dreadful.

      The performance in the 2nd link is indeed so much better. Masur catches both the lightness of the classical style AND the expansiveness and continuity that is definitely also in the music. Also the orchestra is better, Norrington had to do with a lesser band. I think he is much better with Haydn and Beethoven. (About Mozart I have my doubts.)

  • PB says:

    I was privileged to sing the tenor solo part in a Beethoven Missa Solemnis sorry me years ago; it was a wonderful experience.

  • Patricia says:

    This is a wonderful program. Christopher Hogwood use to craft his programs like this. Mr Norrington has done wonderful things for the HIP way of music-making.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Here is Norrington with Haydn’s nr 104:


    Beautifully done with apt understanding of 18C aesthetics.

  • Gustavo says:

    He got the Schütz for sure.

  • Jack says:

    His performance of the Schubert 9th in Carnegie Hall with the Orchestra of St. Lukes was one of the high points in my concert-going life. Thank you, Sir Roger.

    • Antonius says:

      Likewise, his performance of Schubert’s 9th with the Camerata Salzburg at the Mozarteum’s magnificent Großes Salle in 2002 was inspirational, deeply affecting many in my music society holiday group. I took great pleasure in telling him so in the garden afterwards.

  • Evan Tucker says:

    I’ve never been a fan, to say the least, but it still makes me sad to hear he’s done. He was what he was, and even if he gave us a lot of pseudo scholarship one would hear he was generally a nice man to work with. I hope he has an enjoyable retirement.

    • Herr Doktor says:

      The scuttlebutt that I heard from Boston Symphony Orchestra musicians is that he was generally not liked by the BSO. I’m not a fan based on what I heard live, but I do wish him well.

    • John Borstlap says:

      My fly on the wall informs me that he is going to listen exclusively to recordings of Xenakis, Boulez, and Friedrich Haas, and will never touch a classical score or CD again.

  • Amos says:

    I’m sure he will explain why he’s opted to split the Symphony #103 in half but regardless of the reason(s) it is as self-indulgent as those who opt to pause for 5 minutes between the 1st & 2nd movements of the Mahler 2nd. Supposedly Mahler approved of the practice to allow the listener time to absorb what they had just heard. The one time I attended a performance with the pause the conductor sat with his head in his hands as if contemplating Yorick’s skull.

    • Barry Guerrero says:

      Mahler didn’t just “approve” of the practice (five minute pause); he actually specifies it in the score. Most conductors keep it down to a minute or 90 seconds for obvious, practical reasons.

      • Amos says:

        Regrettably even geniuses make ill-advised decisions and most conductors do not follow scores without a modicum of thought and good taste in mind.

  • True North says:

    His Mahler recordings are crimes against music. Simply horrible. What a charlatan.

    • David Goulden says:

      Nailed it. Wouldn’t accept a Norrington record (of anything) for free. Wouldn’t even care to touch it. Listened to a few of his EMI recordings of Beethoven in the 1980s. The guy is a clueless joke.

  • Ilio says:

    Thank goodness. Music has been spared from his dogma.

  • Pablo says:

    It seems rather callous to kick a man when he’s down and practically out, but I have to agree with the many negative comments here. I was so appalled that I left in the middle of a rehearsal (feigning illness) and pulled out of the subsequent tour many years ago. I also refused to ever play for him again!

  • Adrian says:

    How someone so unmusical could become so celebrated as a great musician is something that could only happen in musically uneducated England.

  • Una Barry says:


    Not interesting? I certainly found this particular interview very interesting and at times humourous to transcribe as the official transcriber and a privilege to do so for the musicologist, Bruce Duffie in Chicago. Bruce interviewed Roger for WNIB Classical 97 in Chicago, as he did thousands of eminent musicians and producers passing through many from Britain to perform at the Lyric Opera, or with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. You don’t go there if you are useless!