Christoph Eschenbach, 81, collects new job

Christoph Eschenbach, 81, collects new job


norman lebrecht

January 13, 2022

The outgoing music director of Berlin’s Konzerthaus has lost none of his magnetism for naive orchestra managements.

A gushing email has just descended from normally reticent Danes:

Copenhagen Phil is incredibly proud to announce that one of the world’s greatest living conductors – Maestro Christoph Eschenbach – joins the position as Honorary Guest Conductor for the next two seasons.

It is quite a sensation that Copenhagen Phil in the coming years will initiate a permanent collaboration with Christoph Eschenbach – a phenomenon among the top league of inter­na­tional conductors, which has had the world’s leading orchestras and opera houses as his home base for about 55 years. Eschenbach is recognized worldwide as both conductor and pianist – and is loved by the audience for his special ability to always add his concerts a rare emotional intensity.

Eschenbach visited Copenhagen Phil for the first time in the autumn of 2021, where he expressed his great respect for the orchestra’s high level and ardent commitment. He will develop and enrich the orchestra with an exceptionally high quality and high professionalism, so we can expect an even better playing Copenhagen Phil in the coming years.

Christoph Eschenbach says:“I am very excited to start next season this collaboration with Copenhagen Phil as Honorary Guest Conductor. Copenhagen Phil is an orchestra with a fabulous potential. At the occasion of my last visit in October I could feel at the time a true involvement of each musician, their joy to deliver great and refined sound and make beautiful music together. I am very much looking forward to sharing this enthusiasm and high quality concerts with the Copenhagen audience.”

Eschenbach was music director happily enough in Houston from 1988 to 1999 and much less happily ever after in Philadelphia and Washington DC, where players were not consulted about his appointment.

In Philadephia, there were five player representatives on the search committee but the matter was never put to the complete membership of the orchestra and individuals were furious that the cntract was signed without Eschenbach having conducted them in more than five years.


  • Bill says:

    I’m no Eschenbach fan, far from it, but in all fairness, how often are the musicians anywhere ever happy when a new conductor is appointed without consulting them? Seems about as likely as management being pleased to hear that the musicians want union representation.

    • Monsoon says:

      There’s an organizational psychology element here.

      In organizations that are small enough where everyone interacts with the boss — or at least interacts through fewer than three degrees of separation — employees want to feel that there was a process where their input was solicited and heard, even if they have no vote in the final selection. Whether you’re an orchestra or an advertising firm, you’re going to anger employees if you don’t do this.

    • Anneliese E. says:

      It is astounding that this conductor, who has sadly failed in every one of his last four appointments, is still able to get any work whatsoever. It seems that the different orchestra managements don’t carry out very much due diligence or speak directly with musicians in the different orchestras where he underwhelmed both the musicians and the audiences, over and over and over.
      I hope that this works out better, but I doubt it, as Eschenbach is not getting any younger and as he never was a great Maestro when he was younger, I simply don’t see why his becoming an Honorary Guest Conductor of the Copenhagen Philharmonic will create anything memorable or make any change for the better. I hope that it does, for the orchestra’s sake, but I would be surprised, after having attended four Eschenbach concerts in Hamburg and one in London. Sadly, I was not impressed at all. His fussiness and seemingly just doing things to provoke and distort the musical line, was more irritating than interesting and one musician told me more or less the same thing after one memorably awful concert.
      Eschenbach has gone from having been the Music Director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Orchestra de Paris and the National Symphony in Washington to today conducting ensembles in Bulgaria and Denmark. It is a sad end to what could have been a very promising career.

      • Milena Zlatarova says:

        Sofia Philharmonic Orchestra is a well-established European orchestra with more than 90 years of history. The orchestra went through difficult times at the end of the 90s until 2015 but fortunately in the last 7 years we have been able to invite a lot of top quality soloists and conductors. Contemptuous remarks of that sort are unnecessary.

      • Mark says:

        Hey, what’s the hate for DK? There’s a rich cultural life in Denmark. Copenhagen Phil (among a few others) is quite a good symphony orchestra.

  • Achim Mentzel says:

    The question always arises how such a conducting dilettante and amateur without any technique has come so far. And still has to have any jobs at this age. The video clip of Beethoven’s 5th, published with the annoucement of the position, underpins all this. Nothing works, they can’t even fulfill the minimum requirement of orchestral interaction: playing together. Unbelievable that the orchestra is not ashamed to post something like this.

    • Kevin Amherst says:

      Achim, do you have a personal agenda here if I may ask? Sounds like you are not too experienced yourself within standards of classical music.
      Of course Eschenbach is not the youngest any longer but his muscianship stays superior to anyone knowing what they are talking about (including the video with Copenhagen Philharmonic).

  • Gustavo says:

    With Soustrot and Segerstam in Aarhus and Eschenbach in Copenhagen, Denmark appears to be the last refuge for the silver-backed maestro in these ruthless woke times which favours tits over talent.

    • Achim Mentzel says:

      As little Kevin amazingly noted above, I’m not a fan of Eschenbach, but he is still better than some Alondra or other bouncer. In that sense, you’re right, we should be grateful to the Danes.

      By the way, “Tits over Talent” could be a real hit among classical music podcasts, hosted by Barenboim and Mehta.

  • Kevin Amherst says:

    The latest Brahms box with Eschenbach and Konzerthaus Berlin is amazingly good.

  • Milena Zlatarova says:

    I had the opportunity to play with Maestro Eschenbach & Sofia Philharmonic Orchestra a month ago and I should say, that I`m completely fascinated by his conducting and personality. We did with him a fabulous Brahms 4th. For me and the most of my colleagues there was no difficulty at all in following his conducting and intentions. I found him very impressive as a communicator. He conveys his ideas not only through gestures but also with his eyes and body language. He is totally dedicated to music. You can agree or disagree with his interpetations but they are genuine and sincere. On top of that, he is a very gentle and calm man and treats the musicians in the orchestra with respect. The colleagues in Copenhagen Phil are lucky to work with him on a long term basis and benefit from his profound knowledge and passionate love for music.

  • MacroV says:

    Outgoing? Didn’t he just arrive at the Konzerthaus?

    I must admit that in the several times I’ve seen Eschenbach conduct (with the NSO, Stockholm Philharmonic, and Schlesweig-Holstein), they were all very good shows. But I won’t dispute the experience of others.

  • Herr Doktor says:

    By all accounts Maestro Eschenbach is a fundamentally kind and decent person. I’m not a fan of his conducting, however. He strikes me as a “neo-Furtwangler” stylistically with all sorts of interpretive idiosyncrasies that seem to not make sense to these ears and just leave listeners with whiplash. I particularly remember a performance of Bruckner 9 with the Boston Symphony that was hard to listen to because he kept disrupting the natural flow of the music with his heavy-handed interpretation. And I’ve heard him in 2 other concerts as well and while the interpretive disruptions were not as extreme as they were in Bruckner 9, they seemed impulsive and more to remind us that there was an “interpreter” on the podium rather than serving the music per se. Others might disagree, but it’s what I heard.

    Hopefully in Denmark he has found the right fit for his talents, and/or that his talents continue to evolve.

    • JB says:

      In Paris they were underwhelmed by Eschenbach and did not renew his contract. I heard him e.g. conduct Götterdämmerung at Chatêlet and it was certainly the worst Wagner performance of my life, lame and very shaky on a basic technical level.

  • RW2013 says:

    Whatever. I’d still prefer one flick of his wrist to all the blonde flapping that will succeed him in Berlin.

  • Achim Mentzel says:

    An approach that has nothing to do with music: The Copenhagen Philharmonic is in a catastrophic financial situation, for years it has been threatened with job cuts. Moreover, it is only number 3 in the city in terms of quality, after the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Danish Orchestra, if not number 4, if you count the excellent Danish Chamber Orchestra with Adam Fischer. So the engagement of Eschenbach on the part of the orchestra management is a clever move to show the financiers that a very well known conductor is interested in a collaboration.

    • Nosema says:

      Much of what you say is simply not true. When was the last time you were in København? And why such an unnecessarily unpleasant tone to your comments? Sounds like you have a grudge against Eschenbach and the orchestra.

    • Mick says:

      Maestro Eschenbach might be old but he is fully accountable for his actions. He signed the contract because he liked the orchestra, so there is nothing to “show” here. You are not suggesting that he was somehow tricked into it by the “clever management” of the Copenhagen Philharmonic, are you? He is also one of the highest paid conductors in the world, and that doesn’t go very well with your allegations of the orchestra being “in a catastrophic financial situation”. As to your dreamed-up “table of ranks”, it shall remain your personal whim, one you might just as well keep to yourself.

    • Kevin Amherst says:

      Well.. That’s actually not true. Since 2020 a total amount of 54 million danish governmental crowns (7.3 million euros) been added to the budgets until 2024 plus additional private funding.

  • Gustavo says:

    I heard Eschenbach do Mahler 6 in Hamburg and liked his approach very much.

    The Elphi-orchestra was fine, though I had problems with the acoustics from where I was sitting.

    • Tony Gardener says:

      Where did you sit?

      • Gustavo says:

        High up stuffed away in the back.

        I fell for the marketing medial hype stating that all seats offered the same high-quality acoustics thanks to the “white skin”.

        That was before Muti, Kaufmann and Trump had experienced the hall.

  • Monsoon says:

    I don’t get how Eschenbach keeps getting appointments, and especially, commands among the highest fees in the industry.

    Objectively, I’d argue he’s a second-rate conductor. His interpretations rarely go deeper than fussiness with tempo changes, throwing in some unusually slow tempos for the seeming purpose of just being different. He pays little attention to phrasing, balance, etc. He has no idiomatic style. I can’t recall ever hearing a critic or audience member describing themselves as a fan of his.

  • margaret koscielny says:

    I am perplexed as to the extreme hostility to Eschenbach. Is it because of speculations about his path from pianist to conductor?
    Is it resentment over his successes? Is it because of his awkwardness with the usual after performance social requirements?

    The players in Houston seemed to adore him, but Philadelphia’s resented his Furtwaengler-like erratic tempos and the extreme tempos he sometimes required. These were distortions to musicians who played for Sawallisch, who was greatly respected and adored. But, he had a gift for choosing repertoire which stretched the orchestra and expanded musical experiences, such as contemporary works, many by female composers, for audiences who were used to the same old war horses.

    Personally, I think it might have been the way the Symphony Adm. at his time in Philly promoted and advertised his appointment, which was an example of public relations and marketing on steroids. This, plus the members of the orchestra not being able to vote on the appointment. A case of Management led by well-meaning, “civilians”
    on the Board and Donors who simply didn’t have proper respect for process, which should always take musicians’ opinions seriously.

    I attended many concerts during his tenure and found some of them inspiring. Nevertheless, I would not trade any of them for the final concert conducted by Sawallish of Beethoven’s Ninth.

    Eschenbach should be commended for promoting young performers and contemporary composers. There is much to be admired, and less to be condemmed.

  • Bernard Von Herrmann says:

    In that photo, Eschenbach looks just like the evil geniuses Blofeld from the James Bond movies, and Dr. Evil from Austin Powers. That ought to keep the players in line!

  • We played many memorable concerts with Maestro Eschenbach here in Washington DC. Ihre Amtszeit hier war unvergesslich. Bravo Maestro.

    • Milena Zlatarova says:

      Mr. Honigberg, your interview with Maestro Eschenbach was excellent, so meaningful and moving! It helped me to get to know his personality better.

    • José Bergher says:

      Thank you for the wonderful interview of Maestro Eschenbach. And, by the way, congratulations for the Leonard Rose biography, which I read about ten years ago.

  • Frank Flambeau says:

    Dausgaard is available.

  • BigSir says:

    Eschenbach can give a memorable performance. Thats why he is 81 and still getting gigs!

  • Eschenbach says:

    He’s a great musician, really fantastic at times. And he is very clear in his ideas, consistent. Like any human being, they do better when treated gently. great that he has a new orchestra, too bad he’s not in Berlin anymore (they liked him a lot).

  • Milena Zlatarova says:

    Maestro Eschenbach is one of the kind. He is quite different from the prevailing now type of constantly smiling, easy-going, manufactory conductors. You may regard him as an old-fashioned and he is, but in a good sense. One of the reasons why he still is in great demand, is the incredible amount of energy and dedication he puts into his work. My God, he was really amazing in Sofia! Such a clear mind and enthusiasm for making music! Many young musicians should take an example from him. He rehearses in great details, gradually shaping the piece, demanding the best performance from the musicians in a very determined but at the same time gentle way, without forcing them. He doesn`t seek to make himself likeable but at the end most of my colleagues liked him a lot. And it is so rare to keep on your own path in the current ready-made musical world, mostly operated by social media and agencies, that the least he deserves, is a respect for his art.

  • Novagerio says:

    First time 2021? I recall seeing a concert with the then Tivoli Symphony Orchestra of Copenhagen (the Summer name of the then Sjællands Symfoniorkester, today’s Copenhagen Phil) back in the late 80s, with Eschenbach and Tzimon Barto (then his protégé), where both Brahms Piano Concertos were being performed. Eschenbach and Barto switched roles on each piece, as conductor alternative soloist.

  • Piano Lover says:

    “””I am very excited to start next season this collaboration with Copenhagen Phil as Honorary Guest Conductor”””
    May be more money and easier than to play piano…does he still know how to play that instrument?