Exclusive: Chicago invites Thielemann

Exclusive: Chicago invites Thielemann


norman lebrecht

March 24, 2022

The Chicago Symphony has yet to announce its 2022-23 season but we’ve had a major leak from a reliable insider.

Christian Thielemann will conduct the orchestra in four October concerts featuring Bruckner 8.

He is being presented as ‘the most admired of today’s German conductors’. Prominent board members have told our source that they consider his appearance to be a job audition. The announcement is billed as ‘Riccardo Muti’s final season as music director’.

Thielemann, 62, is unquestionably an admired German conductor. He has been music director of the Bayreuth Festival, Salzburg Easter Festival and the Staatskapelle Dresden. Some of his Bayreuth recordings measure favourably against giants of the past.

But Thielemann has no profile in America. He conducted the New York Philharmonic in five seasons between 1995 and 2002 but we cannot find trace of him working with any US orchestra in the past two decades.

He is a conservative figure, both politically and in his musical tastes. He has shown negligible interest in contemporary music, women composers or minorities.

Is that where Chicago is going?


  • Concertgebouw79 says:

    Take it easy. He’s only a guest conductor. Like so many in every orchestra. In a season it’s normal that the orchestras work with different types of music and types of conductors styles. And there’s no reason to force a conductor to do contemporain music. I don’t believe that he will be the next musical director. Thielemann deserves respect. If I was from Chicago I would prefer to hear the Bruckner 9th. I don’t like very much the 8th.

  • Gareth Jones says:

    Knowing Chicago pretty well – the audience – I would have thought they’d love the idea of Thielemann. Whether they’d enjoy the reality 3/4 years hence is another matter, but I can imagine people there wanting him

  • Bart says:

    Unfair to say he has no American profile, during the years 1993 to 2003 he conducted 26 performances at the MET and was a regular guest conducting the Minnesota Orchestra. Not to mention his appearances at the San Francisco Opera and Lyric Opera of Chicago.

    • Concertgebouw79 says:

      There’s no age or profile to work with american orchestras. For exemple Chailly dont have what we can call al “american carrer” but he made fantastic records with the Cleveland orchestra

    • Fil Rich says:

      He also recorded with Philadelphia on DG.

      • Sol L Siegel says:

        This was around 1996. At about that time I heard him lead Brahms 4 with the Orchestra at the Academy of Music. I recall it as a pretty good performance, with his then-notorious eccentricities held pretty much in check. I like the Wagner disc, too.

        • Concertgebouw79 says:

          Interisting that you talk about Chailly in Philadelphia; Form Europe, and for the Chailly’s fan (he’s the GOAT for me) it’s a moment completly unknown. I have some records from that period but first I thought that it was made with the RCO I have to say it’s a mistake. The Chailly Wagner album was made with the RCO. but it’s the 90’s.

    • Tom says:

      Or his recordings with the Philadelphia Orchestra!

  • Joel Stein says:

    I heard him conduct the CSO in 1993-Beethoven 5 and 6. I believe he conducted the Lyric Opera a few years later in Meistersinger.

    • Old Man in the Midwest says:

      Yes, I was playing with the orchestra as a sub at that time and remember him coming (don’t remember the program) but I remember being very impressed.

      As far as the comments on programming, the tails of the bell curve can be filled by others (for contemporary, Baroque, minority/women composers). I don’t think these areas of the literature have to be done by the music director.

      The main thing musicians want in an MD is a musician who can inspire the orchestra with the standard core literature, get tour invites to the major European festivals, have good relations with the leading soloists, and be able to attend donor events and shake money from the trees of Big Donors.

      • Tom Clowes says:

        I strenuously disagree with the idea that works by White men have to be done by the music director by works by women and people of color do not have to be.

  • Lothario Hunter says:

    Imagine there’s no Muti
    It’s easy if you try

    You may say I’m a dreamer
    But I’m not the only one


  • Amos says:

    In the late 90’s he conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra. IMO a guest appearance with the Leningrad/ St Petersburgh SO is a more apt partnership.

  • phf655 says:

    At the Met, Thielemann has conducted Rosenkavalier in 1993, Arabella in 1994, and Die Frau ohne Schatten in 2002/03. I have memories of the latter being an extraordinary event. As far as I know, his last United States appearances were with the Staatskapelle Dresden in Carnegie Hall in 2013.
    Thielemann deserves a higher US profile. But his unfortunate tendency to mouth off on right-wing causes makes him a bad fit for any permanent relationship with a United States orchestra or opera company.

    • PaulD says:

      I caught the 2013 tour in a performance in Washington, DC. It was an all-Brahms concert. Fortunately, it was in the warm acoustic of the concert hall in nearby Bethesda, and not the big cave in the Kennedy Center. The mellow sound of that orchestra was something else, that’s for sure.

      • Don Ciccio says:

        I was at that concert and at the subsequent Bruckner 8 at Carnegie Hall. I felt that the Staatskapelle has lost its unique string sound in exchange for a Karajanized soup. Big disappointment.

        That said, I also heard Thielemann conducting Bruckner 8 with the Vienna Philharmonic at the Musikverein in 2007 and that was a performance for the ages.

        • Anton says:

          Karajanized soup in your dreams, Ciccio!

          • Don Ciccio says:

            Not only in my dreams, having heard Karajan live and on recordings. But I bet you did not hear these particular concerts.

          • Anton says:

            Then you will know he never made soup of my counterpoint!

            (I heard him conduct the Eighth in 1979 and 1989, and in different programs on fourteen other occasions: the Missa solemnis, the German Requiem, Fidelio, Eine Alpensinfonie, the Eroica, Il trovatore, Tosca, Also sprach Zarathustra, the Triple Concerto, and in symphonies of Mozart and Schubert. From on high, of course.)

          • Don Ciccio says:

            OK, so you liked Karajan’s Mozart. Good to know where you’re coming from.

            But the point is that you did not hear those Thielemann / Dresden Staatskapelle concerts that I mentioned. I stand put.

    • Norabide Guziak says:

      Nothing wrong with right-wing causes.

    • ThomEd57 says:

      If you have listened to hom closely and not via people like Lebrecht you would know that he not al all mouthes off on right wing causes. That’s just what droolers remotely make of it because they’d like to have it like that.

    • Ben says:

      Can you please cite the evidence for him mouthing off on right wing causes?

  • MB says:

    Finally, after 15 years, we will hear a Bruckner that does not sound like Pergolesi.

    Thank you Lord. Thank you.

    • music lover says:

      H e did a Pergolesi Stabat Mater that sounded like Bruckner in return some years ago.And some Debussy,Tchaikovsky and Verdi too.

    • Midwestern Violin says:

      That will only happen if the bass section get off their lazy b–ts and start playing.

  • excellent mix says:

    great conductor, very unique orchestra. sounds excellent !

  • frank says:

    I heard Thielemann conduct the Philadelphia Orchestra ( Beethoven #3) back in the early 80s . Unforgettable performance.

    • Barry says:

      You must have him confused with someone else. He didn’t conduct in Philadelphia until the mid 90s and never led the Eroica there.

    • Todd says:

      The memory is a tricky thing. Thielemann didn’t make his Philly debut until 1995 and he never conducted the “Eroica” with them. He did conduct Beethoven 5 in those debut performances.

  • Petros Linardos says:

    At his best Thielemann has few equals and no superiors. To my ears his best is in the opera pit, in the repertory of his heritage – not unlike Muti.

  • Gustavo says:

    He has even done a Wagner disc in America.


  • Nicolas dV says:

    Hasn’t he recorded Wagner’s Preludes & overtures with the Philadelphia Orchestra ?

    • RichinCA says:

      Indeed he did–I own it…on DG and it sounds lush & impressive. I’ll probably play the Parsifal excerpts again when Easter season rolls around.

  • John Borstlap says:

    “He has shown negligible interest in contemporary music, women composers or minorities.”

    But no doubt a compromise would be possible. If he would conduct Wagner chunks, the composer could be described as the first classical composer obsessed with cross-dressing, and being accused in the press at the time as having a relationship with the King of bavaria.



  • Barry says:

    He led five programs in Philadelphia during the mid to late 90s and was thought to be a possible successor to Sawallisch during that period

  • waw says:

    Chicago is totally in Thielemann’s wheelhouse. But for contemporary politics, purely on an artistic basis, they would be a perfect fit.

    He and the NY Phil famously did not get along, which explains the no-invite from Borda.

    • Mary says:

      With Thielemann you know what you’re getting: unparalleled core German Austrio repertory. (You can, as Muti did, outsource the contemporary, woman, minority repertory.)

      What did the NY Phil get when it settled on van Zweden? He excelled at neither the core, nor the other repertories.

      Don’t settle to please every agenda.

    • Don Ciccio says:

      But isn’t there such a political precedent with regards to the Chicago Symphony? if I remember correctly – someone please fill in the blanks – both Furtwängler and Karajan were rejected for such reasons.

  • Rob says:

    Thielemann + Bruckner ?!?!? That’s a rare combo.

    I wonder wonder what that will sound like….Mmmmmm??

    I was thinking more, Maxwell Davies 8th or Tubin’s 4th or Roy Harris 3 or Elgar 1 or some of the lesser known Thomas Adès!??

    Yet, Bruckner 8???

    YOU’VE GOT TO BE JOKING???!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Bruckner; the ideal cure for insomnia. For a very loooooog sleep.

      • Herr Doktor says:

        Sue, you are again breaking your New Year’s resolution to spend every waking minute of your non-work time studying your hero Jordan Peterson–as you should.

        How unfortunate that you don’t get Bruckner. But then again, big ideas don’t flourish in small minds.

      • Player says:

        Sue, has someone interfered with you? You don’t like Wagner or Bruckner… CK would not have agreed.

  • Don Ciccio says:

    Thielemann will never become Chicago’s MD. You can’t find decent sauerbraten in Chicago.

    What is decent sauerbraten, anyway?

    • Lilas Pastia says:

      The Berghoff is a nice and famous German restaurant in Chicago – walking distance to Orchestra Hall. Their Sauerbraten at USD 21.95 sounds rather nice: “Marinated roasted sirloin of beef, topped with sweet and sour gravy, served with melange of vegetables and buttermilk whipped potatoes”

    • Gareth Jones says:

      You’ve clearly never visited the Berghoff in downtown Chicago

  • EastsideArts says:

    Thielemann conducted two weeks with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1996. Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Bartok Viola Concerto and Brahms 2 was one of the programs if I recall correctly. The reviews are below:



    • Chris says:

      Those performances were a legendary disaster in LA Phil history. The normally very agreeable LA Phil musicians were in near riot mode with his rehearsals and conducting. During a rehearsal as Thielemann was lecturing the musicians, he spoke about how things would be different next time. One musician in the orchestra immediately responded “Don’t worry, there won’t be a next time” and, indeed, he was never invited back.

      I’m glad that the LA Times reviewed the performances for what they were:
      Brahms 2: “slow, finicky and passionless performance of the piece.”
      Bartok Viola Concerto: “Thielemann accompanied with precise but antiseptic involvement.”
      Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture: “…emerged as if designed more for a five-act tragedy than a mercurial comedy. Even Bruckner’s dead-weight Overture in G minor offers more sparkle than this version did.”

    • Angeleno says:

      … reviews from the B team of Cariaga and Pasles!

  • waw says:

    There are auditions in which the orchestra evaluates the conductor, and then there are auditions in which the orchestra plays at its very best, to shine, to impress the conductor being evaluated.

    Thielemann will get the latter type of audition: Thielemann wants to impress Chicago with his Bruckner. Chicago wants to impress Thielemann that they can play Bruckner better than Vienna and Berlin.

    It promises to be a special evening.

    • Pedro says:

      Yes. I hope I can go. Thielemann is one of the top two or three conductors around. Great Frau in Salzburg and Vienna. Superb Strauss and Wagner concerts in Dresden. He would be perfect for Chicago and his Gurre-Lieder were quite an experience.

    • Beto says:

      If Chicago can still play Bruckner, it’s no thanks to Muti, who has been neglecting this area of the canon during his tenure in favor of minor Italian composers. It’s not by playing Martucci that you keep your Bruckner in top form.

      • Sashimi says:

        I don’t quite disagree yet what a funny thing to say, in the last 5 years or so Muti has done 4(also on domestic your),7 which was quite beautiful, 9 and Te Deum were released on cso label and he’s doing 2 next week. I would actually say Muti and Bruckner is fairly reliable combination and if there is one composer that he’s been neglecting, it’s Mahler as he only does 1&4 and you can only do those so often…. It will be quite amusing to see Jaap unleash the beast in 6 with Muti returning right after that

  • Brian says:

    At least he’s at a comparable level to Muti, unlike some of the other names being floated. And surely you jest when you imply that an interest in “contemporary music, women composers or minorities” should be a qualification for position of Music Director of the Chicago Symphony. If that is the case, we should just shut it all down and all go home.

  • Don Ciccio says:

    Maybe Thielemann did not show any *interest* in contemporary music, but he dutifully led works by a number of composers. For example, the Dresden Staatskapelle has appointed yearly “Capell-Compositeurs’; Matthias Pintscher is the current one, and Sofia Gubaidulina was for some years previosuly. In Munich he conducted works by Jörg Widmann.

  • No American profile? Now he’ll have one.

    But for most American orchestras, the less American the conductor, the more attractive he is.

  • William says:

    He also recorded a Wagner album with the Philadelphia Orchestra in I believe the late ’90s.

  • IP says:

    How does a conductor express an interest in minorities? Conduct music by a straight American composer?

  • Alank says:

    A concert well worth traveling to hear. The CSO has a marvelous tradition with the Bruckner 8. Having attended the Guilini “miracle performance” (as accurately declared by the Chicago Tribune) in the mid 1970’s and the great Haitink performance some 15 years ago, I would relish hearing Thielemann conduct this performance regardless of his future with the orchestra. For this repertoire, they are as good of a match of conductor and orchestra as any in the world today.

    • Herr Doktor says:

      So long as Maestro Thielemann does not micro-manage Bruckner’s 8th to death, as is his wont, it has the potential to be memorable. Unfortunately though, I find myself usually disappointed by Thielemann’s Bruckner as much as I want to like it. He seems so focused on micro-managing the details that he misses the big picture and the big line fails to emerge clearly.

      • Novagerio says:

        Herr Doc “as long as Maestro Thielemann does not micro-manage Bruckner’s 8th to death, as is his wont” – you are watching too much David Hurwitz.

        • Herr Doktor says:

          With all due respect, I’ve never heard a single thing David Hurwitz has had to say about Thielemann. I’m assuming Hurwitz doesn’t care for Thielemann’s Bruckner then by your comments.

          I generally enjoy Thielemann’s Wagner with some minor reservations (although to be clear Thielemann is no Karajan or Furtwangler in Wagner); Thielemann’s Bruckner rarely hits the mark to my ears.

  • Mary says:

    Usually, when a sought-after conductor drops by Chicago, he also drops by Cleveland (and vice-versa), sort of a Midwestern “two-fer”, two for the price of one airline ticket, as it were ; )

    And not a bad deal either. Two international jewels within driving distance of each other.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Thielemann also shows up in Cleveland with the identical program.

    Interesting if the American Midwest became the home of Thielemann and Welser-Most.

    (Or maybe the Clevelanders would be so impressed by Thielemann, they fire Weler-Most, ha ha)

  • David A. Boxwell says:

    I predict this will end in tears. And I have zero psychic ability . . .

  • Monsoon says:

    Under Muti’s tenure, the orchestra’s programming has been extremely conservative. I flipped through the 2018-19 season brochure, for example, and it might as well been from the 1960-61 season.

    Chicago is hardly programming the same breadth of contemporary music as LA and SF have done for decades.

    • Sashimi says:

      Well Midwest ain’t California and the cso programming department knows they have to keep it “classical” otherwise no one will show up and frankly who could blame them? When the glorified composers of today’s age realize that music should be soothing and memorable and not disturbing to a point where I feel the need to visit a psychologist, perhaps they will be programmed more, what’s more perhaps their pieces will be played more than once before aptly thrown in the garbage where they belongs

    • Herr Doktor says:

      To Chicago’s credit!

  • Euphonium Al says:

    I do think Thielemann would be an odd choice for Chicago. Under Muti, the CSO’s repertoire has been much more varied than just the core Austro-German warhorses. I take the points above about having guests and assistants handle the most adventurous works, but you can’t have a music director who just plays Bruckner, Beethoven, and Wagner. Seems to me unlikely he’ll actually end up being the final selection.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    Bruckner? Pass.

  • Karl says:

    “He has shown negligible interest in contemporary music, women composers or minorities.” Sounds good to me. Does he hate dogs and children too? Any man who hates dogs and children can’t be all bad.

  • Nathaniel Rosen says:

    Regarding “negligible interest in contemporary music”, I am reminded of Sviatoslav Richter’s reply to a question of why he had stopped composing after his well-received early efforts: “What the world doesn’t need is more bad music.”

    • Old Man in the Midwest says:

      Mr Rosen, as a fan of yours for many years, I could not agree with you and Mr Richter more.

      We have arrived at a place where the remaining classical music stations on air (I use WFMT here in Chicago as an example), where weak literature played by boring performers tends to be the norm. I find myself turning the radio OFF more than keeping it on.

      We need to return to the Canon of great art and keep the Masters front and center. If a contemporary composer deserves to be in the Canon, then it will gradually happen.

      Everyone who conducts wants to be attached to a great composer. But performing stuff onstage just so that it checks off certain boxes is one more way we are diluting and hurting our own art form.

      • music lover says:

        There are lots of fascinating composers today…Nothing more boring than listaning to the same 70 pieces again and again….I need to listen to the people of my generation, those who speak my language,live through the events of now and share my experiences and those of my generation..not just dead ones…The same whiny complaints made by some old farts 150 years ago about Brahms and Wagner,and in 1805 about Beethoven.Every composer has to be heard to be judged.And i think Ades ,Adams,Lindberg,or Saariaho every bit as great as Beethoven,Strawinsky,Strauss or Mahler.Most people don´t really listen to the”Classical Masterworks”anyway.They just wait for some “beautiful moments” they recognize to relive some pleasant moments they have experienced while listening to it in the past,reading some program notes in between instead of focusing on the music.

  • JB says:

    Is Thielemann interested by a job as music director ? In all his previous such roles he ran into trouble. He didn’t complain in public when his contract in Dresden was not extended adn he continues conduct there. Maybe a life as guest conductor suits him better.

  • Reinhard Lippert says:

    Was ist das für ein schauderhaftes Deutsch! Man kann doch nicht den letzten billigsten Hilfsdolmetscher, der offensichtlich auch keinen Bezug zum Inhalt hat, engagieren!
    Eine Diskriminierung kunstheiliger Ereignisse °°°“`

    • Brünhilde says:

      Es handelt sich hier um einen englischen Artikel. Sie haben offenbar einen Browser, der automatisch übersetzt. Das sind Maschinenübersetzungen. Sie machen sich lächerlich, wenn sie hier eine Maschine beschimpfen.

  • CSOA Insider says:

    I don’t understand where these Chicago leaks might be coming from.

    • Chuck says:

      Do you happen to know the dates?

      • CSOA Insider says:

        No. But it were up to me, and I were in charge of inviting Maestro Thielemann to Chicago, I could not think of any better dates than October 20, 21, 22, 25.

        • SM says:

          You seem to have a very strange understanding of the word “confidential” my dear colleague

          • CSOA Insider says:

            Fair enough. I do have a different understanding. Around here, “confidential” typical means to hush up the deeply unethical conduct taking place at the very top of the circus.

  • soavemusica says:

    “He is a conservative figure, both politically and in his musical tastes. He has shown negligible interest in contemporary music, women composers or minorities. Is that where Chicago is going?”

    The liberal world only wants liberals! We are so tolerant! Agree – or be cancelled!

    Time for conservatives to stop funding this show.

  • Dan says:

    Saw him in Philly in the 90’s. Somewhat turgid, stolid and loud.

  • fflambeau says:

    “He is a conservative figure, both politically and in his musical tastes. He has shown negligible interest in contemporary music, women composers or minorities.” It makes sense. Chicago has been a conservative area for a long time. Look at Muti. No way they choose a woman as a leader.

  • Peter says:

    No interest in contemporary music, women and minorities! Maybe they should also invite a lesbian bus conductor in order to ascertain maximum equality?

  • Rob says:


    We’d love you to conduct some Harbison and John Adams in your inaugural concert.


    I’m sorry, I only do Bruckner, Strauss, Pfitzner and Wagner.


    How about Mahler’s 5th Symphony?


    I’m sorry, I only do Bruckner, Strauss, Pfitzner and Wagner.

    • Don Ciccio says:

      This is obviously a joke, as Thielemann has done some Mahler (not too much, granted, but not negligible) and, when asked, he has programmed American music as well. For example William Schuman in New York.

  • Ed C. says:

    He also conducted Philadelphia Orchestra in the mid 90s. He recorded some Wagner with them.

  • Sashimi says:

    Isn’t every single guest conductor being auditioned for the job? Just because Thielemann hasn’t been to US in years and he’s a high profile conductor doesn’t mean he’s the one for the job, imagine if alongside Thielemann the cso also got Rattle and Chailly in the same season, that would probably mean they will have three music directors, right?

    • MacroV says:

      It’s surely the CSO wanting to check him out as a prospective MD. He hasn’t been there in years, and he’s at the very top of the profession, exactly the kind of conductor the CSO would want.

      He’ll come, he’ll have a great time (probably on his best behavior), will say he never had an interest in a U.S. job, but he was so overwhelmed by the musicianship and professionalism of the CSO…

  • M McGrath says:

    Thielemann would be a tremendous coup for Chicago and the US. I hope he goes for it.

  • fiddleman says:

    Thielemann should do all the guest conducting he can but he should never, ever be considered for the post of music director. As in Nürnberg, Berlin, Munich, and Dresden, he was incapable of working hamoniously with managment and polarized the musicians. Let him conduct his Bruckner and Strauss everywhere but don’t entrust him with the power of a music directorship, particularly in the USA. He has no interest in exploring new repertoire or broadening the audience. Not a man for the 21st century!

  • Thielemann conducted Meistersinger at Chicago Lyric some years ago and is brilliant with a rather limited repertoire. He has a somewhat abrasive personality, though I assisted him at the opera and we got along. I’m not sure how he’d work out with Chicago.

  • PGHK says:

    The CSO problem is nit to do woman or minority composers. They do already too many of them. Their problem is to come back to the Orchestra under Solti which was competing with Berlin. Thielemann is way above the other names to that regard.

  • Bass Fan says:

    Over many years of subscriptions I always look to the players to see how they react to different conductors. It is obvious to me if they are just phoning it in or are truly engaged. As much as Muti drove me crazy at times, they rose to a higher level when he was there and the result was at times transcendant.

  • David Spence says:

    I recoomend Chicago SO musicians trying out his Bruckner 8 with VPO. it is a mess. Recent Beethoven with Staatskapelle Dresden is hardly any better. And there could be one or two other reasons this could be a mismatch. Or, on that front, I could be wrong.