Latest news from the maestro transfer market

Latest news from the maestro transfer market


norman lebrecht

July 03, 2022

From my new monthly essay in The Critic:

Like football clubs, symphony orchestras enter the transfer market in the close season — and I have never known a busier one than the summer of 2022.

Just look at the gaps on the map. New York and Chicago are hunting a music director, as are Munich, Amsterdam and Covent Garden. One league down, there are vacancies at the Vienna Symphony, in Toulouse, Seattle, Minnesota, Seoul, Manchester, Moscow (several) and more.

The net result is that only two front runners are being pursued for all the jobs above

It used to be easy to select a music director. Line up half a dozen guest conductors over one season and see which, if any, impress. Then, if the musicians respond to one, turn on the charm and pitch a salary offer just above rival bids, and well below the current ceiling of $4 million. Done deal.

Covid, however, broke the circuit. …

Read on here.


  • tet says:

    Nah, I don’t see a Finn landing in Chicago.

    It’ll be Thielemann after all the hemming and hawing and hand wringing.

    He fits the mold set by Solti and Muti, a preeminent opera conductor: Solti at Covent Garden and his gold standard Ring recording, Muti at La Scala and his Verdi, Thielemann at Dresden and Bayreuth and his Wagner and Strauss.

    After 12 years of an Italianate sound, the CSO is ready to go back to its Austrio-Hungarian Teutonic roots.

    • Percy says:

      One can only hope. It will take a Thielemann, at the very top of his game, to undo the nasty damage inflicted by Muti on this once superb orchestra.

      • John Kelly says:

        Well Solti didn’t do the string section any favors! And the “Chicago Blare” from the brasses took Barenboim a good while to get under control. Thielemann really cares about the right sound world, and knows how to get what he wants, it won’t take him long if he gets picked.

    • Mary says:

      There indeed will be plenty of the expected “hemming and hawing and hand wringing”.

      We all know exactly how the conversation is going to go in every American search committee: “Oh, why another Middle Aged European White Male, why not someone young, a woman, Black….” and someone will even go there with “Thielemann is an anti-semitic crypto-fascist…”

      But for the same reason that people say they want a Kamala Harris but then vote for a Joe Biden, so the CSO will name Thielemann when the day comes.

  • Omar Goddknowe says:

    With the self hating “diversity” statements look for Minnesota to select a music director based on how many boxes they can check off.

  • Lothario Hunter says:

    The MD transfer market is not for the faint of heart. The brave triumph and the weak are consigned to oblivion.

    And that is precisely why, when the dust settles, the name of Chicago will shine more bright than it ever has, thanks to the visionary leadership of Jeff Alexander, who conctocted a set of MD special “perks”, technically not difficult to match, but that only he has had the courage (some rival orchestras dare say the impudence) to implement.

    Chicago is a tough place, tough as any on Earth. One disembarks his or her vessel and ventures into an urban jungle ruled by bullets and gangs. But do you think Muti has ever cared? Oh no, be it in unforgiving January or beauteous June, he knows that his next stay in Chicago will be as pleasurable, or more, as a most decadent, snug and delightful … Caribbean vacation.

    Let the other squabble over the leftovers . Alexander will not have difficulties recruiting another great man (it has to be a he) on the podium. He has the winning formula, and he’s the only one man enough to use it.

    • Hugo Preuß says:

      Please eleborate: “it has to be a he”. Why? It is not self-evident, you know. About half of the population are women. Why are they automatically excluded?

  • Dag Anders Eriksen says:

    “…classical music is dying for want of eye-catching flamboyance and that quality simply does not grow north of the Baltic Sea.”

    Seriously, mr Lebrecht?!?

  • CSOA Insider says:

    Thielemann is Plan A in Chicago, that is, if he wants it. Which is all but a foregone conclusion.

    Honeck is Plan B. There is no Plan C.

    There is a list that the orchestra committee is driving, but the Board is paying only lip service to it, not least because more than a few committee members have shown very poor judgment and have close ties with Muti. The Board and major donors are determined to turn the page on the Muti era and its power structure, Sam Zell in particular, and they will make the pick. Muti’s less than flattering thoughts on Sam Zell are an open secret, and they have reached the intended recipient repeatedly in recent years. More to come.

    • Paracelsus says:

      Let me guess uh .. “crass rich American”?

      Or, is it that other inherent, essential … uh I’d say inescapable quality of Zell – which Muti is well known not to love (another open secret)?

    • aleph says:

      The CSO shouldn’t make the same mistake as Berlin, which had to revert to their Plan C, or shall we say Plan P…

      Berlin’s Plan A was equally divided between 2 entrenched camps in the orchestra between Thielemann and Nelsons, with neither able to win over the opposing camp after repeated rounds of votes.

      Unable to bridge that unbridgeable divide, Berlin settled for a compromise pick, Petrenko, their Plan P as it were, who to this day is as mysterious as he ever was and has yet to prove he is anything more than an intriguing compromise.

      • MacroV says:

        I think Petrenko was a brilliant pick. He may not have been their first choice, but if so they may be lucky it worked out as it did.

  • John Kelly says:

    A very interesting article and the Finnish talent factory for conductors is certainly curious. I might add to your “father to son” passing on of conductorial talent Arvid to Mariss Jansons……

    • pjl says:

      Yes! Arvid was a genius: his concerts in Manchester legendary

      • John Kelly says:

        Agreed. I heard him in Sheffield, Manchester and Wolverhampton with the Halle, even went to a rehearsal of his in Manchester – Shostakovitch 9 and Rach 2. Wonderful conductor – the orchestra loved him.

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    Much ado ’bout nothin’. Half of any major orchestra’s season is taken up by guest conductors doing programs they know well. In the U.S. an MD has to be willing to sell the product to the wealthy, as well as remain friendly to the rank and file listeners. Not all candidates can do that well, or are wanting to do that. To me, programming is everything (almost).

    • A Pianist says:

      I agree, who cares who the MD is any more. Everyone whooshes in and out of town and leaves no footprint. The same generic international style with the national styles long gone. The concertmaster should probably get more credit for how any particular orchestra sounds. All respect for all the players.

  • Michael B. says:

    I hope that, in Chicago, it is not the reactionary, antisemitic Thielemann with his ultraconservative repertoire. I don’t see Sam Zell, who does happen to be Jewish, going along with this, not necessarily for musical reasons.

  • TI says:

    No Finns in the opera pit ? What about Susanna Malkki ? If memory serves, she just did The Rake’s Progress at the Met, Wozzeck in Paris in March / April, a number of Saariaho operas here and there and a Jenufa and a Figaro a little while ago I think.

  • E.R. says:

    Title photo: living in Italy suddenly gives another context to that arcade in front of the Met. Thieleman in Chicago would be a real coup.

  • MacroV says:

    Makela, at the start of his Paris and Oslo tenures, and with a five-year engagement before he goes to Amsterdam, surely isn’t going to take on another “I’ll be there in five years” engagement. And I cannot imagine the CSO would choose a MD in his 20s or even 30s. Wowed as they might have been by Makela, they will surely just keep him in mind for a vacancy in, say, 20 to 30 years, once he has proven himself a master of the profession.

    My money is on Thielemann. The press release writes itself:

    “I greatly enjoyed working with the Chicago Symphony nearly 30 years ago. While I have focused my career in Germany and never seriously considered taking a music director position in the United States, I have always had great respect for this orchestra and was honored to be invited to conduct them again this year. I found them to be every bit as great as their reputation and my memory of our previous engagement(s). I am thrilled to have the opportunity to lead this magnificent orchestra, and look forward to doing many great things together in the coming years.”

    • Barry says:

      Nice statement, but I’ve read a number of times that there was talk of him succeeding Sawallisch in Philadelphia in the late 90s – during the period when he made that very good Wagner excerpts disc with that orchestra for DG. At that stage in his career, I find it hard to believe he’d have turned down that job if it had been offered.
      In any case, something happened to abruptly cut the budding relationship short after 5 or 6 programs over several years.

  • Edoardo Saccenti says:

    Amsterdam is not looking anymore…

  • Alexander Hall says:

    With the exception of Vänskä who won in Besancon, the interesting fact is that none of the leading Finn conductors that everybody seems to be chasing after right now actually won a conducting competition. Conversely, where are all the winners of the plethora of such competitions? They are around to be sure, but nowhere near the top.
    On a related point, I’m not sure NL attended the same Rouvali Mahler 2 that I did (the only Mahler he’s done in London so far). White heat? If only! Rouvali demonstrated a complete absence of any affinity with this composer. Oh, he made big noise all right. But Mahler is more than just that .

  • Lucas Richman says:

    The question remains: why do the major orchestras and major agencies typically devalue the dedicated work of competent American-born conductors? Most other countries do not foster this inferiority complex within their own ranks. Sometimes the grass really is greener in our own backyard.