Breaking: Barenboim quits Berlin Ring. Thielemann takes over

Breaking: Barenboim quits Berlin Ring. Thielemann takes over


norman lebrecht

August 30, 2022

The Staatsoper under den linen has just posted that Daniel Barenboim is too unwell to conduct next month’s Ring cycle. His replacement will be Christian Thieleman, with whom Barenboim once clashed over allegations of anti-semitic remarks, which Thielemann denied. The pair have since apparently been reconciled.

Here’s the statement:

Christian Thielemann will be the conductor of the new RING cycle for Daniel Barenboim in October

Daniel Barenboim has to withdraw from conducting Richard Wagner’s new production OF THE RING OF THE NIBELING, directed by Dmitri Tcherniakov, for health reasons. Christian Thielemann will take over the musical direction of the first and third cycle. The second cycle is directed by Thomas Guggeis.

Daniel Barenboim: ‘With great regret I have to cancel conducting the new RING at the state opera for health reasons. I’m still struggling with the effects of vasculitis I was diagnosed with in the spring and am following the advice of my physicians treating this decision.

‘I am deeply saddened to be unable to conduct the new RING. Working with Dmitri Tcherniakov, the great ensemble and the Berlin State Chapel is a particularly fulfilling one for me. But I need to make my health a priority now and focus on my full recovery.

‘The State Opera is very dear to me. That is why I am very happy that my esteemed colleague Christian Thielemann has declared himself willing to take over the conducting of the first and third cycles at short notice. We’ve known each other for a long time and I know that his RING is in extremely good hands. Thomas Guggeis, a great young conductor that I have long supported and appreciated, will take over the second cycle. Wishing them and everyone involved the best in this production.’

Matthias Schulz: ‘It is extremely sad that Daniel Barenboim cannot now conduct the new production of the RING cycle – a unique project that is very dear to him and the whole house. Preparations have been going on for many years and we have done our best, the RING with Daniel Barenboim – just in the year of his 80. Birthday – to make it possible We owe Christian Thielemann a lot of thanks that he will take over the premiere series and the third cycle. Also Thomas Guggeis, who conducts the second cycle and has been involved in the preparations for around a year.’


  • Alan says:

    He needs to look after himself. Crazy schedule in august with the WEDO then returning almost immediately to Salzburg to conduct the VPO in two lengthy concerts. He did not look well at all, although the WEDO concert I attended was excellent. Some things are more important than music.

    • Emil says:

      He’s a 79 year old man who’s been severely unwell since the spring, and who deluded himself into thinking he would be able to conduct just about the heaviest lift in classical music three times in a month, on top of rehearsals for four operas simultaneously in a new production. It’s plain hubris, and the Staatsoper should not stand for it.

      • Gustavo says:

        Having been dropped in Dresden/Salzburg like a hot potato, it is getting more and more likely that CT will become Barenboims successor in Berlin.

        Zurück zum Ring!

  • Barty says:

    Thielemann could not conduct the 2nd cycle as he is in Chicago for the week conducting Bruckner 8 with the CSO

    • kaf says:

      Interesting he decided to keep the Chicago date, he must sense an opportunity is there, and he is absolutely right.

      When Chicago engaged Chailly and was seriously considering him to be its music director, Chailly unfortunately fell ill (replaced by van Zweden, a substitution that led him on his path to the New York Philharmonic), and the rest is history, Chicago eventually went with Muti.

      It takes a single cancellation to alter the course of one’s career.

      Chailly has no regrets. Chicago does.

      • Tamino says:

        Reading too much into it.
        Of course Thielemann does not cancel a once contracted engagement for another one.

        • Barry says:

          I believe he did exactly that years ago when I traveled from the U.S. to Amsterdam to see him conduct Bruckner’s 5th with the RCOA. I wound up seeing Inbal lead it instead. I recall reading at some point that he was prioritizing a project with whichever orchestra he directed at that point.

        • kaf says:


          There is no comparison between a new Ring cycle in Berlin (in reporting this story, The New York Times called it “one of the most highly anticipated events on the classical music calendar this season”) versus a tired Bruckner symphony in Chicago.

          No out-of-town press is going to fly into Chicago for Thielemann’s Bruckner.

          MANY a conductor would’ve cancelled Chicago, contractual obligations be damned.

          Rather, I absolutely commend Thielemann for giving up 1 cycle to Thomas Guggeis, that is extraordinarily generous of an older colleague towards a younger colleague so that the latter can get the experience and the international media exposure.

          (Was Barenboim originally going to share the podium with his own protégé?)

          • Tamino says:

            It has nothing to do with artistic or media aspects. It’s very basic “doing business for dummies” we are talking about here.

            It’s an unwritten rule in the business: You don’t cancel for a better gig. Very rarely exceptions apply.

      • Chicagorat says:

        Again, incidentally it would appear, speaking of poor, wretched Chicago. This development is as shocking as it is mysterious. Careful observers will deduce that Thielemann is more powerful than even his most hardcore fans previously believed, since he will conduct Gotterdammerung on October 23 in Berlin, while conducting Bruckner 8th in Chicago, at the same time.

        There are a few possible explanations for this feat:

        A) Thielemann has already dropped Chicago, having heard that the french horns section has been significantly weakened by a petty, ill-judged tenure decision (you know, horns are important in Bruckner), and the orchestra is therefore now beyond even his redemption

        B) Muti is making a desperate attempt to boycott Thielemann and has retroactively cancelled the Germans’ concerts, using the power of his MD office

        C) Thielemann can teletransport and / or he can summon a clone of himself, at will (this one is creepy, but needs to be considered)

        D) There has been a serious administrative blocker (not a scheduling mistake, but something more fundamental)

        E) All of the above

        F) None of the above

        What say you?

        • Barry Guerrero says:

          You need to a chill pill to some extent. Regardless of any ‘bad decision’ (regarding tenure), or any alleged ‘brawling’ in the horn section, these players be will more than up to the task at hand. They’re well qualified to play Bruckner the moment they leave the conservatory. With Thielemann’s pedigree in Wagner and Bruckner, this will be a very good Bruckner 8. Why not just relax and enjoy the brief respite from ‘maestro’ Muti?

        • Player says:

          Facts… which you should get right or we might no think you a very reliable source!

          The third cycle of the Ring does not commence until 29th October in Berlin. His last date in Chicago is 25th. He is not conducting the second cycle of the Ring precisely because of his prior commitment to the CSO.

          Back to Muti Watch! (Now taken with double pinch of salt.)

        • Barty says:

          he is conducting the first and third cycles and there is no conflict with the chicago dates

        • steve says:

          Can you read? I guess not (which isn’t that surprising…), but it is, in fact, Thomas Guggeis who will be taking over the second cycle, which includes the Gotterdammerung on Oct. 23. Please stop with your fanatical conspiracy theories..they serve only to make you look like the fool.

        • Enquiring Mind says:

          Rat: what is this horn gossip all about?

          • Chicagorat says:

            Only because you are persistent.

            It is about Muti’s and the orchestra’s final decision, made a couple of months ago, to deny tenure to a very important horn player who is still in the probationary period. This player has a world class pedigree and has played beautifully. The decision was not based on this horn’s playing or on any type of fault on or offstage. It was driven by envy and pettiness, Muti style. This orchestra is in free fall and has lost interest in beautiful playing, a long time ago. Not even Thielemann’s star power can sell their tickets.

            Remember, I don’t engage in gossip. I provide information about Muti and the CSO to an otherwise oblivious public.

          • anon says:

            Doesn’t surprise me. He also failed to get tenure in Berlin. He hadn’t advanced further in New York either. Already that’s two strikes. In the recordings available on the CSO website, his entrances are hesitant and not immaculately clean. I was shocked the first few times I heard it. That is the *minimum* requirement for *any* brass of the CSO: rock solid confidence. Beyond that, his playing was not distinguished. You never got that “ahh, that’s Chicago”.

            So what’s the evidence of “envy and pettiness”?

          • Ricky Master says:

            Isn’t this the orchestra where “the daughter is also rising”? That planned to play the 1812 at their Symphony Ball? Ill judgment seems ingrained in their DNA.

          • kaf says:

            Don’t bother asking.

            Chicagorat has never once backed up with an actual fact his numerous-repeated-indecipherable-riddle rumors about the CSO or Muti.

            Not once. One can only conclude: he has no facts, or the facts are so trivial and innocuous that he is too embarrassed to actually state them.

            He makes things sound salacious that are in fact mundane.

    • Mary says:

      They should change the Chicago program to highlights from the Ring (like Der Ring ohne Worte):

      1) No one cares about Bruckner’s 8th, it’s an audition piece, no one wants to go hear an audition.

      2) By playing a Ring Without Words, it showcases what Thielemann is doing with the new Ring cycle in Berlin, bringing highlights of it to Chicago, connects Chicago to a relevant international musical event (and not some local audition), demonstrates the synergy that Thielemann can bring as music director of Chicago with his concomitant work in Germany.

      3) The orchestral forces are already in place for the Bruckner, just add some more horns and harps, it will cost the CSO a little bit more money, but it is far less than putting on an entire opera, while the Chicago audience can still get a taste of what Thielemann is doing in Berlin.

      4) And it’s a far more exciting audition event. The NYT might actually write it up.

  • Sly says:

    Sensible decision

  • Ragnar Danneskjoeld says:

    This doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone who had to endure his dismally conducted VPO concert in Salzburg. Excellent replacement though. If Villazon was sacked, this might turn out to be a Ring for the ages.

  • Kaf says:

    A Ring cycle entrusted to Thomas Guggeis at his age, it’s unheard of. Anyone else did the Ring so young?

  • RW2013 says:

    Would you entrust a Ring to him?
    Just asking…

    • Mhm says:

      1) he looks like he’s doing just fine in this clip, not interfering with the orchestra and letting the singer lead.

      2) this was 9 months ago. I’m sure that if you’ve seriously studied any musical craft at a young age you would notice significant improvements in 9 months. Especially if a Ring Cycle was handed to you.

      3) He’s conducting the middle cycle. Thielemann will have one in the can before Guggeis gets to lead. In all likelihood he’ll get the “guest conductor treatment” from the orchestra, which is to say they’ll play the way they’ve always played and he’ll do just fine standing on the podium keeping watch.

    • Achim Mentzel says:

      Why shouldn’t also a mediocre student-like conductor have the opportunity to conduct a Ring?

  • John says:

    We all love thielemann

    • Tamino says:

      No we don’t. I respect him for what he does on stage, not so much off stage, but he is not the kind of personality that can be loved easily.

  • Lost and found says:

    The name of the institution is “Staatsoper unter den Linden”.

  • Emil says:

    Exactly as I said on this blog in the spring: Barenboim’s stubbornness would force the Staatsoper to settle for a subpar conductor for a marquee premiere. Thielemann is a major draw and a top-drawer conductor for a Ring cycle; given the excitement and the price levels (1100€ for top tickets for the cycle), though, handing over the second Ring to a 28 year-old assistant conductor is a disaster for the Staatsoper.

    If Barenboim had withdrawn back in April, when everyone knew he would eventually have to withdraw, the Staatsoper would not be settling for an inexperienced assistant conductor for its biggest production in several years. Barenboim harmed the institution.

    Now, perhaps Guggeis will be great – and I hope so! But no one can pretend he’s on par with Barenboim, Thielemann, or other top-billing conductors.

    • TishaDoll says:

      Thielemann will do the orchestra preparing. Guggeis is very talented, and will do just fine.

      • Emil says:

        Assuming that is the case (does Thielemann, in fact, have time for the rehearsals, or is it in fact Guggeis who will be preparing the orchestra for Thielemann?), if you paid 1100 EUR for tickets, would you be happy with hearing someone else’s Ring as retold by a no doubt able but inexperienced Kapellmeister?

    • John P. says:

      FOOL, GROWP AND LAY OFF BARENBOIM! Why are you kicking a dog, I mean conductor, when he’s down. If you so much, YOU run the Statsoper or conduct the darn thing. Barenboim thought he would be able to conduct it, life happens, mistakes are made—like you—so move on. What is your background to criticize Barenboim so much?? Chill, listen to some music, and move on. With everything happening in the world this is small potatoes.

      • Emil says:

        Well, as it happens, because he won’t admit that he’s down. He clings on and is harming the Staatsoper in the process.
        It’s not a mistake – it’s plain negligence. Everyone saw it coming.

        • TishaDoll says:

          Barenboim doesn’t harm the Staatsoper. Guggeis is a fine conductor. German conducting students know from a young age that Wagner is part of the core curriculum as is German opera in general, including Merry Wives and study it. Why Anglo Saxons begrudge this comprehensive training is beyond me

    • Suggeritore says:

      No one is suggesting he is yet on a par with DB or CT. But in a year he will be Frankfurt’s new GMD.

      • Emil says:

        He’s not yet, and I’d venture to say there is a difference between being the future MD in Frankfurt and leading the Staatsoper unter den Linden’s marquee new premiere production, their largest one in years.

  • Eyal Braun says:

    It seems that Thielemann could be soon the next Musical director at the Staatsoper. He steps down from his Dresden job in two years and as the leading Wagnerian and Straussian of his generation (and Berlin- born), he is an ideal candidate to be Barenboim’s heir. He got great reviews a few months ago when he replaced Barenboim in orchestral subscription concerts with the Staatskapelle Berlin.

    • Ragnar Danneskjoeld says:

      He could very well be – his substituting for Blomstedt this summer certaily helped pave the way for the Ring. The only question remains if Thielemann is willing and able to cooperate with the new indendant. I am not sure whether she would accept the kind of laid-back schedule Thielemann had in Dresden…

  • Mock Mahler says:

    The episode was murky, but the referenced Guardian article does not say what this post says it does.

  • Novagerio says:

    It’s Staatsoper Unter den Linden.

  • Gustavo says:

    The World urgently needs a new RING cycle.

    No matter who conducts it.

    • John P. says:

      The world needs new quality singers who can actually sing! The hell with a RING!

      • QB says:

        Absolutely. Many major orchestras have the technical ability to perform the Ring, but only a handful of singers can take the role of Wotan or Siegfried, and maybe just a fingerful can sing (sing not bleat) Brunnhilde (I dont know who but I assume there must be someone).

    • Tamino says:

      Well apparently all three cycles are fully sold out already. So I guess you are right. The world needs more Ring cycles.

    • Kathleen E King says:

      A TRUE ring cycle not one of these “progressive” modern dress avant garde messes. The mythic forms have meaning and should be followed because of its artistic importance and messages — and not castigated because of Wagner’s personal prejudices or subsequent political adoptions. Wagner may have been a jerk but he was genius musically.

  • Don Ciccio says:

    Is this Thielemann’s debut at the Staatsoper unter den Linden? As other pointed out, he did previously conduct the Berlin Staatskapelle in concert, but did he lead opera there as well?

    • Eyal Braun says:

      Probably not. He was previously (in the 90th) the director of the rival opera house, the Deutsche Opera. He resigned because he claimed the city of Berlin supports the Staatsoper financially much more – I don’t think he conducted either opera houses in Berlin ever since.

  • Tamino says:

    First Thielemann jumped in for DB’s concerts (Bruckner 7). Extremely succesful btw. Now for the Ring. All after he was shown the door in Dresden. Are we seeing Berlin Staatskapelle and Thielemann growing fond of each other? A collaboration has many chances and pros.
    But what will happen to the Barenboim-Said academy and the Diwan orchestra?

  • Gerard says:

    I’ve read some very bad reviews of his Salzburg performances. Ridiculous for the price you have pay to see a sick man (and orchestra) on autopilot. These kind of musicians are so addicted to power, that they just don’t want to stop.

  • Kathleen King says:

    These elder statesmen (and women) of music, such as Maestro Barenboim MUST take care of themselves. They are living history and a critical resource. Best wishes for and to the Maestro.

  • Timothy Cassel says:

    What about the Fourth Cycle in April next year? Has any decision been made?

  • Fernandel says:

    The air is getting thinner for Petrenko…

  • Brian says:

    Having seen Barenboim conduct at Salzburg he was clearly unwell and not fit to conduct. Sadly time comes for everyone to handover to a new generation.

  • Piano Lover says:

    DB should well consider that he no longer can give daily concerts as he did up to now.
    His best years are behind him!