Berlin Phil horn to New York Phil?

Berlin Phil horn to New York Phil?


norman lebrecht

May 21, 2023

Stefan Dohr, principal horn of the Berlin Philharmonic, popped up in the NY Phil’s vacant seat on Friday night.

From the NY Times review: ‘With the orchestra’s principal horn position currently vacant, Stefan Dohr, who fills that role for the Berlin Philharmonic, was a guest, to uneven effect. In his crucial part here, Dohr was steady, but the mellow solidity of his tone, shading into leadenness, didn’t seem quite in the same sound world as his colleagues.’


photo: K D Schmid


  • CA says:

    That’s most likely because the Berlin sound is so different from the NY sound! For any of the winds or brass. And who knows, he’s probably never had a chance before this week to “meld” with the NY sound. Bizarre that a non-US player was chosen to sub; I’m sure there’s a few in the states who would be excellent. Hopefully they were considered and perhaps were not available.

    • Tamino says:

      What is the NY Phil sound? What should he „meld“ into?
      Whenever I heard them I tried to hear something specific, but nothing distinct was there. A clean execution of everything.
      Cold in a way. But that‘s not „a sound“?

      Also, why bizarre that a „non-US“ player was chosen? Are there still people in the 21st century who believe music has national borders?? That would be very sad.

      • Gary Sudder says:

        A non-us person would be most welcome. Maybe they would offer a sound that has depth, integrity, and play with ontologic honor. Not a superficial, ideologic money grubbing sound.

        • John Kelly says:

          …..and what does that sound like?

          • Penny Luther says:

            Based on the horn number 2 solo in the opening I heard on Saturday, not very good.

          • Alphonse says:

            You mean Al Spanger (2nd horn and the last holdover from the Myers era)?

          • Elvin T. Light says:

            Word is the other 1st horn (dean?)might be moving to the second chair. Many subscription concerts this season he’s playing this chair with current(outgoing?) second only used sparingly most concerts.

          • Shakes says:

            One old man covering for another while the concertgoers pay the price of mediocrity..

          • Todd says:

            Word on the street from some of the guests is far worse than that, those two are clearly fouling up the search for a new principal. A common theme in other orchestras as well. Chicago, San Fran (years ago) and Baltimore all guilty of such behaviors.

        • Kyle Wiedmeyer says:

          What the hell does this even mean? These are orchestral musicians that we’re talking about, not conductors…

      • Snark Shark says:

        > Are there still people in the 21st century who believe music has national borders??

        Yes, the DEI consultants.

    • John Kelly says:

      They’ve been inviting several guests. Of course they haven’t had a principal in place since Phil Myers about 8 years ago. Ridiculous.

      • jt says:

        they have had at least 2 no hire auditions, because American auditions are flawed and no one seems to want to give anyone a chance

    • samach says:

      Dohr should be flattered, he got a whole paragraph!

      Dudamel conducts Mahler 9 in his first concert after being named music director, and Dohr, just popping in as a guest, gets a whole paragraph in the New York Times.

      When was the last time Dohr got a whole paragraph in the German press for a Berlin Phil concert?

      Whether he melded or not, he certainly made an impression!

    • Kyle Wiedmeyer says:

      It’s becoming relatively common these days for non-American players (or players not trained here) to hold top seats in American orchestras. Remember that the principal oboists of two of the top American orchestras, Los Angeles and Philadelphia, are European; notably, neither has tried to change his sound to fit better with his orchestra, or to act as a true successor to his predecessor.

  • Mike McGuire says:

    What an idiotic supposition!

  • orchestral musician says:

    Who knows how far in advance this was planned, but given that the NYPO is effectively in a new hall and, as always in this situation, will be (consciously or not) gradually redesigning the sound and dynamic they play with, it’s not a bad idea to cast around, bring in some illustrious guests, and try out new ideas. Of course Herr Dohr wasn’t going to sound to the manor born, but it’s good for orchestras to hear different styles within their ranks from time to time — everyone learns from the experience, and this is nothing about international evening-out, the NYPO will always remain its own band. But let’s not forget, until 100 years ago, the winds and brass of this orchestra were very German-slanted. Mahler would have found them quite ‘normal’ sounding, I imagine. During Alan Gilbert’s tenure, I believe German clarinettist Thorsten Johanns played in the NYPO a few times when that solo chair was vacant (there’s a Gilbert-lead live Mahler 7 CD with an unmistakably German-system 1st clarinet, for instance). I can’t imagine Johanns was ever up for the job — but it’s good to experiment a little.

  • CSOA Insider says:

    Tomorrow morning auditions for Principal Horn will be held in Chicago. What a coincidence.

    Muti labored in order not to invite David Cooper to the final audition. He had first promised that he would, but then used an outside counsel letter as his excuse to renege on his promise. He did so to appease the few in the old guard who fought to keep him as music director, and failed; those few want Cooper out.

    Pushing Cooper (a world class musician deeply loved by audiences) out will be one of the final acts of musical vandalism and failed leadership that this Italian conductor inflict on the orchestra, just at the very end of his tenure. It will put a seal on Muti’s disastrous era.

    The audition will finish early, so Muti will have more time for his favorite regular afternoon activities, of which the top of the institution has full knowledge.

    • FYT says:

      So is David Cooper in the final, or not? It is not clear from your post.

    • Theodore says:

      It is truly shameful how Muti and the brass section have treated this outstanding musician. Even as they did not hesitate to hire a principal with zero experience endorsed and recommended by Muti’s old friend Richard Whoodhams, and they even hired the daughter of concertmaster Chen, which borders on nepotism.


    • Brad says:

      Very depressing news. I hoped DC would ultimately reclaim his position, but it sounds like he’s prevented from even getting the opportunity now. It’s so insulting. Concerts won’t be the same without his extraordinary musical contributions on the CSO stage.

      • Will Jay Ever Retire says:

        He didn’t advance this time. It happens. Meanwhile Jay Friedman is in his 80’s and still playing principal trombone there.

        • Brad says:

          David has held the principal horn position in the CSO for the last few years, and we shouldn’t be surprised he didn’t advance to the final round for his current position?

          • Alphonse says:

            It’s my understanding that, per Muti’s orders, he wasn’t automatically invited to the final round. But did Cooper, in light of this, go ahead and audition anyway in an earlier round?

    • steve says:

      you clearly have no idea what really is going on and are just making stuff up to fit your distorted narrative that somehow he is singlehandedly behind everything, when in reality, this is just simply not the case. the bottom line is this situation is complex and there are many, many other factors that went into this tenure decision — it’s completely wrong and unjustified to put the blame solely on him.

      • Midwestern Violin says:

        Which so-called factors? that he has a different sound? Like there is a CSO “sound” these days. And like there aren’t other principals sticking out like sore thumbs – the principal clarinet is a glaring example. Wouldn’t you agree, Steve?

        Muti loves those who kiss his ring (or something else), like the principal trumpet, even if they are sub-par; and hates those who don’t. He is just a little old bully. That’s the simple explanation.

      • Ifyouknowyouknow says:

        Muti and the few that support him. Cooper had the majority of the votes when the tenure had to be decided and he ignored them. He was told that he smiled too much when taking a solo bow.
        Ridiculous. He might be “young” but that man sounds amazing!

        • Liz says:

          Knowing how Muti made some personnel decisions way back when he was in Philadelphia, this is 100% believable. Sad, but 100% believable.

    • Anon says:

      Well, SFS principal horn audition is coming up. If he couldn’t win that, there is also LA Phil associate principal horn audition just in a few days… Won’t be the first time a wonderful principal player plays the associate role in LA when he finds himself in a difficult situation.

    • Chicagorat says:

      Just so the public is not gaslighted by the usual Muti’s sycophantic defenders (who, like Trump’s supporters in politics, defend the indefensible): as music director the Italian Stallion has the authority to invite musicians directly to the final. In this case, four candidates were originally invited directly to the principal horn final.

      So you can ignore the smoke and mirrors: “Oh no … he’s not the one, he’s not responsible”.

      In addition, let’s not forget about Muti’s week-ends, they are as as intense as the weekday afternoons. One would think Alexander and Gorno, after all the MILLIONS and MILLIONS they wasted on Muti, would at least demand that he spends a material portion of his time fundraising. But they are very much content with letting him spend his time off the podium attempting – doggedly albeit mostly unsuccessfully – to … raise … something else. Alexander has already arranged for Muti to continue have his special “support” even when he is music director emeritus for Life. That’s how a good steward of the institution is meant to act …

      • steve says:

        “smoke and mirrors” are exactly what you have been posting. you have spent years here speaking of some underlying conspiracy when you STILL have not provided any shred of proof. i would be glad to be proven wrong, but if you are just doing this to get your (strange) anger issues out, then yes, i will refute each and every one of these ridiculous claims.

    • Sara K. says:

      Muti needs to go back where he came from. It’s a bad joke and how people can still think the system is based on merit and substance is laughable.

      Just look at Zimmermann fiasco in TN and now the obsessions with virtue pr signaling for fake diversity nonsense. Oh boy

  • Shalom Rackovsky says:

    Stefan Dohr is on anyone’s list of the very best principal horns in the world. There is no reason to expect that his tone, which nobody who is familiar with it would ever, EVER, characterize as “leaden”, will closely match that of the NY Phil. Nor, of course, is there any reason at all to believe that Zachary Wolffe, or any other critic, has a more correct opinion about this performance than anybody else in the audience.

  • Guest says:

    The NYP has had a few guest principal horn players this season, named as such in the program. Dohr is just the latest in a series of people being tried out; his appearance this week shouldn’t necessarily be construed as an imminent move.

  • samach says:

    Maybe he’s on a US audition tour, NY, Chicago…

    Why would anyone leave Berlin? Money money money.

    NY guaranteed minimum $500,000. And far less demanding schedule.

    He’s European, he gets to keep his inexpensive healthcare and generous retirement.

    Advice for Chicago audition (same as NYT criticism): don’t ease into the sound, the Chicago brass section likes to load the sound up front. (That was what the old guard didn’t like about Cooper.)

    • John Kelly says:

      I believe Stefan is leaving the Berlin Phil possibly to teach and pursue a solo career (like Tuckwell). I would not think a move to NYC makes a lot of sense. $500K sounds a bit rich but maybe if you threw in a professorship you may be right. Should be enough of an income to rent a two bedroom apartment in Manhattan……………

      • Axl says:

        Anything is possible but I really doubt that! Dohr is turning 58 and he has only 8-9 years to get Berlin Phil’s / Germany’s mandatory retirement age (66-67). Then he can be a (full time) teacher and / or soloist if he wants.
        And there’s still the other principal seat vacant (13,5 years) in Berlin so I believe that he would not leave / retire until the Baborak’s former chair is finally filled / full tenured. It would be a totally nightmare and big catastroph if Berlin would have two principal horn chairs vacant – which is propably the most difficult / hardest filled positions in any symphony orchestra.

    • Willem Philips says:

      Berlin is the guest paying orchestra in the world.

    • European Horn says:

      Exactly. That is the famous technique called Chicago brass-farting – the signature sound that they are so afraid of letting go.

    • Ifyouknowyouknow says:

      The old guard loves Cooper’s playing and they fought until today to have him join the final round.
      Don’t be naïve

    • MK says:

      I highly doubt SD is interested in any permanent US jobs. He’s on a bit of a US solo tour. He’s playing with the Vancouver Symphony next week, soloing in Hosokawa and then joining the orchestra for Till Eulenspiegel. NY was probably just a conveniently timed stopover.

      • Nicolaflute says:

        Spot on MK. Stefan is nearly 58 years old and unlikely to uproot from Berlin.

      • Kyle Wiedmeyer says:

        Wow, Vancouver? It’s good to see thar player of his caliber is willing to step below the “elite” level (which is to say the Berlin Phil’s level)

  • John Kelly says:

    It’s not the player – it’s the hall. A few weeks back Jen Montone came in from Philly for the first horn slot. She sounded just as the critic said Dohr sounded. I’ve heard both Montone and Dohr at Carnegie Hall any number of times and they both sounded rounded and glorious. “mellow solidity leaning into leadenness” is exactly how Phil Myers sounded for years. It’s the hall. The renovation has done little to improve the sound of the orchestra in general but the horns in particular, which have always sat in behind the winds and in front of the percussion do not sound very good at all. When the Pittsburgh orchestra came a few years back for Mahler 5 (with the best horn section in the world) they sounded the same as the NYPO. There’s something about that placement that makes them both too loud a lot of the time and “flat/dull-sounding” (leaden) simultaneously. No change with the “new” hall. The NYPO’s stolid unwillingness to consider alternative seating models is to blame in my judgement. The best seats in the hall remain the ones furthest from the orchestra (upstairs at the back). That was always true at “Avery Fisher.” There is still little bass response in the hall. If I were making a suggestion I would have the basses on the left playing out into the hall instead of into the wind section and violas on the right and the horns directly behind them (like Celibidache did – to the immediate right of the bassoons). Move the trumpets and trombones and tuba to the center back, percussion where it is on the left at the back. Of course they will never try this. But as someone listening in the hall (as opposed to the podium) it is well worth a try…………………

    • NYMike says:

      That’s more or less what the Dude did as far as seating this week. Last night the sound was gloriously full and deep. Dohr sounded great!

  • German Conductor says:

    NY critics, who are uswd to only hear mediocrities, are getting picky and criticize the BPO principal horn?

    Are we serious?

    • John Kelly says:

      I know. Almost comical.

    • Rara Avis says:

      While, on the other hand you sound like the epitome of objectivity…

    • samach says:

      “NY critics … only hear mediocrities”

      oh you mean like mediocrities at Carnegie Hall where Berlin Phil have their annual 2 weeks residency or the annual Vienna Philharmonic visits?

      NY critics probably hear more consistently top world orchestras passing through their hometown than critics in Berlin and Vienna

  • Arameo says:

    Who could really imagine that Z Woolfe understand à 1% of Mahler 9th? How come he dares to write about it in a kind of AI English? Criticizing GD and Stefan Dohr? NYTime should Sack Zach ASAP

  • Burnham says:

    Agreed, this was a nasty power play but a handful of old players, even more nauseating if we think that some of them have expressed their intent to retire when Muti leaves, so it’s not that they would have played with him for very long.

    Paradoxically, several characters who will soon not be with the CSO own this petty move.

  • Gustavo says:

    It’s all about sound and diction, isn’t it Nörman?

    Greetings from Leipzig.

  • Paul says:

    What a stupid comment to say about the greatest orchestral horn player of the current generation?

  • Willem Philips says:

    Cut it out. Guesting is an extremely common event when a member of one orchestra is on vacation in another city where there is an orchestra of merit. It doesn’t imply anything Dohr or the NYPO or his status with the BPO. To hunt otherwise is without foundation. As for his playing: also unfair and unreasonable. He probably did not attend the rehearsal. Visits like this are often spur of the moment things that the Chef Dirigent agrees to.

    • John Kelly says:

      “He probably did not attend the rehearsal.” Very amusing. Of course he did.

    • samach says:

      “Guesting is an extremely common … on vacation in another city”

      Ah, you always take your French horn on vacation with you? What, you play on a borrowed horn so that you can sound “leadened” and get skewered by the local critic?

      And you can play as a guest on a tourist visa? What, for free so that it doesn’t count as work? Try telling that to the immigration official.

      No, it was planned months ahead, securing the right visa and bringing the right instrument and mouthpiece suitable for the piece.

  • Sara K. says:

    how embarrassing and what a slap in the face to american horn players who are wonderfully accomplished and need to work–yet a us empire institution (that receives us empire subsidies, us person donations etc.) brings in a foreigner and pays them to play.?!?!

    • Owens says:

      Look at LA phil, San Fran too. Foreigners occupying us job seats-the us music schools must have no qualified persons so they took foreigners.

      It’s disgraceful since the door doesn’t swing both ways-yes there are extreme exceptions—yet many of those minute exceptions are duals, married to a foreign National, or renounced their us status in Europe, or uk.

      • Tamino says:

        The door doesn‘t swing both ways? You have simply no idea. There are much more US expats in orchestras all over the world, than there are non-US-citizens in US orchestras. It‘s the opposite of what you say.

    • Violinist says:

      You have some serious issues

    • Tamino says:

      that was tongue in cheek, Sara, yes?

  • Nona G. says:

    Maybe they should bring in Ian Mayton, Ryan Ramey, Billy Vermullens, Shebly Nugents, Jimmy Mosher, Aaron Manelas, Kerry Thompson, John Kessens, etc.etc. all exceptionally gifted hornists for these positions. All American born and bred. To our knowledge, EUers have total precedence over EU jobs, why in the US, can a foreign person come in and get paid to play taking a job away from an American horn player?! We need Americans getting these jobs, not foreign people.

    • Guest says:

      Not just the horn, and not just the EU, and there is no reciprocity anywhere.

    • Tom Delbunko says:

      Agree—how it this allowed in the states? Any US persons getting 1st dibs on EU jobs?!

      Crickets and tumbleweeds.

      Door doesn’t swing both ways…..

      • Mackey says:

        The silence is deafening. Reality is tough for many YS persons.
        Because very few if any -due to EU laws—permit « third country » nationals getting EU jobs from EU citizens.
        Yet, they come to the us, and take jobs from Americans.

        • AD says:

          Excuse me, how many non EU citizens play (or played for their entire career) in let’s say the BPO? Just in recent years and sticking to the Horn section I can name at least 4 including D. Cooper (the fact that he didn’t get tenure is not relevant), and thrre are others including principals from US or Chile in other German leading orchestras.

          So what is exactly your point?

          • Tamino says:

            AD, exactly. These xenophobic complainers have simply no idea about the reality.

            „USA, USA, USA!“

            what a bunch of ignorant losers.

    • Alphonse says:

      ??? Other than “Billy Vermullens [sic]”, who the hell are those others you listed?

      • Owens says:

        Maybe do some research. Those folks are well known-maybe offer others a shit than the usual overhyped narcissists.

        • Alphonse says:

          Ryan Ramey, Jimmy Mosher, Kerry Thompson? A bit of research indicates that they play/played in community/amateur orchestras in the greater Boston area. And you still expect me to take this comment seriously?

      • Larry W says:

        Ian Mayton is in the Houston Symphony and studied with Bill VerMeulen. Two others in Houston to keep an eye on (or ear) are Rob Johnson and Jessie Clevenger. (Yes, the same.)
        Now that you know, who the hell are you, Alphonse?

        • Nona G. says:

          Tons of native born American hornists to choose from. Derek Wright, karen/mark houghtons, Trevor Nuckkels, Rachel childer, Irlando pandolfi, danny katzens, Jenny montone, Julie landsman, Will çaballero, Hans Clabesch,
          Eli Epstein,
          Zach smith etc.. incredibly talented and worthy of subbing as principal instead of bringing in foreigners and taking jobs from us persons

          • Tamino says:

            „ native born American “


            what irony. Considering who is complaining about the immigrants. Former immigrants. Lololololol.

          • AD says:

            Ok that US orchestra don’t have compulsory retirement age, but Julie Landsman (born April 3, 1953) is 70 this year….

          • Violinist says:

            She retired some 10 years ago buddy

          • AD says:

            Exactly my point. It wasn’t me who put her in the list of ‘native born American hornists to choose from…worthy of subbing as principal’ in the NY Phil concert instead of Stefan Dohr (I guess)….

        • Alphonse says:

          The latter two you name were not included in the comment to which I was replying, Larry. So why, pray tell, the nasty attitude? Who the hell, exactly, are you?

    • Not a fan of Nona G says:

      Nona G you have stupidly referenced an American horn player who has made their living playing in an EU orchestra and to the best of my knowledge still loves in the EU – would you like to apologise? Would you maybe do some research on how many American horn players have been employed by the Berlin Phil alone in the last 10 years? Let alone all the other American horn players employed in Berlin’s other fine orchestras … then look at Germany as a whole, then other EU countries … I think you’ll find your argument holds no water!

  • CA says:

    I will add that it’s utterly ridiculous to be without a permanent principal for 8 years. How do they get away with this? Have they held repeated auditions to no avail?

  • Mick the Knife says:

    New York, Dallas, Baltimore, soon Chicago. All using a guest principal horn or their associate principal. There must be an economic advantage to this making it so popular.

  • David Ryle says:

    Speechless, simply speechless!!!!