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Lorin Maazel succeeds Christian Thielemann in Munich

Previously on that topic: A Mahler Cycle And Uncomfortable Silence: The Munich Philharmonic in 2010/11 (14.3.10)

And the winner is: Lorin Maazel. After the city of Munich had already spilled the beans, confirmation came today that Maazel will be the new chief conductor of the Munich Philharmonic, starting 2012/13. From the press release it is not clear how long Maestro Maazel will grace Munich with his presence, but apparently for he is projected to last for three seasons. (Maazel would be 86 by the end of his tenure.)

On the surface this is a success. Lorin Maazel is one of the most renown conductors in the world, had a career second to none, and he is, without question, the most skilled conductor. With his name recognition—furthered in Munich by the fact that he had long been the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra’s conductor—his signing is a very transparent move to keep the subscription audience, most of them ardent Thielemann fans, from fleeing in droves. He is the quintessential subscription-holder-retention-director.

Whether that will work remains to be seen. As a news item on noted with subtle snark, after posing the same question: “After all, Munich audiences already know Maazel’s work.” And therein lies just one of the problems.

Whether Maazel was leading the New York Philharmonic or guest conducting, he has been responsible for the singularly most boring concert experiences of any such skilled conductor. (The North Korea concert being an exception, but there the programming was timid.) I’m happy to grant him the absolutely most thrilling performance of “The Turn of the Screw” during those same years, but that was with the young musicians of his foundation. They brought their own fire to the job, Maazel then guided it into perfect shape.

Unfortunately that’s not what Munich needs. Although the orchestra—which, should it be necessary to point out, I love more than any other and have, as a ticket-less youth, snuck into more performances than any other—overestimates itself woefully, it’s not that much in need of more precise conducting. It is in need of motivation and a very swift kick to the rear. It needs to be spurred on to live up to its own (and the audience’s) expectations. And that includes even, perhaps especially, those concerts where they haven’t happened to fall in love with the (guest) conductor. An orchestra’s quality is as much measured by its worst performances as it is by its best. I’ve heard some of the very best from them, and some of the very worst, and although that hints at their great potential, the average and the mean are still way too low.

The obvious question is: Will the (then) octogenarian Maazel, in his few weeks in Munich (the city wasn’t going to get more money for him than they had for Thielemann, so they more than likely made concessions on the amount of time spent in town), really bother to stir the wasps’ nest and get tough with the orchestra, if and when it is necessary? We know well enough from the time of James Levine’s tenure that that simply isn’t very likely. Chances are that they’ll be allowed to continue in their old ways, without tight control, oversight, and the tough love they so dearly need. I can only hope to be proven wrong; I wish nothing more. But I rather fear that the time of Thielemann, who took his job extremely seriously, will be sorely missed. Not only by audiences, but also by those musicians who still have some of that musical flame licking inside them. He may have been the occasional jerk, or difficult, but he was bent on achieving greatness. Which is very different from achieving sameness.

To the best of my knowledge Lorin Maazel will not bring a record deal with Deutsche Grammophon (or any other label) to his stint with the Munich Philharmonic. This might be considered surprising, since not recording enough with the orchestra was one of the orchestra's criticisms leveled at Thielemann. (Christian Thielemann will continue to ‘not record enough’ with the Dresden Staatskapelle for DG and Unitel CMajor and Profil.) Another such complaint concerned the lack of touring: Will Maazel go on more tours with the Munich Philharmonic than did Thielemann (who is currently on Tour with the orchestra in Japan)?

Why am I so suspicious? Perhaps because of the press statement, full of empty puff and finally a quote from the new maestro himself, where Lorin is kind enough to lie on the city’s and the orchestra’s behalf: “I consider the chief conductor position of the Munich Philharmonic as one of the most representative positions in the world of classical music. The quality of the orchestra is unsurpassed. Its remarkable history of collaboration with most preeminent conductors like Maestro Celibidache [a plural, revealed by a singular, if it needs pointing out] means a challenge that I will meet with pleasure.”

In his defense, what else is he supposed to say? “I was bored just with the Châteauville Foundation, I can really use the cash, my wife loves Munich, it’s just a few weeks a year, and it can’t hurt my reputation, because no one will be looking.”?

Picture (modified) © Silvia Lelli


Anonymous said...

If the Munich Phil weren't a bit laid back, it wouldn't be the Munich Phil. Bayerischer Gelassenheit.

jfl said...

Ha! Perhaps.

But very little of that Gelassenheit was on display in their dealings with CT's idiosyncrasies, no? And where's the border between Bavarian Laissez-faire and sloppiness?

Anonymous said...

Hi Jens!

Do you have any news of possible U.S. Tours? I remember you talked on your blog about one under Thielemann, but with him gone, is the tour gone as well? My hope was that it will tour, perhaps under Maazel or Mehta...

Or perhaps I should get a ticket to Munich and hear them at home while Thielemann is still there...

P.S. I also love the orchestra and I am actively live seeking recordings with them, especially of teh Celibidache era - both under Celi and guest conductors. I got some wonderful things from Japan: a Kurt Sanderling led Brahms 4 and a Eugen Jochum led Bruckner 9.

The interesting thing about the Jochum disc is that it contains, as a filler, a Tristan Prelude from 1979; the Bruckner 9 is from 1983. One thus can see the difference in the orchestral sound that Celi made in a few years. Yes, these are clearly Jochum's readings, but with Celi's band.

jfl said...

The MPhil is 94% [pulled the number out of thin air, of course--but reflecting my experience] dependent on who conducts them. Therefore I cannot at all comment on how satisfying it would be to hear them with Maazel. Wait, no... I can comment alright. But not predict, just guess. And you can guess my guess. Ditto with Mehta. In any case, I'd be surprised if Maazel were to tour much with them; that might be too expensive for Munich. I assume--but have not heard confirmed--that the US Tour is not happening for now.

Therefore I'd definitely recommend hearing them with CT before they won't work together again, for many, many years to come. Best to hear them outside of Munich, because they're even better then... and because the acoustic of the Munich Philharmonic Hall isn't all that great.

The concert would be Vienna. 31st of May and 1st of June 2011. Bruckner 5; then Debussy, Ravel, and Mozart concerto with Radu Lupu.

Similarly attractive: Three days of Frankfurt: 02/10/11, 02/12/11, 02/13/11.
Schreker "Nachtstueck" & "Der ferne Klang" Zwischenspiel + Bruckner 4. Bruckner 8. Bruckner 5. It will be a celebration!

Also: Amsterdam or Brussels: 10/25/10 resp. 20/27/10.
Schreker "Nachtstueck", Brahms Sy.4, Mahler Ruecker Lieder (w/R.Fleming)

Or: Madrid, 03/17/11, Bruckner 5.

The concerts in Munich most to look forward to:
(All with CT)

04/14,15,16,18/11: Strauss. "Festive Preludium", Orchestral Songs (w/C.Schaefer!!!), Heldenleben

05/18-19,21-22/11: Wolfgang Rihm: "Ernster Gesang", Mahler: Knaben Wunderhorn, Sy. 10, Adagio. (w/C.Gerhaher!!!)

10/21-22,24/10: same as Amsterdam

05/26-27,29/11: same as Vienna II

03/03-04,06/11: Staldmair "Miro", Gubaidulina "In tempus praesens" (G.Kremer), Schumann: Sy.1 ("Spring")

01/15/10: Mahler, Sy.8

Rameau said...

I don't like Thielemann very much, but this is certainly worse. But there is one think that could be bettered in those Maazel years : the orchestra could use better guest conductors. It was clear that Thielemann didn't want to have competitors with his own orchestra, so they all come with the wonderful Bavarian Radio Orchestra...

jfl said...

True, Rameau. Thielemann didn't seem keen on having competitors with his own orchestra--at least not in 'his repertoire'. That's not unique, but somehow he was, is, or was seen as more protective than others. Also true that this *could* be better, now.

The fact that all the great guest conductors come stay with the "the wonderful Bavarian Radio Orchestra", has more to do with the BRSO than Thielemann. They are a well-known pleasure to work with, arrange extra Stimm-proben (which world-class orchestra today still bothers??!), and the administration knows how to groom their relationships with conductors.

Next year they'll have Muti (as always) in the Brahms Requiem. Rattle in "Das Paradies & die Peri". Haitink, again, in Bruckner's 9th & the "Te Deum". And, although some might not count him among the A-list, Sylvain Cambreling (Lvb 9th & Survivor from Warsaw).

Meanwhile Maazel has announced that he will foster young conductors--which sounds much like he'll make the MPhil the Sandbox for his conductor students to play in. I doubt it will become much better than it has been. I'd be happy if they manage to get Daniele Gatti back a few times. And I hope they know what they are doing grooming Juraj Valcuha as--possibly, maybe--the next GMD.