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Just in: Music director quits over ‘miserable musician wages’

Karel Mark Chichon, a British conductor, has resigned as music director of the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra, accusing the Miistry of Culture of reneging on promises to improve the pay of his musicians. He could, he said, no longer motivate musicians who were on such lousy wages. There has been no official response in Riga to his abrupt and principled resignation.

Chichon, 40, former chief conductor at Graz, is a regular performer at the Vienna Opera. He is married to Latvia’s star mezzo-soprano, Elina Garanca.

chichongaranca chichon


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  1. ‘A regular performer at the Vienna Opera’

    He cancels as many performances as he conducts, a cause for complaint among the Viennese, who suspect that he only gets these engagements because of his wife.

  2. BIngo 12Törner ! I believe that those unmotivated orchestral komrads are just as unconvinced as bored….these people may not earn much but music is their life and when you have nothing you have everything, music. Sounds like someone who might be frustrated because he has been found out and needs a way out.

  3. Ragna,

    If you know anything about the orchestra and its relationship with Chichon you would know that since Chichon became Chief Conductor the level of the orchestra has significantly improved, recognised by all local critics and by major newspaper ciritics in Germany when the orchestra toured last under Chichon. In fact most music experts in the baltic region recognise the Latvian National Symphony as the best orchestra in the baltics, far superior to Neeme Jarvi’s Estonian orchestra…You only have to go to youtube to hear the difference. ln latvia Chichon sells out all his concerts and we the public love him – as far as I know until now nobody has doubted his qualities as a conductor because orchestras don’t improve on their own, especially when you compare the quality before and after Chichon’s arrival.

    I don’t know what Chichon does or does not do in Vienna but it has nothing to do with the news that Mr Lebrecht so brilliantly and quickly picked up (by the way – I think slipped disc does a fantastic job!). It seems to me that some people are just happy to criticize without having been to one single concert with Chichon and the Latvian orchestra because it is impossible to conceive that a conductor married to a famous singer could actually be a good conductor in his own right. So I would suggest that before you assume you should inform yourselves better because it gives a bad name to a partnership which in the baltic region has been very successful and which we have valued.

  4. So why did Maestro Chichon and his wife cancel their concerts in Spain suddenly this week? Less than a week’s notice to the orchestra he was scheduled to conduct. leaving them with no time to arrange alternate
    programming. That’s very disrespectul.

    Sounds like 1. what Zwolftoner said in the first comment about him being unreliable is absolutely right.
    and 2. perhaps it’s not only Lativia’s salaries which aren’t good enough for him.

    Funny that this all comes on the heels of his wife, Elina Garanca’s success with her appearance in the MET Live in HD screening of Clemenza in early Dec. Suddely nothing is good enough for her husband. That’s all well and good, but you honor the commitments you made before you got famous, not just cancel out because you suddenly decide it’s not enough money.

    • “Sounds like 1. what Zwolftoner said in the first comment about him being unreliable is absolutely right.”

      I don’t follow his career closely enough to speculate about Chichon’s cancellation record in other countries. I can only speak for Vienna, where he is, yes, a ‘regular performer’ according to bookings but has, minus cancellations, actually conducted at the Staatsoper only three times. Now it is rumoured that the Staatsoper will invite him back in future seasons – unusual treatment when there are enough reliable second division conductors to count on, so small wonder the Viennese echo chamber is full of rumours about Garanca’s influence (she remains an audience favourite in Vienna). I take Charles Ogilvy at his word, that Chichon is a big hit in Latvia and has done good things there independently of his wife. But the way he has handled things in Vienna suggests that here he is less interested in his own profile as a maestro – commercial events such as Christmas in Vienna and his wife’s gala concerts he never cancels, but at these he is very much appearing as Mr Garanca.

      • “commercial events such as Christmas in Vienna and his wife’s gala concerts he never cancels, but at these he is very much appearing as Mr Garanca.”

        Hello, Zwolftoner,

        The concerts which Chichon was scheduled to conduct in Madrid on Jan. 7 and in Barcelona on Jan. 11 were both galas featuring Ms. Garanca.

        Rehearsals were to begin on Jan. 3 and the orchestra was notified of the cancelation on Dec. 26th. Mr. Garanca is not exactly endearing himself to Spanish orchestra managements or musicians if he is, indeed the cause of the cancelation.

    • Lonely Daina says:

      Interesting that he had a concerts in Riga december 28. and 30. of 2012.
      Also he canceled his season opening concert in Riga at october 13th this year. But very next day he gave a concert in Paris. Though, he was sick( as it was announced officially). I think too many musicians just didn,t want to see him anymore in Riga, and too many musicians were not welcomed to play in his programs. So I believe he just took an advantage step and resigned on different purposes.

  5. Yes found the time to leave my last thought. “Assume” is not “Sounds Like” as I said. I know players, and players will play if they are inspired form the front, even if there is no money. So Charley or Charlotte ; ) or whom ever you are, seeing I am actually writing form the Baltics I would love to know what post you hold here to have witnessed the development of this orchestra? To talk about critics is relative (seeing he himself lists very little on his website) and talking about what happens in the backyard of the Estonians is also relative since the grass is hardly greener. If one was passionate about making improvements one should not blame the orchestra for not being motivated enough because of the money situation. Most musicians consider themselves lucky to have work since there are so many Orchestras shutting their doors these days. I wonder what his fee in comparison to the orchestra players? So why not quietly leave the post and move on. I suppose it is easier to be a good conductor with a famous wife then a Great conductor making Riga one of finest in Europe. I would value your opinion much more if you were actually a player and speaking as someone first hand form the Orchestra. The Orchestral comments in the Latvian Press Comments are hardly favorable for Mr. Chichon.

  6. Richard V. West says:

    Let’s go a little deeper here. If the Latvian Ministry of Culture did indeed renege on promises to increase salaries of the musicians, Cichon’s decision to quit—-whatever his other motivations were—it was a bold move. I suspect that it would have been far more difficult for the Latvian musicians to strike or protest in order to demonstrate their plight so dramatically. Having played professionally in the past, and still playing for the love of it, I can tell you that as much as I love music, I need to eat and stay out of the rain as well. Wanting to get paid fairly for professional services rendered is not greed—it’s asking for respect. I’m referring to rank-and-file orchestral musicians here, not conductors (a different story entirely).

    • onward and forward in no time there will be another young Latvian Conductor in there doing the job, my honest opinion is no one will really miss him …the orchestra has done real demonstrations before ! I am a musician and when I have no work I gather my resources and survive. I am sure in the next years there will be more money, things take time and the people who have been handling the funds for the last 20 years have mostly filled their pockets. It takes time to clean house. Richard did you survive the USSR? Latvians are still surviving.

  7. Dear Zwolftoner,

    I agree with you that Chíchon’s track record in the Vienna State Opera last season could easily give the impression that there are politics involved or that he cancels without thinking about the consequences, but the facts are very different.

    I am a retired musician who happily lives in Austria and I have become a kind of follower of Chichon. I travel as much as I can to see him perform and enjoy my trips. That is why I know the situation in Riga since I have been in at least halfof all his concerts since he became the main conductor in 2009. I also have got close enough to Chichon to know what happened in the Vienna State Opera last season.

    You probably don’t know that Chichon injured his right hand the day before he was scheduled to conduct a Gala concert in Baden-Baden in December 2011 with Jonas Kaufmann and Westbroeck. It forced him to cancel that Gala Concert which also shows you that he also cancels gala concerts not just opera. From that moment, he was plagued with that injury for most of 2012. He cancelled Otello in Munich in March 2012 when the injury relapsed during an orchestra rehearsal which musicians of the Staatsoper Munich saw at first hand what happened. His right hand was a problem on and off the whole season and reading the press every time he cancelled at the Vienna State Opera it was announced the reasons were injury to the hand. In fact in May 2012 he was scheduled to conduct Tosca in Vienna whilst doing gala concerts with his wife in between and again his hand played up. In one of those gala concerts (Munich) he conducted with his left hand in extreme pain, because I was there and saw it and it was announced the public. On that day he told me one thing is to conduct with the left hand a gala concert where the orchestra is very rehearsed and minimum effort can be made and another is to conduct a long opera with no rehearsal with the orchestra with the left hand. For him it was not possible and he did what he felt was best given the circumstances. Maybe he was wrong, I think the answer is in the middle, but I know he did not have an arrogant or flippant attitude.

    I am not trying to excuse him because every decision you make in a career is exposed, but I believe it is even more exposed if you are the husband of a famous singer. But it is also true that everybody in Vienna, including you, had a choice to either believe the press statements and trust that there was a genuine reason behind the cancellation or believe whatever gossips were going around. I personally find it ironic that so many singers cancel opera performances in Vienna and everywhere else for reasons that border on the ridiculous but all of them are forgiven or at least forgotten because it is “part of the trade”. But if a conductor cancels for an injury it cannot be true and other reasons must be given. Welser-Most has cancelled performances in Vienna Opera because of a similar hand injury and also there were many gossips.

    I am completely in agreement with you that his cancellations last season would give you more than one reason to think as you did, but give the guy a break. I know he suffered a lot last season and he was looking forward to conducting in Vienna and was very sorry. I don’t believe that he signed contracts for Vienna so that he could cancel them without knowing the consequences. He is not as stupid as to think that it would bring him any good. It was just bad luck and out of his control.



  8. hans sachs says:

    To Ragna

    I am a musician of the Latvian National Symphony and I am a concertmaster. We LOVE Chichon and we were very sorry that he left. Ragna conveniently forgot to mention that more than 75% of the orchestra voted to keep Chichon for 3 more years as our Chief Conductor in November 2011 I don’t think that is possible if you are a lousy conductor or if you the husband of a famous singers or any of the other reasons you say in your comments. But of course, there was a small minority of the orchestra who were more interested in their personal agendas than what was good for the orchestra and they made sure to spread untrue comments about Chichon and when that did not work they even organised a small unauthorised internal voting of some union members to say that musicians did not want him. But the LNSO collective is not stupid and the public and the press is also not stupid. AND Chichon was very brave to leave because he wanted to help us. He said to the press very clearly that the main reason he has left was not because of musicians who were not inspired but because Ministry of Culture did not want to support the orchestra and a result it was difficult for musicians to survive. I am sure Chichon was making a good salary, but I am also sure that Chichon brought the LNSO a great deal of money, with sold out concerts, sponsors and many other things that would not be possible without him. Chichon could have just stayed 3 more years and comfortably kept his salary – instead he left to help the orchestra so he has lost much more by doing this than us. You, Ragna, represent that small minority of musicians in Latvia who understands nothing of what Chichon has done and you do nobody any favours by writing as if you represent the collective of us in Latvia. If Chichon was so terrible the orchestra would not be at the level it is and his concerts would not sell out. But I am sure you must be one of those in the minority who probably were not good enough in level to play with the LNSO or not good enough to play for Chichon…

    • You say the minority of some union? How dear you! It was an absolute majority of orchestra musician union who did not wanted Chichon to be a chief conductor anymore.

  9. marina berti says:

    Regarding his association with his wife Elina Garanca, I think Mr Lebrecht forgot to mention that Chichon is also Chief Conductor of the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie Saarbrucken who I have heard and is a very fine orchestra. It has a good reputation in Germany, especially because of the recordings made by Skrowaczewski with the orchestra. Common sense tells me that there is no famous singer in this world who has that much influence to push her husband conductor to be voted as Chief Conductor not of one orchestra, but three – Graz, Riga, Saarbrucken. I also do not think that Garanca can pick up the phone and call Queen Elizabeth II of UK and ask her to give Chichon an OBE, which in England is a big award as I am sure Mr Lebrecht knows.

  10. Laura Martí says:

    Dear Isolde

    The concerts in Madrid and Barcelona were not cancelled because of the artists but for other reasons. states that they were reasons beyond the artist’s control. The artists did not cancel them and I know that for a fact. Also the reason cannot be illness of artists because It would be impossible to announce cancellation on 26th December when there are so many days from Christmas to the concerts in Spain to recover from whatever illness. And you can be sure that in the music business if you have signed a contract it is not possible to suddenly decide you don’t want to do the concerts unless you have a valid reason. So unless you have proof they cancelled them then it would be interesting to know where you got the information. I don’t think you can blame the artists for when the orchestra is informed and I cannot believe the concerts would be cancelled because of Mr Chichon because he is not the main attraction in these concerts. Apart from that, interesting that somebody else here says that they never cancel Gala concerts and now they have just cancelled concerts in Spain. You cannot have it both ways.

  11. Dear Charles,

    Thank you for your explanation. Do you think that his cancelations this week in Spain are due to his hand injury also? This, of course, would be very understandable to managements and musicians alike, and we
    would be more sympathetic.

    As it is, the orchestra he was scheduled to conduct in Spain very obligingly squeezed in a tour with Chichon and Garanca which cut into the musicians’ holiday vacations. Musicians were expected to report for work for the 1st rehearsal with Chichon on Jan. 3. The tour was to have been for 10 days, falling over Spain’s most important holiday on Jan. 6, the Epiphany (Dia de Los Reyes Magos).

    Everyone adjusted their family holiday schedules to accomodate Mr. and Mrs. Garanca. Then they cancelled on Dec. 26, leaving no time for the orch. to reprogram or for musicians to rearrange their travel plans. There was no reason given. Had it been known this was due to an injury, everyone would be much more understanding.

    As it is, this cancelation came exactly at the same time as Mr. Chichon’s announcement in Riga. To puzzled Spaniards, it looks like Mr. Chichon has canceled in Spain for monetary reasons as well. Judging by this sucession of events, he appears to be a rather mercenary conductor, I’m afraid.

    If he is so concerned about the welfare of musicians in Riga, I wish he would have given some thought to the welfare of the musicians in Spain, who also don’t exactly make boatloads of money, and who value, above all, family vacation time. If his cancelation was indeed for an injury, it would be in his best interests to mention this to his Spanish organizers.

  12. HS and all who are offended I am so sorry for your loss, Mr Chichon hope your hand heals soon. Thank you all for clearing things up for the uninformed. Happy New Year.

  13. Dear Isolde

    I really don’t think you know how it works in the concert business. I don’t know the exact reasons why the Spanish concerts have been cancelled but I do know Mr Chichon’s hand is fine now. Whatever the reasons for the cancellation,Mr Chichon would not be the reason, because these are Garanca Gala concerts and if he were ill he would be replaced – the concerts would not be cancelled because of him.

    All I can say is that Elina Garanca is not ill either because I was in her concert just 2 days ago in Riga and she was fine, so it does not make sense that she would announce the cancellation of concerts in Spain just 2 days before she performed in Riga. Garanca is a super professional who does not play with the public in that way, that’s my opinion.

    What I can tell you is that Chichon does not hire the orchestra or can influence when they rehearse to the degree you are suggesting. The orchestra’s season of concerts are normally planned a year in advance and does not just accommodate any artists’ whims that come after their concerts are planned unless of course the orchestra agrees because it is convenient for them to do so. It is Chichon or any other conductor hired that has to fit into their schedule within reasonable limits.

    As a former musician I can also tell you that if you have a contract you cannot just cancel it because you no longer llike the money you are receiving and concerts are always announced after the contract is signed. You already know that he cancelled other gala concerts so I don’t understand why you still think he is mecenary.

    That’s all I can say from my experience and from what I know. I hope it helps you get a better picture.

    • Hello, Charles,

      You’re right, I’m afraid I don’t understand it works in the concert business. But I am trying to understand, since it seems to happen regularly in Spain, esp. recently.

      The concerts I’ve mentioned were scheduled with less than a yr’s notice, outside of the orch’s regular season programming, which is why the dates fell during Xmas/New Year’s vacation.

      If neither Mr. Chichon or Ms. Garanca are responsible for the cancelation, then why were the concerts canceled? Is it the Spanish promoter, the Scherzo Foundation, who is responsible? If so, why would a promoter go thru the trouble of contracting these artists only to cancel the concerts?

      It seems to me that when artists and promoters make an agreement, esp. one which involves a full orchestra, they should get their acts together and make the necessary business agreements, find out who has injuries, what the money’s going to be BEFORE announcing the concerts in the press, selling tickets and disrupting the lives of 60+ orchestra members.

      Yes, you’re right, Charles, if you have a contract you can’t just cancel it because you no longer like the money you are receiving. But isn’t that exactly what Mr. Chichon did in Riga on behalf of his musicians?

      Whatever the reason for the cancelations in Spain, it wasn’t handled well. To simply announce that it was for reasons “beyond the artists’ control” leaves the situation wide open for speculation.

      • Dear Isolde

        I understand why you arrive at the conclusions you do but I don’t agree that soloists and conductors are responsible for making arrangements for orchestra, public and press. If somebody organises a concert and hires the orchestra, soloist and conductor it is that same organiser who needs to explain and also take the hit if something goes wrong.The concert “belongs” to the organisers, not the artist so I can only suggest you contact Scherzo and ask them to give you an explanation.

        What Mr Chichon did in Riga is resign from a position, that’s very different to cancelling a a couple of one-off concerts. When you resign from a position I suppose there is a clause in your contract which allows you to do that. Like HS states it is Mr Chichon who has lost earnings as a result of his resignation. As Anon says below I personally think he has been an example to other conductors and his gesture has shown that he is a noble musician who has principles even if he may lose earnings and not the mecenary you suggested before.

  14. “I agree with you that Chíchon’s track record in the Vienna State Opera last season could easily give the impression that there are politics involved or that he cancels without thinking about the consequences, but the facts are very different”

    I didn’t question the reasons for his cancellations, just noted that these weren’t handled as smoothly as is typically the case. I have every sympathy for the problems with his hand, and would challenge the comments you make about the Viennese, who don’t take cancellations as badly as you suggest. The Levine/Luisi saga was taken quite stoically even though Vienna was one of the main cities affected and a Wiener Symphoniker Mahler cycle – which was Luisi’s pet project and had lukewarm support from the orchestra – turned out disastrously as a result. When (K) Petrenko cancelled Trittico at the Theater an der Wien a couple of days before opening night, the reason given – an accident in the pit had triggered his recurring back problems – was absolutely taken on faith. As for singers cancelling at the Staatsoper, again the Viennese understand this as part and parcel of life at the busiest repertory house in the world. If anything the public wishes that certain singers would cancel more often…

    The reason Chichon’s cancellations have caused such consternation is that he makes them at incredibly short notice, causing more inconvenience than necessary. You inform us that he suffered a relapse to the original injury in March and experienced further problems in gala concerts weeks later, and yet the Vienna Toscas due to take place in May were not cancelled until the last minute, leaving the house scrabbling around for a replacement over the weekend (in the end the GMD himself had to step in to cover these performances while in the final stretch of rehearsing the new production of Don Carlo). I do recall some talk of a hand injury going around at the time – that was indeed the ‘gossip’ that you dismiss – but the official press statement (which you ask us to believe) actually said that he had an ear infection. No mention at all of the hand.

    I don’t think it is helpful to bring FWM’s hand injury – actually two hand injuries, the right in June and the left in autumn – into this, suffice to say that the medical reasons given (which sounded plausible and included a doctor’s report) were in fact believed with not a shred of gossip circulating until it became known that two entirely different reasons for the autumn cancellation were given to the Direktion and orchestra respectively. At fault here is not Viennese intrigue but the horse’s mouth with foot in it.

  15. Dear Zwolftoner,

    You seem to have more reliable public information than me and I have no problem with that, but I do know for a fact that his hand was not well in May 2012 because he told me himself and because before the concert he gave in Munich in May 2012 inbetween the Toscas he cancelled in Vienna it was announced he was indisposed due to his hand but would conduct with his left hand. That is a fact because I was there and it can be proven publicy, so the annoucement about the ear infection does not follow although I completely believe you of course.

    The truth is probably in the middle but I have to tell you it would have been impossible for him to cancel any performances at the Staatsoper Wien without a doctor’s certificates to the Direktion for ALL the performances he cancelled. Without a doctor’s certificate it would not be accepted neither in Wien nor any other reputable opera house so I cannot understand why you infer that he would have cancelled anything without proof. Another thing is that proof was not given to the press, that I don’t know….

    In my opinion this conductor receives much more criticism in Vienna and elsewhere because he is married to Garanca than many other conductors with half his talent who also conduct at the Staatsoper. Most people think he actually has it easy due to his marraige with Garanca but I actually think he has it harder. To be compared to Haider (Gruberova) is insulting to Chichon no matter who you are – you just have to look at his tenure as Chief Conductor in orchestras to understand that – although to be compared to Bonynge in my opinion is a compliment because Bonynge was a very fine belcanto opera conductor. But at the end talent always shines through although some take longer than others. In many years to come Chichon’s name will be a different one, even though his road will be harder, you will see.

    That’s my opinion and we can agree to disagree.

  16. What an odd set of responses. But a few months, commenters here were crying out for the conductors of American orchestras to speak out or threaten to leave in support of their musicians. This gentleman does just that, and barely a compliment, just more criticism. Can no-one do anything right?

    • Anon,

      Finally, you hit it on the nail!

      That’s sadly because he is married to a famous singer and that and the jealousy that goes with it is more important than the brave gesture he made.

      But that’s the world we live in now……

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