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So who’s taking over Salzburg’s headless Mozart cycle?

It has taken Alexander Pereira all of two days to replace Franz Welser-Möst, who complained of inadequate rehearsal time and poor scheduling.

The new conductor appears to have been reeled in by the stage director.

Here’s the announcement:

Due to the unforeseen situation, we have spent the past few days searching intensively not only for a new conductor for Così fan tutte, but also for the entire Mozart cycle. We are delighted to announce that the original concept – of working with one conductor, one stage director and an ensemble that is essentially the same throughout the cycle – can be maintained. Christoph Eschenbach has kindly agreed to collaborate on this cycle with Sven-Eric Bechtolf during the upcoming years.

Both artists have known each other for many years and are friends. Having heard outstandingly sensitive Mozart interpretations from Christoph Eschenbach throughout recent years, I am convinced that the cycle is in excellent hands. 

Alexander Pereira

Relations between Salzburg and the Vienna Opera chief are, however, at an all-time low.

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  1. Robert Fitzpatrick says:

    Norman, please tell us how much opera CE has done? This should be more than interesting to follow.

    • Christophe says:

      This is great news. Eschenbach is a consummate Mozartean, he conducted an historic Mozart/Da Ponte trilogy for Houston Grand Opera, is currently conducting Budapest Opera and has conducted opera all over the world, not to mention being one of the greatest living orchestral conductors. He also has a fruitful and dynamic relationship with the Vienna Philharmonic. This is a great achievement and coup for Pereira and the Festpiele.

      • Daniel Farber says:

        If CE is one of the greatest living orchestral conductors, he sure managed to fool the Philadelphia Orchestra’s musicians: they ran him out of town pretty fast. I guess his ways are not to everyone’s “taste”.

        • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

          The treatment of CE in Philadelphia was truly reprehensible by the press, the POA management, and by a few of the musicians through their remarks to the press. Some “tastes” among the musicians were actually favorable to his leadership. This opportunity in Salzburg is another indication that POA made a mistake (one of many in recent years). It’s interesting that CE remains in demand in spite of conflicting taste.

          • No – the treatment of Eschenbach in Philadelphia by one member of the press was truly reprehensible. The Philadelphia Inquirer had two critics, one of whom was generally quite supportive of Eschenbach.

            It seems there are some orchestras that like Eschenbach a lot and some that don’t like him at all; Eschy-Philadelphia simply wasn’t a good match.

            I agree with Christopher (below) that when Eschenbach is really on, he’s terrific, and when he’s off, he’s way off. My sense from watching and listening to him is that, far more than most conductors, he makes a lot of key decisions about tempo and the like on the spot. When that works, it can be thrilling, but it means the musicians never know for certain if what they rehearsed is what they’ll have to do in performance. Some orchestras have less tolerance for that sort of thing than others.

        • Christophe says:

          I agree with Mr. Fitzpatrick. Eschenbach quickly found new jobs and Philadelphia went into bankruptcy protection. And, never mind the fact that Karajan eventually fell out with the Berlin musicians, Ozawa in Boston, Masur in Paris, Maazel in New York, Barenboim in Chicago, and so on……So, he was not the only one not to everyone’s tastes….Perhaps its the musicians who need to re-evaluate theirs? Voilà! Having heard the recent Don G from the new Philly MD, I can say I am more enthusiastic about Eschenbach’s hiring in Salzburg than I would have been for YNZ. In any case, the young conductors are too busy being exploited by the industry for such an honor now, and Eschenbach has reached that golden age of wisdom….Lets let Salzburg decide……

      • Eschenbach is only a “consummate mozartean” at the keyboard. As a conductor, his only predilection for Mozart is that none of it is in compound meter.

        • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

          Are you implying that he doesn’t have the technical chops for changing meter? I saw him rehearse and perform Le Sacre du Printemps with a student orchestra and he conducted both performances flawlessly from memory. Must have been an accident. The rest of the program was Bernstein (Symphonic Dances from WSS) and the Penderecki Viola Concerto. I wonder how he did it? Maybe the kids were counting out loud to help or he watched them tapping their little feet. Yes, CE can be awkward technically and exaggerated musically, but…I think he will more than muddle through the Mozart project.

          PS: He is pretty good piano player, too.

  2. This replacement was stroke of genius.

  3. Actually I would not like to be in Eschenbach’s shoes right now (whatever his merits may be) : to be a substitute to someone famous is commonplace when you are a rising beginner (cf. Salonen), but not for someone with his pedigree. I mean, people will keep asking themselves how FWM would have done this, how he would have done that, etc. To my knowledge Eschenbach has not been invited to conduct the VPO in Salzburg for a long time, and I am not convinced this is the proper way for a comeback…

    As for his operatic/mozartian skills, well, wait and see…

  4. MortimerFromWashington says:

    Very strange choice. Apparently they must be desperate in Salzburg. I’m sorry to any fans of Mr. Eschenbach reading this, but he has to be the most inconsistent, idiosyncratic, bizarre conductor I have ever seen or heard in twenty five years of active concert going. I will give him the credit of being a sensitive musician, but that is where it all stops. The man has absolutely NO conducting technique, absolutely none. He exaggerates everything that he does, adding artificial sweetener and exaggerated phrasing to every pianissimo, to every portamento. It all is so perverse, so totally self indulgent, egocentric and sadly often totally ridiculous. Eschenbach has to be the greatest mystery in the conducting universe. If any young 25 year old would dare to stand before an audience doing what he does, showing no precise conducting technique, just the amateurish so called “mirror conducting” they would be booed off the stage and forgotten forever, not taking over a major Mozart project at the Salzburg Festival! Sorry to be so blunt here, but I fear that the classical music world has been taken over by so many charlatans, Eschenbach being one of them. What would Karl Böhm, Karajan, Solti or Toscanini thought if they would have seen Eschenbach conducting as he does? What would Ricardo Muti, one of the greatest Mozart conductors think of this travesty at the salzburg Festival? Standards have certainly gone down at that prestigious event.

    • Andrew Powell says:

      “Charlatan”? And in Mozart? You are talking about someone who recorded all of Mozart’s sonatas 45 years ago, leaving a cycle that is still regarded as one of the freshest.

      You mention Karajan. He recorded with Eschenbach. You mention Muti. He was invited to conduct “Così” at Salzburg without any experience leading that work, which is not the case with Eschenbach. And Muti, like most rational people, would think nothing of a “travesty” that hasn’t occured yet.

      Complain about Eschenbach’s stick technique if you want, but not his musicianship.

      As for standards going “down” at Salzburg, that’s been the case every year since I started attending in 1978, and it is still the greatest festival on Earth. Bravo Pereira on this one!

    • @Mortime said, “He exaggerates everything that he does, adding artificial sweetener and exaggerated phrasing to every pianissimo, to every portamento. It all is so perverse, so totally self indulgent, egocentric and sadly often totally ridiculous. ”

      On this other hand, isn’t this just how to mangle Mozart so that it is more palatable to the common taste? He might end up with an entirely new following. :-0

    • I’m sorry…but why would a member of the audience care at all about the conducting technique? I hope you were not planning on whistling along…Otherwise I don’t see why anyone (except, maybe the musicians) would care.

  5. Graf Nugent says:

    CE’s Bayreuth Parsifal led to Hans Sotin walking out of the Festspiele and never coming back. Eschenbach himself lasted only one season. There’s his headshot in the Rogues’ Gallery between the pit and the canteen which shows him focussed on a mystical point somewhere in the middle distance with his left hand tensed and open; many of you will know the picture I’m talking about. The inofficlal Bayreuth accompanying slogan reads “I conducted…FIVE performances in Bayreuth”. Let’s hope his Mozart is better than his Wagner.

    • @Graf said, “Eschenbach himself lasted only one season [at Beyreuth].

      Fair enough; but Mahler never made it at all, so can that alone be a deciding factor as to how to evaluate CE?

  6. He didn’t leave good memories at the Orchestre de Paris either (he would rather stay, but neither the orchestra nor the management accepted); I remember especially his incredibly dull Ring cycle. I didn’t want to see wthis Così with Welser-Möst; with Eschenbach, it looks even worth (not speaking of the second-rate casting).

  7. I hope Alex Pereira engages Tzimon Barto to play the harpsichord parts in this opera trilogy!

  8. It would be lovely to know what the Wiener Philharmoniker REALLY think of Eschenbach…

    • Linda Grace says:

      Rosalind, I know one member of the Vienna who thinks just like Mortimer and told me he was amazed that E. lasted as long as he did in Philadelphia. Mortimer, you go guy! Sorry Dean Fitzpatrick, I don’t think you heard every week’s rendition like I did, and surely you didn’t hear that Mahler 3rd symphony that was 20 minutes overtime pay for the orchestra, an 85-90 minute piece that had had that much added with the slow tempos. it was kind of fascinating.
      When E. first came, he had pretty good attendance, but shortly thereafter, perhaps partly due to his celebration of Messien in his first year, attendance fell off and never recovered. I’m not saying it was all his fault, but there was a stink that couldn’t be denied of what Mortimer says. It didn’t go over big with much of anybody. The wind players had this little problem with his tempos (not enough air), but the string players didn’t much care. As one explained to me, we change bow and keep going, and ignore how the phrasing turns out.
      Outside of that, everybody liked him, and he has great rhythm when he plays the piano.

      • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

        Thanks, Linda. I knew you would end on a positive note as usual. I know about the Mahler 3 and happy that you found it fascinating (I know a few of the brass players who were less than amused). I wonder which requiem YNZ will chose to open next year’s Carnegie series? I miss Charlie already!

        • Linda Grace says:

          Charles Dutoit, what a class act. I certainly couldn’t have predicted from his early years in Philly that this last tenure would turn out so impressively musical and characterful.
          As for the requiem TBA, I’m in. Yannick is a genius with these pieces. The St. Matthew Passion at Easter time here would be worth your trip across the pond, IMHO.

  9. i’m gonna vomit.

    the vienna phil can’t possibly think eschy is anything more than an amateur kapellmeister hack.

    trading FWM for C.E. is the most losing deal going!

  10. All I know about Eschenbach as a Mozart conductor is a Houston Symphony fundraiser CD I have with a deadly heavy and dull Mozart 40.

    Anyway, forgive me my skepticism about his motives for agreeing to help at Salzburg, but I would like to point out that Eschenbach conducted a lot in Cleveland in the late 1990s and early 2000s. When the appointment of FWM as music director was announced, Eschenbach “coincidentally” canceled all his upcoming appearances. Maybe that has nothing in the world to do with this. Just sayin’.

  11. Christopher says:

    I’m a big fan of Eschenbach, but I can see why people would be wary of him. I saw an electrifying Dvorak 9 and Bruckner 7 with the LA Phil a few years back, and he was recently in Los Angeles conducting Schubert 9, which was the worst Schubert 9 I’ve ever heard, or will ever probably hear, in my entire life. So he has hits or misses, but big deal, what conductor does not? When CE is on, the results are incredible. Nonetheless, to each their own.

    What is true, at least for me, is that CE is FAR more exciting than the original option, FWM. FWM has got to be the most over-rated, boring, bland, dull and slightly ridiculous conductor this business has seen in a long time (and conductors are quite able at being slightly ridiculous, do they not?). I have come back to him time and time again trying to figure out WHY people like him, and why on earth anyone would want to rehire him. Can anyone explain this to me?

    I think this is a brilliant stroke. CE might bring these operas to the heavens, or drag them through the worst dirt imaginable, but they will certainly not be the arid and uninteresting operas they were once fated to be with FWM.

  12. True, there are many things Eschenbach did wrong in his career, like endorsing Lang Lang for instance; or pushing forward his protégés — I mean, how a pianist of his calibre can even appreciate someone like Barto, who gave, as far as I can remember, the worst rendition of the Brahms 2nd concerto I have ever heard ?; or leaving a very promising career as a pianist to engage in a very hazardous conducting career — not everybody is Barenboim, and God knows Barenboim himself has his bad moments. Plus he has absolutely no understanding of an orchestra’s psychology, hence the fallouts in Philadelphia and in Paris.

    I’d rather he had pursued a career as pianist, since he was a truly excellent one, strangely free of all the manerisms that characterize his conducting style. But for chrissakes give him a chance. Let’s see what he does in Salzburg, and we’ll judge him later.

  13. Solenne Gonzalez says:

    Christoph Eschenbach is well known in the entire world for supporting tirelessly a number of young/ younger musicians based on his attraction to their looks. Tzimon Barto, Erik Schumann, Nikolai Schukoff, John Axelrod, Dimitri Maslennikov, Claudio Bohorquez, David Carpenter, Dan Zhu, all cute looking guys in Eschenbach’s head.

    • Please keep your deeply offensive, homophobic twaddle to yourself.

      • It’s the truth though. Nothing homophobic about it. The homophobic killer argument is now always brought up, if someone questions the habit of promoting mediocre artists (mediocre at best) based on their sexual attraction to somebody? Sounds like the worn out “anti-semitism” argument, that anyone gets who criticizes a tiny bit of Israel’s policies.
        Come on, let’s get real, someone like Tzimon Barto has no place on the world’s premiere league podiums.

  14. Sam Mitchell says:

    God bless Christoph Eschenbach. I always thought since the last few years he has a companion, Leonidas Tzoras from Greece, who is also his personal masseur (has a massage service called “Apollonium”), traveling with the Maestro worldwide.

    • NSO Insider says:

      It is fine that Maestro has his private life which nobody should give a fuss about. What is disturbing is an incident such as when his very close friend Tzimon Barto came to play as a soloist here, he walked out from the Maestro dressing room wearing only undershirt and underpants showing his muscular body in front of our NSO administrative staff. That was unacceptable and disrespectful behavior which our Music Director should never allow to happen!!!!

  15. MortimerFromWashington says:

    I didn’t want to mention it, but now that others have, Eschenbach’s choice of soloists and the type of musicians that he supports leaves very much to be desired and the comments above by Solenne are unfortunately accurate. We have in Washington already been subjected to some of Eschenbach’s soloist “collection” and after hearing the likes of the astoundingly vulgar and tasteless Tzimon Barto bang and literally destroy the music (and the piano), we were also treated to the cellist Claudio Bohorquez who, while less vulgar, is nothing more than an average to good conservatory student. Earlier on, we had the violinist Erik Schumann, also a very average music school student and perhaps the worst violinist of all, the Chinese boy Dan Zhu, who probably wouldn’t even make it into the first round entry auditions at Peabody or any other conservatory. It was so bad, that the local press wrote about it, yet Eschenbach brought him back again for more horrifying performances and tours with this handsome Chinese guy regularly. The NSO also took Mr. Bohorquez on tour with them and the NSO will soon tour European capitals with Tzimon Barto, on one of their first tours to Europe in years. How can the NSO’s artistic administration allow this, especially on a tour? I have heard from several musician friends in the orchestra that there is some seething anger towards the artistic direction for allowing this to go on unchecked. No, Eschenbach quite obviously puts other criteria before musical talent in his choice of partners. Where is the integrity? Where is the respect of the public in all of this? It is, like his conducting, nothing more than self indulgence at the audience’s expense.

  16. BrianFromDC says:

    I don’t know anything about Christophe Eschenbach’s private life, and I don’t care. I’ve enjoyed his concerts with the NSO immensely. That said, a couple of boorish comments in this blog border on homophobia and serve no purpose other than to pollute an otherwise fascinating discussion on the controversial maestro’s music-making. A retired statesman I know used to say that public funding for the arts was good because the arts promote civility. Clearly, that is not always the case.

    • I agree with Brian- People also say, with due respect to Brian, that nothing good comes out of Washington, like some of these commentaries, and perhaps Eschenbach is simply enjoying his golden years doing it how he likes, because why should anyone care to please these homophobic, conservative, delusional idiots that we have just had to read. Oh, yes, didnt the Republican’s lose? So have Mortimer and NSOInsider. As an orchestra musician myself, I am alarmed that none of the musicians on this thread take any accountability for their own mediocre playing. And the fate of the NSO will be like many other american orchestras that will end up bankrupt or in lockout because the public cares not about the private life of an orchestra or conductors, but instead the engagement of its musicians. If the musicians only blame the conductor or the management/boards and take no responsibility themselves, then they have noone else ultimately to blame but themselves when they are out of their jobs- just like the Republican establishment. In Europe, Eschenbach has had fantastic success, in Hamburg and Paris, as he had in Houston. I disagree with DA- the musicians of the Orchestre de Paris adore him and he continues to return to the orchestra he led for 10 years. As for Charlie being such a class act, I dont think the musicians were so happy about him in Montreal! Anyone say anything about that? As for Graf Nugent, you should get your facts straight. Hans Soutin was fired by Wolfgang Wagner for changing the notes and words of his Grandfather, and Eschenbach had the good sense not to let some Right Wing journalists determine his future. As for his coterie of established artists he champions, Eschenbach also gave Renée Fleming her first major opportunities (actually during his Marriage of Figaro in Houston), as he did for Lang Lang, as he is doing with Matthias Goerne now (is he really so good looking?), and he has also championed Christina Schaefer, Michaela Kaunas and countless other FEMALE artists, who, like the male artists, have proven themselves as quality musicians throughout the world. I think there are some very angry and unqualified people who just like to read their own criticism because they have nothing else better to say. Eschenbach is a great artist, the Vienna Philharmonic are thrilled (just ask their president), and lets end this ridiculous, character assassination. If anything, maybe the criticism should be hurled at Pereira, who himself parades his young Asian wife in ways that make Barto’s muscles look politically correct.

      • Just for the record, the careers of Matthias Goerne or Christine Schaefer are absolutely unrelated to appearances with CE.

      • To Christophe, let’s not talk non sense here, Pereira’s girlfriend, Daniela, is Brazilian, not Asian like you quote above. If you have no credible info, better not right bullshit

        • Christophe says:

          Pablo, I stand corrected. Brazilian. But her country of origin has nothing to do with his inappropriate actions. As to Goerne and Schaefer, it is important to understand that while they have had careers independent of Eschenbach, he certainly has championed them, made many recordings with them and continues to do so. They are included in the list only to refute the “non sense” in previous posts.

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