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Philharmonic appoints music director without musicians being asked

We’re hearing rumbles from the Monte Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra, where the contentious Gianluigi Gelmetti was appointed music director in January, in succession to the much-loved, late Yakov Kreizberg. We hear the players weren’t consulted, and they’re unhappy – both with the high-handedness of the appointment and with the maestro himself.

What stoked their rage all the more was an article by Christian Merlin in yesterday’s Figaro, in which rising player morale in Leonard Slatkin’s Lyon and Marko Letonja’s Strasbourg orchestras was contrasted with desperate droop at Monte Carlo. The players have the feeling that they are sinking into the relegation zone of French orchestras.

We had assumed that appointing music directors without the approval of musicians was a thing of the past. Evidently not.


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  1. Mark Stratford says:

    They are lucky to get Gelmetti. He’s good!

    If the players can stop sulking and whining they will probably see standards rise.

    • Do you have an orchestra? I am sure the colleagues in Monte Carlo would love to give you their ‘luck’ by passing Gelmetti to your orchestra if it were possible. They may even chip in to pay for the travel costs!

      And for your information, they are neither sulking nor whining. They are appalled.
      The Philharmonique have had two excellent musical directors since 2000 ( Marek Janowski and Yakov Kreizberg) Since the sad passing of Kreizberg, the orchestra had been hoping for a director who would continue the high artistic standards of the last decade. They are not asking for Barenboim or Dudamel, they want a good conductor who can bring them to the next level. Gelmetti can not.

  2. itrinkkeinwein says:

    Whining monégasques!

    • 90% of the people who think Monaco is full of whiny spoiled brats are those who wished they were living in Monaco, the other 10% have no idea what Monaco is really about. Are you the exception?

  3. Questioner says:

    The need for musicians to be enthusiastic is obvious but the need for a motivated workforce is hardly exclusive to the world of music. The appointment processes concerning conductors mostly are without parallel though: can anyone suggest any other field of human endeavor in which the most vital senior appointments are made on the basis of the opinion of the people the appointee is supposedly going to lead? Is this not akin to putting the fox in charge of the hen house? Is it merely coincidence that over the same period that player power has increased enormously, the musical level of once-great orchestras has fallen to the extent that now many music-lovers find more emotional value in staying at home with their old recordings than wasting time and money attending a live performance?

    • I completely agree with you Questioner. Nowadays orchestra musicians have often too much power and there is a tendency of hugely overrating their opinions.

      • hmmm, what makes you say that? are you in the business of orchestras? Which orchestra musicians are you talking about exactly? or is it just a general comment?

      • Orchestra musicians have too much power?!? Just think about the Vienna Phil. and the Berlin Phil. and their level! Than you tell me KV551!

    • Wow – if that were true, we wouldn’t been having all of these destructive and distressing lockouts.

  4. to be journalist is a difficoult work, because you need to weigh out words, not as a conductor, but difficoult. Mr. Lebrecht you should weigh out better your words, at least as how M° Gelmetti is doing with his musical notes

    • Have you ever worked with Gelmetti? If you have, please kindly explain how exactly did he ‘weigh his musical notes’ its quite a mystery to a lot of professional musicians.

      • Last tango says:

        Mr. Spike, do you have personal experience with Maestro Gelmetti, he is a great conductor. Maybe his personality can be difficult to face sometimes because he is old school and has a great musical vision. It is hard in the modern era to have both, sure an Abbado is a rare jewel in any generation of conductors that give and command respect, but I think it is truly sad that we have forgotten what an true artist can do. I have witnessed myself the great beauty of what Gelmetti can achieve and he is a first rate world class conductor, with personality flaws…..but then again who does not have them.

        • Last Tango, nice name by the way!
          Yes, I have personally worked with Gelmetti, both in the opera rep as well as symphonic. Unfortunately I not my colleagues on those occasions have had the good fortune of experiencing any greatness nor beauty in the music making, we were too busy trying to play together despite the confusing gestures from the podium. But good for you to have shared some great artistic beauty and musical satisfaction with Gelmetti. Was it recent?

  5. Interesting.
    How many of you have worked with Gelmetti? In which orchestras? How many of you are professional orchestra musicians? And how many of you have heard the L’Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte Carlo in the last 13 years under Marek Janowski of Yakov Kreizberg? If the answer is No, then you have no basis to criticize either Mr. Lebrecht nor the Monte Carlo Philharmonique.

    please continue to enjoy those emotional records at home.

    • Questioner says:

      I was making a general point about process, not implying anything in particular about Monte Carlo Philharmonic or Gianluigi Gelmetti; I am not familiar with the work of either, merely frustrated by the so-oft repeated suggestion that orchestral musicians are necessarily the right people to choose conductors.

      • Michael Barar says:

        And who is better than the musicians to be an integral part of the selection of a music director? We have developed a certain level of expertise in what makes for great performances. At least in the USA, where music directors report to a volunteer board of directors, often times the final approval of the hire comes from people who have no working experience of playing in an orchestra. That means that musician input into the process is crucial. In fact, our contract requires that at least 50% of voting members of a music director search committee be musicians (the board could of course reject the committee recommendation), and, at least from where I sit, my orchestra has never sounded better.

        • Indeed!!

        • Anonymous says:

          Questioner has a point though. Where you sit isn’t the only and usually not the best place from which to make that judgement.

          Orchestras tend to be hit or miss when choosing conductors. That said, writers here are assuming the objective and value of orchestras choosing their conductors is improved music-making from the podium — it isn’t. And I say this as a conductor who believes all orchestras should choose their own conductors.

          • Michael Barar says:

            For one thing, part of my job is to listen carefully to everything happening on stage. No, it’s not the same sound picture that the audience gets, but proper orchestral playing is nothing more than doing big chamber music. If I am not able to assess the quality of our performances then I shouldn’t be there (different story of course if the acoustics simply don’t allow it).
            Yes, hires can be hit or miss. Same thing with staffs. And auditions. And board appointments. You never truly know how someone will work out until s/he is on the job. But the musicians have a better idea of artistic quality than staffs and boards, which we expect to evaluate candidates on other qualities. That is why search committees have different constituencies represented, but our board has agreed with us on this point such that we have the sway that we do on a search committee (and like I said above, a board, though this is rare, can reject a search committee recommendation).

  6. Other workers get their managers (not always good at managing) plonked before their noses, so why should musicians be different?

    • Good question. Obviously you are not a musician.
      Why should Musicians be different?
      Let us see here: they are different from ‘other jobs’ because they have been learning and playing music at a high level since early childhood; because a Musical director is not equivalent to a ‘manager’ but to explain why would take way too long. You will just have to take my word for it: Musicians are really different.

      • As it happens I am a musician (amateur), with a history of playing in many orchestras, but with also a day job. So what you are saying is that musicians deserve leaders that they like, but for the rest of us it does not really matter how much we suffer under less than ideal bosses?

        As far as I understand, musicians are human beings as much as anyone else. With special talents, to be sure, but we all have special talents, in our respective fields.

        • ChinoLatino says:

          It’s not a question of deserving… sure, everyone deserves the best! Here it’s a question of artistic excellence and not of money making like most day jobs (from a musicien’s viewpoint anyway). A conductor ideally) isn’t one of the corporate guys who worries about profits and accounting details (they also exist in our world and I don’t think the musicians here are whining about their less than ideal bosse in that regard)… a conductor is a musician, and from what I hear, read, and unfortunately have lived through, Mister G is the farthest thing from a musician that I’ve seen on the podium in all of my career! I couldn’t agree more with the article in Le Figaro where an orchestra is compared to a football team.

        • Musicians are of course human beings, with special talents perhaps, but certainly with special needs, such as finding a suitable conductor to make music with.
          I am a amateur too, of the harmonica, I love practicing pentatonic scales with the windows wide open so the neighbors can enjoy it as well. Isn’t sharing music wonderful? God Bless.

      • Graf Nugent says:

        I think the answer lies slightly to the side of all this conjecture. Conductors are, in a certain sense, managers, but, as performers, are also unique in the world of the live music in that they make no sound at all. Their managerial capacity outside the concert hall or opera house may be adequately asessed by the board of directors but these same people would probably be ill-equipped to judge his or her ability in front of an orchestra. There, the opinion of the musicians – preferably those with no axe to grind – is more or less indispensable. After all, the creative process needs to more consensual these days as the orchestras are, for the most part, no longer taught the pieces by the man or woman in front of them.

  7. Deva ju. I’m feeling back to Philadelphia on January 2001 when Eschenbach name was announced. Good name? That’s not the point here, since even Ormandy would not be welcome by musicians in that circumstances.

    • Eschenbach would be most welcomed by the Philharmonique de Monte Carlo. THAT would be some serious l k. Gelmetti is not remotely in the same league. No comparison there.

      • David Catcher says:

        I suggest to stop the game of comparisons there.
        Eschenbach and Gelmetti are not on the same league?
        Ok, it’s your opinion, maybe it is even true.
        But then, one should ask if Monte Carlo and Philadelphia are orchestras at the same level too…
        And why is it that for Monte Carlo asking for a greater (more famous) conductor is ok, but for Gelmetti to ask the Monte Carlo to play like a greater and more famous orchestra is bullying or uninspiring.

        • Spike And David,

          I just want to mention that I was not comparing conductors or orchestras, but the process to identified a new MD. As it’s seems both process without musicians participation. Please, don’t lost the point at least concerning my words.

        • Good question David!
          Monte Carlo Phil is NOT the Philadelphia Orchestra. but it has had the opportunity to enjoyed the leadership of excellent Musical directors. As well as numerous guest conductors of great repute for more than 150 years. Monte Carlo would love to be lead by someone who has the ability to direct, the ambition and leadership skills to help them become a greater orchestra. But Gelmetti is not asking for greatness. nor does he have the tools for that. Since he took over the helm ( first as Chef Referent to help the orchestra to find the next director) and now as THE next director, there has been a sharp decrease in Concert tours and Recording projects ( the list is long).
          As yesterday’s article in Figaro said: ‘by naming the mediocre Gelmetti, Monte Carlo is going back wards towards the minor league after Janowski and Kriezberg had brought the Philharmonique into the major s over the past decade…etc’
          Anyone who had worked with Marek Janowski will know he is not a ‘nice’ guy, but he is an talented director and knew how to bring an orchestra to its full potential. He was respected and honored by Monte Carlo, not for his personality, but for his professional excellence.
          Gelmetti is an un-inspiring bully. Just like you said.

        • Last tango says:


        • David, on point to be clarified: Where do you get this information about ‘Monte Carlo asking for a greater /more famous conductor’?
          The few potential candidates the orchestra was hoping to have included some new arrivals who have not yet become famous. Though their talent and potential was evident. The orchestra is not looking for fame, they are looking for quality. But since you are a fan of Gelmetti, it is probably difficult for you to understand how any orchestra can not count them selves fortunate to have such a conductor as their musical director.
          My earlier question remain: Have you worked with Gelmetti recently?

  8. David Catcher says:

    I have worked with Gelmetti and I can tell you: he is a great musician, although he may not always be a really nice or tolerant person. This portrait could easily fit Fritz Reiner, George Szell, De Burgos, Inbal, Riccardo Muti, Gardiner or many others. Are we or are we not glad that these conductors had orchestras to work with despite the orchestras’ liking?
    Democratic criteria in society cannot be extended to all the artistic fields like if it were the same thing.
    Recently some orchestras or opera houses in Gelmetti’s home country, Italy, have appointed music directors on the excitment of a good concert or two and the general ‘linking’ of players, only to see the level of playing and programming going down the drain in few years. Is this really better?
    What happens when the liking of the orchestra affects musical judgement for the long run and then they find themselves stuck? (London Symphony with Michael Tilson Thomas was an example). Where did Berlin go with Rattle, now retiring after the most transparent and un-challenging tenure there ever?
    I believe letting the surviving older generation of Maestros work with the orchestras that call them,while media pampers conducting babies, would be an honorable thing to do. Let him work and pay some respect to people who actually know how to do the job.
    PS: Prime Minister Thatcher was elected three times, now must this mean that she was the best prime minister ever? people were consulted there, via votes…

    • Very good points. But have you worked with Gelmetti recently? And have you experienced him as a Musical director or only as a guest conductor? What was once good 30 years ago may not have aged well…

    • David,

      What happened between London Symphony and MTT?

  9. Guess what – the Malaysian Philharmnic DID consult with its musicians on MD Claus Peter Flor’s renewal. Over 70% opposition was voiced at the time (would be about 90% today), and management renewed ANYWAY. What exactly does “consultation” mean? It carries no weight unless there is integrity in the management office. Same thing for Principal Viola and Concertmistress (95% to 100% “NO THANK YOU” from the musicians.) But then, these appointments came from the MD who was not wanted in the first place, so no huge surprise.

  10. That’s what they do all the time in Korea (yeah, South Korea).

  11. Just Music says:

    What’s a good musical director?
    Who might be the most competent people to choose a musical director, bureaucrats or musicians?
    It seems at some point that we totally forget the obvious.

  12. I think that all persons who writes here should declare their identity and do not hide behind a nickname. if we talk about another person we should take our responsibility. Besides this it’s clear there is a problem with Gelmetti in these last years. I have been his friend for 30 years then we had an argument on personal issues and I do not have had any meeting with him in last 5 years. I do not know what happened to him in this last years but I know him enough to understand the situation. My opinion is he is a really talented conductor that has conducted many wonderful performances both in symphonic and opera repertoire. By the way he has been appointed Musical Conductor in Stuttgart Radio Orchestra and in Sydney Symphony Orchestra with the full approval of the players of these 2 excellent orchestras. At time he had all the opportunities to become one of the most prominent conductor in the world. Unfortunately all his musical talent has been wasted for personal flaws. We all have our flaws but his flaws have a big responsibility in this part of his career. I cannot and I will not go into many things I know on his personal way of thinking, but I really think that self consciousness has a great role in the problem. You cannot be named in such important roles like in Stuttgart or Sydney and going on with the refusal to learn an acceptable level of German or English languages, you should not act like if all problems would generate from plots like we were in Borgia’s times and reacting accordingly. He lives in Montecarlo and probably he wanted to be reinstated in a position where he has already been in late 80′s and this is understandable. I still hope he will understand that he has only to think of conducting and working hard on it to do the best he can do.
    Besides Gelmetti I agree that an orchestra should choose his Principal or Musical Conductor. Unfortunately there are countries where players also prefers to choose conductors on political basis or if these conductors can provide a big economical help. In these cases it’s very clear that the musical issues fall in second place and this is not correct. Anyway I think that if a conductor understands he has not the respect of the players he should resign immediately.

    • Thank you, Vittorio, for your transparency and discretion.

    • Graf Nugent says:

      Courageous words, Vittorio, and that’s all very laudable. I do, however, take issue with your call for everyone to lay down their screen names. What is important is the exchange of views and not the identity of the person expressing them. At the same time, these people need to respect the liberty this mask gives them and not indulge in facile name-calling or finger-pointing, practices which honour no-one and serve only to cheapen arguments.

      In any case, the musical world is too capricious for everyone to feel comfortable that their words will not be misinterpreted by potential colleagues or employers and, consequently, have an adverse effect on their professional life.

      I’ve worked with GG. More I will not say.

    • Thank you Vittorio. you obviously know the man well.

  13. Grazie Vittorio! You understand it perfectly!

  14. Perceval says:

    It would seem the maestro’s passage in Sydney did not have a fairy tale ending either…

  15. ‘However, the main weakness of Gelmetti’s tenure lay in his limited repertoire range.
    Beethoven, Brahms and Ravel reappeared with the greatest regularity. Between 2000-2008, Sydney audiences heard his accounts of most of Ravel’s orchestral works and Brahms’s Symphonies Nos 1, 2 and 4 twice. Beethoven’s fifth symphony was performed three times and most of the others twice…’

    No Kidding! Since Gelmetti arrived last season as the Chef Referent to Monte Carlo to ‘help’ with the search for its next musical director, He had already programed and conducted the Beethoven 5th once, and will do so again in two weeks…but perhaps he is trying to expand his repertoire, as he has decided to compose a piece for the Philharmonique. World Premier on May 5th. So far it is not clear if the work is now finished nor what instruments are needed except that there will be a Mandolin involved.

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