Habemus conductorem ! In a surprise move , the members of the mighty Berlin Philharmonic have chosen a dark horse to their next chief
conductor to take the helm from Sir Simon Rattle in 2018 when Rattle departs to lead the London Symphony orchestra . After failing to choose
a new chief maestro last month , the members of the orchestra , who choose their top man unlike most other orchestras , have chosen a
relatively unfamiliar name to the concertgoing public , a 43 year old Russian conductor who is currently general music director of the
presitigious Bavarian State opera in Munich and is better known for conducting opera than concerts . Vasily Petrenko is a native of Omsk,
Russia and has conducted leading orchestras and opera companies all over Europe as well as at the Metropolitan opera .
He is not nearly as well known yet to the classical music public as such renowned conductors as Christian Thielemann , Rattle, Mariss Jansons ,
Riccardo Chailly , Valery Gergiev , Daniel Barenboim and others, all of whom have been regular guests with the Berliners , and had only
conductoed the orchestra on three occaisions . But the musicians of the orchestra were so favorably impressed by Petrenko's conducting that
they have chosen himto succeed Rattle .
Although Russian , Petrenko has extensive experience conducting the operas of such quintessential German composers as Wagner
and Richard Strauss , and his conducting of Wagner's Ring of the Nibelungen at the Bayreuth festival in the past two Summers was lavshly
praised by leading German music critics and others .
Not having heard him conduct yet, I can't pass judgment on Petrenko , but everything I have heard about him so far indicates that he
is an outstanding musician and conductor . How his tenure with the Berlin Philharmonic will turn out is impossible to predict ,
as with every conductor who has just been chosen to lead a top orchestra , but for the time being , things are looking up for this magnificent
The great Danish composer Carl Nielsen was born a century and a half ago on June 9th , 1865 and died in 1931 , honored as the foremost
composer of that small but charming Scandinavian country . Unless you're fairly knowledgable about classical music , you may not have
heard of this highly individual composer , who was almost totally unknown in America until Leonard Bernstein discovered his music
in the mid 1960s and began to perform and record it with his then orchestra , the New York Philharmonic .
His music was not even that well known in Europe outside of Scandinavia . But things have changed , and Carl Nielsen has been
generally recognized as a truly great composer everywhere . Unlike his great contemporary Jean Sibelius of Finland , who was born the same
year , no leading conductors championed his music until fairly recently . The music of Sibelius had powerful champions in such great
conductors as Leopold Stokowski , Sir Thomas Beecham , Sir John Barbirolli , Serge Koussevitzky and others .
Nielsen is a difficult composer to pidgeon-hole . He neither began nor followed any "isms". The only ism he ever followed was
individualism . Perhaps this caused the relative lack of appreciation he received during his lifetime . He was born on the island of
Funen in the Danish archipelago , the son of humble parents , one of 12 children . His father was a house painter and amateur
folk musician , and the young Carl grew up in the idyllic Danish countryside . He learned to play several instruments ,including
the trumpet but concentratted on the violin and studied at the Copenhagen conservatory under the leading Danish musicians of the day .
He became a member of the second violin section of the Royal Danish orchestra , which is the orchestra of the Royal Copenhagen opera
as well as playing regular concerts ; the orchestra still exists in the same capacity today . He also began to conduct opera and concerts there
while producing a wide variety of orchestral works, chamber music, choral works, two operas , etc and began to make a name for himself
as a composer in his native country and nearby Sweden , where he regularly conducted , including his own works .
Nielsen's most famous works are his six brilliant ,powerful and highly original symphonies ; they have finally gained a place in the
international orchestral repertoire and have been recorded fairly often by a wide variety of different conductors . His woodwind quintet , for
flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn is probably the greatest work for that combination of instruments . (There are more than you may
The delightful, witty and sparkling comic opera "Maskarade ", which takes place at a Copenhagen masquerade ball , is considered the
Danish national opera , is probably the only opera by a Scandinavian composer to be performed with any frequency outside of Scandinavia
and is available on DVD .
The clarinet concerto is probably the greatest concerto for that instrument , and the delightful violin concerto is finally coming into its own '
The flute concerto is also delightful . Orchestral works include the radiant concert overture "Helios" which evokes the sun rising and falling
on the Agaean sea , based on Nielsen's visit to Greece , the symphonic poem "Pan & Syrinx " based on Greek mythology , and the
"Imaginary journey to the Faeroe Islands " . as well as the scinitlating overture to "Maskarade ." The choral works are very interesting
but totally unknown outside of Scandinavia . They have been recorded , though .
The music of Carl Nielsen is full of energy ; it is optimistic and life-affirming ,although it can be grindingly dissonant at times . It is
the exact opposite of the brooding , mystical and dark music of his Finnish friend Sibelius , who was inspired by the specatacular
forests and primitive countryside of his homeland as well as its ancient pagan Finno-Ugrian mythology .
Nielsen's music mixes joviality , humor and optimism with stark, angular dissonances in a highly personal way . One of his greatest and
best known works is his 4th symphony , subtitled "The Inextinguishable " was inspired by the horrendous carnage of the first world war and
was premiered at the time . The concept of the symphony is that life is indestructable and there is an elemental life force in the universe
which would preserve life despite the horrifying destruction of the war . The work itself is not " inextinguishable ; it represents
the elemental will to life . The work is in four continuous movements without a break and is filled with fierce conflict and clashing
dissonances ; there is no central key such as C major or minor ; different keys clash with each other and fight for dominance .
In the 4rth movement . ther eis a fierce battle between two antiphonal sets of tympani which thunder at each other in an almost
terifying way . But the symphony ends with fiercely defiant optimism .
The even stranger 5th symphony has no subtitle . It is in two movements . Nielsen conceived of this unique work as a representation of the
elemental struggle between good and evil , chaois and order . Again, there is no central key and the symphony wanders from key to key
in a way which may seem chaotic at first but which proves to be highly logical . In the first movement a solo snare drum beats away
relentlessly amid whatsounds lile random noise and chaos ; eventually the player is directed by Nielsen to begin playing as though he
had gone berserk and all hell breaks loose in a terrifying battle ; but the drum is soon silenced and the movement ends in quiet
contemplation a clossal battle which has ended . The frenetically energetic 2nd movement is an attempt to rise above the
chaos of the first and ends again, in fiercely defiant triumph . No symphony like this had ever been written before .
You can easily obtain recordings of Nielsen's music led by such eminent conductors as Leonard Bernstein , Herbert Blomstedt,
Simon Rattle, Paavo Berglund . Sir Colin Davis and others , as well as his non-orchestral works . Check arkivmusic.com to order
them or amazon.com . You'll wonder where this wonderful music has been all your life !
This story isn't brand new, so please excuse me ; it happened last month , and it's as fascinating as it is important . The 123 members of the great
Berlin Philharmonic met last month at an undisclosed location to decide on a conductor to succeed Sir Simon Rattle as chief conductor when he
steps down in a few years to be the next prinicpal conductor the the London symphony orchestra .
Unfortunately , the musicians were unable to agree on the winning candidate annouced they will make their descision within a year or less .
Critics , commentators and classical music fans everywhere were sorely disappointed . There has been so much speculation ; it's a lot like
wondering who the next president of the U.S. will be . Everyone, or almost everone has a favored conductor he or she would like to see lead
this mighty ensembel with its illustrious history dating back to 1882 when it was founded . Previous chief conductors have included such
podium giants as Claudio Abbado , who passed away only last year at the age of 80 , Herbert von Karajan and Wilhelm Furtwangler . Virtually all
of the world's foremost conductors have appeared with the Berliners over the years , and the orchestra has made an enormous number of
recordings under its chief conductors and guest conductors for such prestigious record labels as Deutsche Grammophon , EMI , Philips, and
The Berlin Philharmonic is a self-governing institution ; the members of the orchestra choose their chief conductors and guests as well
as winnders of auditions for membership in the orchestra , although there is a general manager who functions as an administrator .
In most other orchestras , the chief conductor or music director is chosen by the management with the input of the orchestra members ,
but the Berlins have control over the whole process .
Meetings to choose a chief conductor have been compared to Papal conclaves in Rome ; last month , the musicians were required to
temporarily surrender their cell phones for the vote .
But this time, the musicians were unable to reach a majority vote , and the decision had to be postponed . The renowned Berlin born
conductor Christian Thielemann, currently general music director of the presitigious and historic Saxon State opera in Dresden and the
presitigious Dresden State orchestra, which fiuctions both as a concert orchestra and the opera house's orchestra , has been considered
to be the most likely candidate by many, and he was a protege of the legendary Herbert von Karajan many years ago before he became
world famous . Other conductors who had been regular guests have been considered possibilities, such as Latvian Mariss Jansons , who
may be too old at 72 , Daniel Barenboim, the same age , and for many years general music director of the Berlin State opera , or younger
ones such as Venezualan Gustavo Dudamel of the Los Angeles Philharmonic or Latvian Andris Nelsons, recently installed as music director of
the Boston symphony , but Nelsons is unlikely to give up Boston so soon or lead both orchestras simultaneously . Now it's anyone's guess .
Could a dark horse emerge ? Who knows ?