I've just read an absorbing new book by the distinguished German conductor Christian Thielemann ( Tee-leh-mahn ) , who is currently chief conductor of the renowned Saxon State opera of Dresden and its equally renowned resident orchestra, the Staatskapelle, Dresden . "My Life With Wagner " is the story of a lifelong devotion to the music of Richard Wagner , the most controversial composer in the history of classical music and opera . Born in Berlin in 1959 , Christian Thielemann grew up there as the son of musical parents who took him to opera performances and concerts of the world famous Berlin Philharmonic when he was still a child and who encouraged his study of music . Young Christian became fascinated with the music of Wagner from an early age while also diligently studying the music of other great composers such as Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and others .
He became an accomplished pianist as a teenager and also studied the viola . But he aspired to become a conductor , and his talents brought him to the attention of no less than the legendary Austrianmaestro Herbert Von Karajan , the powerful and influential chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic , who took him under his wing and made him an assistant . Karajan was also a world famous Wagner conductor and this opened doors to the talented and ambitious young Berliner . But he took the traditional path toward becoming a conductor in Germany , working as a rehearsal pianist and assistant conductor in the opera companies of the smaller German cities and working his way up toward leading larger opera companies as well as conducting orchestral concerts allover Germany and Europe . Soon he made his debut at the legendary Wagner festival at Bayreuth , Germany , conducting most of the 10 extant Wagner operas which are performed there every Summer .
By the 1990s he had become music director of the German Opera in Berlin, the opera company of what used to be West Berlin , the one in East Berlin being the Berlin State opera . He then became chief conductor of the Munich Philharmonic , and was appearing regularly with the Vienna Philharmonic and other prestigious European orchestras, as well as making U.S. debut leading the top American orchestras and making his Metropolitan opera debut . Thielemann became renowned as one of the most important interpreters of the great German masters such as Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner , Richard Strauss, and of course, Wagner , without neglecting new music altogether as well as conducting music by non-german composers everywhere .
Thielemann began to make recordings for the prestigious Deutsche Gramophone record label of the symphonies of Beethoven, Bruckner , Schumann and the orchestral works Richard Strauss with the Vienna Philharmonic , the Philharmonia orchestra of London , and the Munich Philharmonic .
His performances of Wagner's monumental " were Ring of the Nibelungen " at Bayreuth were issued both on CD and DVD . Thielemann came to be seen as the successor to Karajan as a master interpreter of the great German and Austrian composers , although he was passed over by the Berlin Philharmonic to become chief conductor there recently to succeed the renowned English conductor Sir Simon Rattle , losing out to the surprise choice, the Russian Kiril Petrenko . One reason appears to have been his relatively limited repertoire . Rattle has a very wide repertoire and has always been a staunch champion on contemporary music . However, Thielemann retains his highly prestigious position in Dresden , where he has conducted both opera and orchestral concerts with enormous success as well as touring internationally his Dresden forces .
"My life With Wagner " contains a wealth of fascinating information about Thielemann's formation as a conductor as well as his penetrating comments on Wagner and his immortal operas . You learn what it is like to conduct Wagner operas in the theater , which is a task of daunting complexity and formidable challenges both technical and interpretive . The maestro's description of what it is like to conduct in the famous sunken orchestra pit at the Bayreuth festival opera house , out of sigh of the audience and visible only to the singers , which is no easy task , is fascinating . This is unlike the orchestra put of any other opera house and makes it very difficult for the conductor to keep everything together . However, the acoustics of the famous festival theater are world famous for their sonic splendor , and the sunken orchestra, with the powerful brass instruments 17 feet beneath the stage make it impossible for the orchestra to drown the singers out , which is something very difficult to avoid in other opera houses with Wagner's large and powerful orchestra .
Thielemann learned so much from the advice and influence of Karajan and other leading Austrian and German conductors and observing them in action at rehearsals and performances . For those who may not be very familiar with the great Wagner operas, Thielemann provides the synopses of the operas and describes how Wagner composed them and how the works are constructed both musically and dramatically . Wagner wrote the librettos of all his operas , unlike most other opera composers .
The book is published by Pegasus books and I cannot recommend it too highly .
A few months ago , the highly respected Dutch conductor Jaap Van Zweden (Yaap Fan Zvay-den ) 55, was appointed to be the next music director of the New York Philharmonic , where he will succeed the American Alan Gilbert in 2018 . Van Zweden is currently music director of the excellent Dallas symphony orchestra and the Hong Kong Philharmonic , and has been making quite a name for himself with leading orchestras of Europe and America as a guest conductor ; he has appeared with considerable success with the New York Philharmonic several times and was one of several eminent conductors under consideration to succeed Gilbert when he steps down .
One of them was the distinguished Finnish conductor and composer Esa-Pekka Salonen, who is currently the orchestra's composer in residence, but he declined the job because he wants to have enough time to concentrate on composing as well as
conducting . The orchestra's home in Lincoln Center, David Geffen hall, formerly Avery Fisher hall , will be closed for some time beginning in 2019 for extensive renovation in the hopes of improving its acoustics, long considered problematical , and the
orchestra's management is seeking a temporary venue or venues for the transition period .
Van Zweden began as a highly gifted violinist and had studied in his native Netherlands and at the Juilliard school , which is located right next to Geffen hall . At the age of 19 he became the youngest concertmaster in the history of the renowned Royal Concertgebouw orchestra of Amsterdam , one of the world's foremost orchestras , playing under many of the world's most renowned conductors . Among these was the legendary Leonard Bernstein , who asked him to conduct the orchestra at a rehearsal one day so he could check the orchestra's playing from the auditorium ( conductors often do this at rehearsals to check the balance between the various sections of the orchestra to achieve clarity and transparency of sound etc ) . Van Zweden was taken aback as he had no conducting experience, but Bernstein sensed that he had potential to be a conductor , and the rest as they say, is history .
So Van Zweden gave up his career as a violinist and began to achieve success as a conductor , eventually becoming chief conductor of the Netherland Radio orchestra in Amsterdam and was appointed music director of the Dallas symphony , a fine orchestra which has had such well known conductors as the Mexican Eduardo Mata and the American Andrew Litton and others as music directors and made recordings for various record labels such as EMI , RCA and others . Van Zeden has also made recordings of the complete Beethoven and Brahms symphonies among other works in Amsterdam .
According to reports , the orchestra has reached world class quality under Van Zweden , known to be a very demanding and meticulous conductor , and the orchestra has released a number of recordings on its own label, including Mahler symphonies . Van Zweden has also been conducting concert performances of Wagner operas , and he is currently working on a cycle of Wagner's monumental Ring of the Nibelung with the Hong Kong Philharmonic, which has also been conducted by many eminent conductors including his older Dutch countryman Edo De Waart . Naxos records is recording these live performances, and the first part of the four part cycle, Das Rheingold, has already been released .
But now Van Zweden has taken on one of the most prestigious , difficult and demanding jobs in classical music - leadership of the New York Philharmonic , a position which subjects a conductor to merciless criticism form all corners of the musical press .Eminent conductors such as Bernstein , Dimitri Mitropoulos, Sir John Barbirolli , Zubin Metha and others have received relentless flack from music critics in New York over the years and have been taken to task both for the repertoire they programmed and the way they have inbtepreted a wide variety of orchestral repertoire . This is no job for the faint of heart .
Current music director Alan Gilbert is a staunch champion of new or recent music by a wide variety of contemporary composers , and some critics , such as Anthony Tommasini , chief music critic of the New York Times , are concerned about whether the new man will do enough contemporary music . In fact, Van Zweden is no stranger to contemporary music , but the question is will he do enough , and which composers will he champion ? Only time will tell, but Tommasini is keeping an open mind and has stated that Van Sweden deserves a chance to show what he can do on the job . This is a job where you are damned if you do, and damned if you don't when it comes to programming ; many critics will blast you for not doing enough, or the kind of works they hope to hear , and unfortunately , too many New York Philharmonic subscribers have very conservative tastes and are reluctant to hear new works .
From all reports, the members of the New York Philharmonic respect and admire the man who will be their next chief and are delighted to have him ; he would never have been chosen without their approval . Only time will tell how the combination of Van Sweden and the New York Philharmonic turns out . But the signs are positive , and good luck to him . He will certainly need it !