Entertainment Music

Sunday 18 February 2018

He doesn't play ball but Thielemann always knows the score

In many respects, the great conductors are not so very different from top coaches in football. From the careers that shaped them, through the influences that bring them to the positions they hold, to the way they work in directing troupes of talented, strong-willed individuals, the similarities abound.

Take Christian Thielemann as just one example of a musical manager. The new principal conductor of the Staatskapelle Dresden arrived with one of those reputations that wouldn't be out of place in the sporting arena -- you either love him, or you don't.

Thielemann's last big gig was in Munich where he was in charge of the Philharmonic, but his contract wasn't renewed after a dispute with his bosses over how their programme would be run. Shades of the frequent tension between boardroom and football boss there all right.

Born in Berlin, Thielemann began his career as a rehearsal pianist at the opera, and cut his teeth in management as assistant to the great Herbert von Karajan at the Berlin Philharmonic.

He'd been accepted for that orchestra's academy -- spotted early as a viola player -- and was obviously a star student. Working with the great man was crucial in Thielemann's development.

The career path in music is not that different from sport. The football hotbed of Gelsenkirchen -- Champions League team Schalke 04 would be rather more famous than the local opera house -- featured among his early, lower division postings. He got into the major league when he joined the conducting staff at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein, Germany's biggest opera ensemble with its main base in Düsseldorf.

From there, still in his 20s, he went to the top job in Nuremberg, which made him Germany's youngest musical director.

Another spell in Berlin followed -- this time at the German Opera -- before his move to Munich, where he stayed for seven years before the parting of the ways.

He divided opinion in Bavaria, yet the music his orchestra made went down very well overall, and a newspaper poll put him most popular among conductors of German orchestras.

Highly rated for his Wagner -- he's musical adviser to the Bayreuth Festival -- he and the Staatskapelle, one of the oldest orchestras in the world, will take over at the Salzburg Easter Festival from next spring.

Christian Thielemann's arrival in Austria completes a circle, for back in 1981 he worked at Salzburg as Herbert von Karajan's assistant. Richard Wagner's Parsifal topped the bill.

When Thielemann and his orchestra assume their duties in Salzburg next March Parsifal -- the Arthurian knight Percival's search for the Holy Grail -- will be the main attraction once again.

No touchline histrionics are expected. Thielemann will lead his new orchestra with the same nuanced approach as Karajan did in his day, conducting without flamboyance.

"Beating is boring," Thielemann once said. Like his mentor, he'll make his marvellous music as much with his eyes as with his hands.

George Hamilton presents The Hamilton Scores on RTÉ Lyric fm from 10.00 each Saturday morning.


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