Herbert von Karajan himself was unable to personally prevent Christian Thielemann from being dismissed from the Herbert von Karajan Competition – namely, when he insisted on repeatedly rehearsing a few bars of Tristan. In his own defense, he told the jury: “But when the orchestra doesn’t play the way I want it to be, what else should I do but insist?” This didn’t please all the jurors, but it didn’t prevent Thielemann from becoming Germany’s youngest general music director in Nuremberg a few years later.
Here he gave a triumphant performance of Tristan that set the cornerstone for his international fame. He is dedicated above all (but not only) to German Romanticism and the music of such “uncomfortable” composers as Richard Strauss and Hans Pfitzner. Thielemann himself also has a reputation for being uncomfortable; some media outlets have even tried to vilify him as a far right-winger. Nonetheless, Thielemann, who was born in Berlin in 1959, became Germany’s most sought-after conductor and an audience favorite in Nuremberg, Berlin, Bologna, Vienna, and Bayreuth.
1978 – Engagements in Gelsenkirchen, Karlsruhe, and Hanover as répétiteur with the Deutsche Oper Berlin
1985 – Thielemann is dismissed from the Herbert von Karajan Competition
1985 – First Kapellmeister in Düsseldorf
1988 – General Music Director in Nuremberg
1997–2004 Thielemann returns to his hometown as General Music Director of the Deutsche Oper Berlin
2004–2011 General Music Director of the Munich Philharmonic
2013 – Artistic Director of the Salzburg Easter Festival, whose orchestra in residence has been the Sächsische Staatskapelle ever since
2016/2017 – Thielemann’s fifth season as Principal Conductor of the Sächsische Staatskapelle
Did you know?
Christian Thielemann made his Bayreuth debut in 2000 with a revival of Wolfgang Wagner’s Meistersinger production. “It was a triumph as is seldom experienced,” wrote the Vienna press.
When Thielemann recorded two Beethoven symphonies, German critics wrote: “As reactionary as it is antiquated.” He had a similar experience when he championed the music of Hans Pfitzner.
Thielemann: “At home, I never protested. Later on, my form of protest was playing someone like Pfitzner. I got kicked out of religion class in school since I was so eccentric, but I was not political.”
“Furtwängler’s dark, mellow sound that is full without being heavy is always spontaneous and not forced or contrived.”
“There’s a quote from Richard Wagner: ‘My nerves are so sensitive that I have the right to luxury. Since I give the world so much luxury!’ He would have a hard time today. Ours is a society of envy,” said Thielemann in an interview.
“When this wonderful record Palestrina came into my hands in 1988, I was captivated. I had no idea who this Pfitzner was. I couldn’t care less.”
“I want to preserve a particular way of making music. It is this free attitude about making music that Knappertsbusch and Furtwängler had. They may have worn a lace collar, but they had a much freer and more unconstrained way of making music.”