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Berlin Phil fails to elect new chief conductor

AFP · 12 May 2015, 08:09

Published: 12 May 2015 08:09 GMT+02:00

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"I must unfortunately tell you that we haven't reached any result," orchestra board member Peter Riegelbauer told reporters, adding there had been several rounds of voting.

"We must continue the process, that will happen within a year," he added.

The orchestra's 124 permanent musicians had been called to a church building in the south west of the German capital at around 0800 GMT for the highly-anticipated ballot to choose a successor to Britain's Sir Simon Rattle in 2018.

Members are sworn to secrecy and are even required to leave their mobile phones and any recording devices outside for the conclave, often likened to a papal election, minus the white smoke.

The global community of classical music aficionados has been abuzz for weeks about who will take up the baton and assume the title of artistic director in Berlin -- the mystery heightened by the fact that "every living conductor" is a potential candidate.

After initially keeping the location of the ballot secret, the Philharmonic notified journalists to meet at 1200 GMT at the Protestant Jesus Christ Church in Berlin's leafy southwest to await the announcement, warning them to prepare for "possibly a long wait".

News of an appointment had initially been slated for around 1200 GMT, then for two hours later.

But it was then further delayed several times through the evening, as musicians huddled inside the red-brick church, a space which the orchestra has repeatedly used for performances and recordings since World War II.

Riegelbauer said discussions has been conducted in an "amicable, cooperative atmosphere" but that there were "quite fundamentally varying positions" among the musicians.

Secret ballot

Among the names being talked about have been Berlin native Christian Thielemann, 56, now at the Staatskapelle Dresden, who favours German composers Richard Wagner, Johannes Brahms and Richard Strauss.

Others include Latvian Andris Nelsons, 37, who heads the Boston and Birmingham symphony orchestras, and curly-haired Venezuelan Gustavo Dudamel, 34, who is nicknamed "the Dude" and now conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Another strong contender has been the musical director of the Berlin State Opera, Argentine-born Israeli Daniel Barenboim, 72, although he recently said he was not a candidate.

The Berlin Philharmonic -- founded in 1882 and seen by many as the best orchestra in the world -- is unique in that its musicians chose their chief conductor themselves while elsewhere it is boards and trustees, or sometimes politicians, who decide.

In the secret vote, the orchestra's members were to first propose a list of candidates, then discuss them and vote to create a shortlist, followed by rounds of voting until one candidate emerges with a "clear majority".

The exact number of votes cast for each candidate is kept secret.

Story continues below…

Once a candidate is picked, a member of the voting committee calls the person to offer him or her the job.

The vote would normally have been held in the Philharmonie in central Berlin. But a special ceremonial concert is due to take place in the building Tuesday to mark 50 years of diplomatic relations between Germany and Israel, forcing unusually tight security measures.

'Hardest, best job'

Rattle, who has led the "Berliner Philharmoniker" since 2002, will take over as chief conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra in 2017.

He will spend the year after that commuting to London from Berlin – where he lives with his third wife, mezzo soprano Magdalena Kozena, and their young family -- before finally handing over the Berlin baton.

The 60-year-old Liverpudlian, with his characteristic mop of white hair,said recently that Berlin was "simultaneously the hardest and best conducting job in the world."

With still three more years to go in the German capital, he said his time in its iconic concert hall, the Philharmonie, has been "exceptional". 

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