Norman Lebrecht

Why I hate Beethoven’s Pastoral symphony

I loved music before I could walk. It seemed I could harmonise anything my sisters were singing. I had perfect pitch, a mixed blessing since wrong notes made me cry. I hated music when I first heard Beethoven’s Pastoral symphony.  I was nine years old. My mother had died when I was two and my

Will Britain’s orchestras survive the Brexit exodus?

In the first month of Brexit, two British orchestras were publicly beheaded. The London Symphony Orchestra was shocked to discover that its music director, Sir Simon Rattle, had taken a better job in Munich, while the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra was forced to accept that its luminous Lithuanian, Mirga Gražinyte-Tyla, was simply too hot

Do Jews think differently?

Sixteen years into a stop-go production saga, I got a call from the director of The Song of Names with a suggested script change. What, said François Girard, if one of the two protagonists was perhaps, er, not Jewish? My reply cannot be repeated. I was, for a minute or so, completely speechless. My novel,

Striking the wrong note | 18 July 2019

Every summer for the past six years, Bayreuth has risen to its feet to acclaim an English Brünnhilde. Catherine Foster, from Nottingham, was the heroine of Frank Castorf’s anti-capitalist staging of Richard Wagner’s Ring cycle. The director was booed to the rafters, the singer hailed as saviour. Three perfectionist conductors, Kirill Petrenko, Marek Janowski and

Out of tune with the times

A few years ago, I hooked up with a BBC team in Berlin to record a programme with Daniel Barenboim. We were shown in to his spartan offices at the Staatsoper and, without preliminaries, I conducted an interview with him across a low table for 45 minutes. When our time was up, Barenboim rose and

Breaking his silence

Arriving in Budapest, I receive a summons I cannot refuse. Gyorgy Kurtag wants to see me. Famously elusive, the last of the living avant-gardists is about to present his first opera at La Scala Milan this month and, if past form is anything to go by, he’s unlikely to utter much about it beyond a

Conduct unbecoming | 18 October 2018

The morning after the first night of Ronald Harwood’s Taking Sides in May 1995, I received a call from Otto Klemperer’s daughter. ‘Tell me,’ said Lotte, ‘is it true that, in Mr Harwood’s play, the denazification attorney addressed Dr Furtwängler as “Wilhelm”, or even “Willi”?’ I said something in reply about dramatic licence and the

The essential Kubelik

Rafael Kubelik is watching Wimbledon when I enter his suite at the Savoy. ‘Tennis fan?’ I ask, slightly surprised. He shakes his head. ‘No. Just her.’ It is 1983, the high summer of Martina Navratilova. ‘She will win,’ says Kubelik in the decisive tone that conductors use to save rehearsal time. ‘And one day my

Playing dirty?

A young Korean, 22 years old, won the Dublin International Piano Competition last month. Nothing unusual about that. Koreans and Chinese, raised in a school of hard knocks and rounded off in western conservatories, are winning most prizes. A few — like the phenomenal Lauren Zhang who made child’s play of Prokofiev’s second piano concerto

Restoration man | 3 May 2018

As the curtain opens on the second act of Don Pasquale, I hear a rustle of discomfort. Donizetti’s opera has not been seen at La Scala since 1994. Its restoration, on the orders of a new music director, sets off a critical flutter and Davide Livermore’s new production, set in the Cinecittà film studio during

‘I was really, really scared’

‘Hi, it’s Jonas.’ When the great tenor rings from Vienna, I ask if there are any topics he wants me to avoid, such are his minders’ anxieties. ‘Ask anything,’ laughs Jonas. ‘I’m not shy.’ He is heading in from the airport to see a physio — ‘these concerts, you have to stand there all the