Simon Rattle conducts the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall
Sir Simon Rattle conducts the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall

The classical music world’s most prestigious job is still up for grabs after musicians at the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra fell into discord during a secret vote over a replacement for the departing Sir Simon Rattle.

After 11 hours of deliberations behind closed doors in a Berlin church, the orchestra announced late on Monday that it was postponing its decision for several months to allow the 123 players to come to a decision.

Orchestra board member Peter Riegelbauer told waiting journalists: “After an orchestra assembly, which lasted 11 hours, we have unfortunately come to no decision. There were positive and lively discussions and several rounds of voting, but unfortunately we were unable to agree on a conductor.”

Mr Riegelbauer added: “We must continue this process and this election. That will have to take place within one year. We are very confident that we will come to a decision then.”

Participants in the vote were sworn to secrecy. But a spokesman earlier said that the aim was to achieve a “significant majority” in favour of one candidate. Musicians fear that anything less could expose the orchestra to rifts.

Berlin newspapers have speculated that the favourites include Christian Thielemann, the 56-year-old chief conductor of Dresden’s Staatskapelle, a traditional German conductor with a love of romantic German composers including Johannes Brahms, Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss.

Among his reported leading rivals are two rising stars — Gustavo Dudamel, the curly-haired 34-year-old Venezuelan conductor who made his name conducting the country’s Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra and later the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and Andris Nelsons, the 36-year-old Latvian music director of City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Mr Dudamel and Mr Nelsons have both championed a wide range of modern classical music.

Altogether, music critics put about 30 names in the frame, an indication of how closely the orchestra guards its secrets. Only one has publicly ruled himself out — Daniel Barenboim, the 72-year-old head of the Berlin State Opera.

Monday’s deliberations followed more than two years of discussions and rumour, which began when Sir Simon, who has been on the podium in Berlin since 2002, announced plans to leave in 2018.

The British maestro was this year appointed music director of the London Symphony Orchestra, starting in late 2017.

While that might suggest there is plenty of time, top conductors are normally booked years in advance, so the longer the Berlin Philharmonic delays its decision, the more difficult it will be for the new conductor to juggle his diary. No woman has been mentioned among the favourites.

The new chief conductor would be only the seventh head of the Berlin Philharmonic since its foundation in 1882. The longest-serving was the legendary Herbert von Karajan, who was in charge for 34 years from 1956 to 1989. He stepped down after a row over the hiring of a clarinet player — and died three months later. The orchestra is clearly no stranger to appointment controversies.

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