Classical Music Scandal

Longtime Houston Symphony conductor heckled and booed for lame Mozart: No love for Eschenbach

Former Houston Symphony maestro heckled and booed for lame Mozart

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Christoph Eschenbach Photo via

For loyal classical music patrons in the Bayou City, longtime Houston Symphony maestro Christoph Eschenbach is something of a revered celeb whose mere walking on stage elicits standing ovations even prior to the sounding of a single note.

That's just what happened in his last appearance at Jones Hall.

But not so in Europe. Not so with one of the most respected orchestras in the world. Not so this week.

Eschenbach was booed at the Wednesday opening night of Mozart's Così fan tutte with the Vienna Philharmonic, which he led as part of the Salzburg Festival in Austria. The conductor was described as "sloppy and incoherent" with "no sense of dynamics" (Salzburger Nachrichten) and "unacceptable" (Kultur Haute).

 The news is depressing for locals who think of Eschenbach with high regard. 

Commenters on the classical music blog Slipped Disc blamed festival artistic director Alex Pereira for allowing Eschenbach to arrive only three days before curtain call. The Patrick Stewart look alike had been on tour with the Australian Youth Orchestra, whose schedule conflicted with the opera buffa's rehearsals.

One reader who identifies him or herself as a former member of the Philadelphia Orchestra writes that the 73-year-old "was never prepared and lead very inefficient and completely disorganized rehearsals, insisting on some things at the rehearsal, and having us repeat them over and over, only to do exactly the opposite at the performance that evening, without even a comment to the concertmaster or to any of the section principals [sic]."

The news is depressing for locals who think of Eschenbach in high regard. Negative testimonials can deflate the morale of diehard fans who take descriptions such as these personally, particularly if they consider Eschenbach a point of pride in the history of the Houston Symphony, the importance of classical music and the value of fine arts in general in Houston.

It's like telling someone their baby is ugly.

But heroes fall — all the time — in the eyes of those who fail to remember that heroes are people, imperfect in all their glory.

Or maybe European critics are a bunch of douches. You decide.