Changing of the Guard at the Tonhalle Zurich

 SwitzerlandSwitzerland  Changing of the Guard at the Tonhalle Zurich

For years, the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra has been keeping an eye out for a potential replacement for David Zinman, whose contract expires in 2014.

Zinman’s successor has now been announced, Lionel Bringuier. Bringuier is neither a name nor face known to many, so this is a brave step but one which many orchestras must take at stages in their history. One thinks of the young Simon Rattle in Birmingham and youthful Franz Welser-Möst at the LPO and so on. Bringuier has a hard act to follow; David Zinman has brought the orchestra to a particularly high standard. He, of course, vows to maintain that standard but also to introduce new repertoire, particularly in the first instance, French and Russian music and some contemporary music. He also accepts that he needs to broaden his repertoire whilst not neglecting the core German repertoire which the orchestra has in its blood: Mahler, Bruckner, Beethoven and Brahms for instance. There was also an acceptance that the Tonhalle needs to bring down radically the average age of its audience.

Bringuier is 26 years old, born in Nice, and has already conducted the New York Phil., the Clevelanders, the Los Angeles PO (where he has been Resident Conductor for six years) and the BBCSO (for example at the Proms). He has also made his first steps into opera, with “Carmen” in Stockholm last year; in 2014 he will conduct “Werther” at La Scala.

At today’s media conference, Bringuier (whose German is still somewhat basic) explained (in good English with the usual delightful French accent) that it was “love at first sound” with the Tonhalle. He came over as passionate and enthusiastic; he oozed Gallic charm and it is evident that he will be a breath of fresh Mediterranean air to the city of Zurich. The Chairman of the orchestra told the media present that they had voted spontaneously and positively after their first concert with Bringuier that they would very much like him as their new Principal Conductor.

When Zinman departs, so does Elmar Weingarten as Intendant. His place will be taken by Ilona Schmiel, originally from Hanover, whose career over recent years has included taking the helm of the Beethoven Festival in Bonn and before that “Die Glocke”, Bremen’s concert hall. She recognises the challenges ahead (which include renovation of the Tonhalle hall itself during her forthcoming tenure) and will examine new models to introduce classical music of all types to a larger younger audience so that the Tonhalle retains its position as Switzerland’s premier orchestra.

John Rhodes