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Conductor Plácido Domingo Criticized by Musicians at 2023 Verbier Festival

Musicians of the Verbier Festival Orchestra have criticized the conductor for allegedly being unprepared during rehearsals and the concert


On July 20, 2023, Spanish conductor and opera singer Plácido Domingo made his Verbier Festival debut with the Verbier Festival Orchestra (VFO) conducting works by Beethoven and Tchaikovsky. Held in Switzerland, this year marks the 30th anniversary of the Festival.

According to Le Temps news, the VFO musicians were devastated by Domingo’s performance in rehearsals and thought his performance was “disorienting,” and not up to standard for the event.

The musicians also claimed Domingo didn’t know the score and got lost while conducting, and that entire sections stopped playing due to the disarray. Additionally, the assistant conductor allegedly conducted behind him to catch up with the orchestra.

Domingo conducted Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5, plus Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture, and Piano Concerto No. 3 with pianist Maria João Pires

“For me, there is nothing surprising, Domingo is not the greatest conductor, he is a great musician with an exceptional experience and career,” Verbier director Martin Engstroem told Le Temps on the VFO’s concerns. “He was [part of] the Met in New York, I think he obviously has things to bring to the Verbier orchestra…which is made up of young musicians, who are there to learn. 

“In the very demanding world of classical music, we know that when a conductor is not up to standard, he is fired,” he added. “Domingo dominated the lyrical world for almost forty years, he has incomparable experience, that’s what he can bring to the Verbier orchestra.

“The fact is that Domingo is not the most experienced conductor — I’m not saying the opposite — but the orchestra arrived at the end of June, he worked with assistant conductors and was very well prepared. 

“As for the assistant leader behind it, it is indeed curious, but I did not see him,” he added. “Normally when a conductor has some difficulties, it is the first violin who takes over, who becomes responsible for keeping the orchestra together. There are many young violinists to whom we give the chance to be able to occupy this position. It is up to them to seize it to succeed in taking on this crucial role in a situation like this.”

When asked whether he would retain his choice of Domingo directing the concert, Engstroem said: “Absolutely. I invite the conductors, it’s not up to me to give the interpretation of a work to the maestros. The program is relatively easy for an orchestra of such a level. What a great concert.”

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